Category Archives: UK Politics

Ecuador’s Agenda: Squeezing and Surrendering Assange

It is perhaps typical in a time where a star of the fleshy celluloid wonder Baywatch, heavy in bust and known for her sexual adventures, should feature as a political voice.  Pamela Anderson’s views are treated with judicious seriousness – at least in some quarters.  Her association with Julian Assange has given needless room for columns on what, exactly, their relationship constitutes.

Having such defenders as Anderson has added to his conspicuous support base, but it will not move those bureaucrats who are chewing pens in anticipation and pondering options as to how best to eject him from the Ecuadorean embassy (compound would be more fitting) in London.  Easily missed amidst the titter of celebrity gossip is the plight of an ailing Assange, who is facing the next critical stage of his stay at the Ecuadorean embassy.

Since the changing of the guard in Ecuador, President Lenín Moreno has shown a warmer feeling towards the United States, and a desire to raise the issue of Assange’s stay in the embassy with US Vice President Mike Pence with the urgency of man desiring to be rid of a problem.  The UK government has also been brought into the mix.  The forces against Assange are marshalling themselves with a renewed impatience.

A squeeze evidently designed to break the will of WikiLeaks’ publisher-in-chief was commenced in March, with a change of the embassy’s Wi-Fi password effectively blocking his use of the Internet.  Phone calls and visitations have also been curtailed.  The bill of Ecuadorean hospitality, if it can be termed that, also became a subject of discussion – some $5 million expended on security and Assange’s various activities.  Attitudes to a troublesome guest have hardened.

The press circuit has increasingly thickened in recent days with speculation about a round of high-tier discussions being conducted by Ecuador and the UK government on Assange.  The Ecuadorean paper El Comercio has remarked upon the talks.  It was a turn that was unsurprising, with Moreno unimpressed by Assange’s feats and credentials, the Australian being viewed back in January as an “inherited problem” who had created “more than a nuisance” for his government.

According to Glenn Greenwald, the report that those discussions did more than touch on the matter of handing Assange over to UK authorities “appears to be true”. This might trigger an indictment from US authorities and possible extradition proceedings, a point made acute by the promise of US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions back in April to “seek to put some people in jail”, with Assange’s “arrest” being a priority.  “Can’t wait to see,” quipped Greenwald, “how many fake press freedom defenders support that.”

RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan smells that something nasty is brewing.  “My sources tell [Julian] Assange will be handed over to Britain in the coming weeks or even days.  Like never before, I wish my sources were wrong.”

That particular process, it would seem, is being headed by Sir Alan Duncan of the Foreign Office, the same individual who had an impulse back in March to call Assange that “miserable little worm” before fellow parliamentarians.

The line that Assange has been in arbitrary detention has never quite cut it in Duncan’s circles and he has been dangling a carrot with spectacular condescension. “It is our wish,” he told Parliament last month, “that this can be brought to an end and we’d like to make the assurance that if [Assange] were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly and that the first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”

Such comments are always rounded up by that fanciful notion that Assange is “in the embassy of his own choice”.  That line on inventive volition was reiterated by Britain’s new foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who issued a statement of praise for Britain as “a country of due process” keen to see that Assange “face justice for those [serious] charges”: “At any time he wants to he is free to walk out onto the street of Knightsbridge and the British police will have a warm welcome for him.”

Such grotesquely insincere concerns about health, fashioned as a weapon and an incentive by Duncan, would be academic should Assange find himself on the dismal road to US custody, where promises of a firm and icy welcome have been made.  He would be merely nourished and fattened for a notoriously cruel prison system, analogous to the doctor healing a person on death row.

Anderson herself makes the relevant point about her urgent advocacy for Assange. “My role is to let people know that he’s a human being and not just a robot or a computer, and that he’s really sacrificing a lot for all of us.  He hasn’t seen sunlight in six years.  His skin is transparent.”

In what is nothing less than a war about what we can see, know and interpret, those who wish to preserve the traditional models of power and the clandestine state remain adamant: Assange is a trouble maker who must disappear.

Is Britain’s Green Party About to take a Significant Step Towards Revolution?

The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) is currently undertaking a huge holistic review as to how the Party works. As it already has a superb set of highly radical policies encompassing not only its well-known concerns for saving the environment but also proposals for revolutionary reforms of the economy, British foreign policy, and our so-called constitution, the holistic review has the potential to be either a step towards a major peaceful revolution, or a damp squib.

Since the Greens were first established in Britain decision-making has been undertaken at annual conferences, where any Party member attending the conference may be involved. This has worked reasonably well, but obviously excludes all those members who are unable to attend conferences. The holistic review may possibly modernise this system.

About a hundred years ago Emma Goldman was one of the first to observe that if voting could really change anything it would be made illegal. It’s not absolutely true, of course, but her point, that most of our so-called democracies are not fit for purpose, was right on the money.

Democracy is a relatively new feature of human society. Given the incredible technical advances that humans have achieved over the last couple of thousand years, it’s not exactly impressive that it’s only just a hundred years or so since women were deemed to be sufficiently human to be entrusted with the right to vote once in a while.

The main reason why we have not yet evolved a system of government where all human beings are able to exercise well-informed decisions is not only because the technology has not been up to providing such a marvel until very recent times, it’s also because the tiny minority of super-rich beings that have always ruled the world have always fought tooth and claw to resist any efforts at weakening the vice-like grip they have always held on political power.

The GPEW has fine policies intended to try to advance the cause of real democracy. Inevitably it’s very hard work to effect those changes. Not only is there the huge problem of the existing global power structure which, like its predecessors, still fights to resist change, there’s also the problem of mass ignorance – the fact that the vast majority of the population has been conditioned to meekly conform to the wishes of our rulers and their lackeys in the mainstream media, or are too apathetic to even care.

However, the Greens holistic review must eventually lead to a major leap forward for real democracy. The Party recently tried to host a couple of online workshops as part of the review. It was the first time it tried to do something like this on a Party-wide scale. Whilst I have some reservations about how this initial effort was made, the fact the effort was made at all has to be greatly applauded. Few things work perfectly at the first attempt, so it’s no surprise that this online exercise had some problems.

Although I signed up to take part in three of the workshops it turned out that I was unable to do so because I do not have the requisite camera and microphone attachments for my computer. If those technical requirements had been stipulated in the original message from the holistic review team I obviously would not have booked a place, thus preventing someone else from taking part – as there was limited availability for participation. So this is the first little glitch – the fact that it was assumed that all GP members are computer literate and have instant access to the required technology. I know of GP members who do not use computers at all, so their voices are obviously excluded from the start. Given that equality and diversity are supposedly important to Greens, the fact that this limitation was not even considered is not impressive. Whilst I accept that it’s reasonable to assume that most people are computer literate, and will continue to be even more so, it should at least have been stated that this problem was recognised, and suitable apologies voiced in the name of tolerance for floundering baby steps towards the brave new world of real democracy.

On the day of the first workshop I received an e-mail from the organisers: “Message to attendees at conference”. There was very little information about how the process would work, but one point was made clear: “If you’re a man, and there have been lots of men speaking, I’ll prioritise a woman even if she had her hand up after you.” Why was this about the only rule the organisers mentioned? It’s significant that the reverse situation was not stated – we were not told that if lots of women had been speaking a man would be prioritised even if he put his hand up after women. The rule suggests discrimination against men, not a good look, but also not the first time I’ve come across it in the Green Party.

The last part of the “Message to attendees” was something of an agenda – some bullet points of subjects to be discussed. Obviously you need agendas, but at no point was I invited to contribute towards it, and this is very important: whoever controls agenda content controls the debate. Everyone taking part in any group discussion should be able to contribute to deciding what subjects will be discussed, and in what order – no matter their gender, race, physical condition, and so on.

One of the workshops I wanted to attend was about “Equality and diversity in the Green Party”. The first part of the “Message to attendees” of this workshop was similar to the previous message, with its identical discriminatory condition about men – quite ironic given the subject matter. This message also had an agenda, towards which, like its predecessor, I had also not been invited to contribute.

However, the given agenda looked quite interesting. The most interesting issue, to me, was the fourth item: “How do we avoid the infighting which has affected the Labour party about discrimination, especially anti-Semitism and transphobia?”

This is a very important topic. I was in the Labour Party for just over a year, and an active supporter of Momentum. Whilst there is indeed considerable dissent in Labour, I saw little evidence that it is any more or less discriminatory than the Greens. Labour’s infighting has almost nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the fact that it has no core ideology, no equivalent of our Policies for a Sustainable Society.

All the same, the point is interesting. Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism is mostly created and routinely exploited by the mainstream media to smear Jeremy Corbyn for his decades of opposition to Zionism. It’s just another fake news scam. Labour is no more anti-Semitic than the Greens are, and the London-based Jewish Socialists’ Group, for example, is very supportive of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. But the very expression “anti-Semitism” has been corrupted by the mainstream media, possibly influenced by the powerful Zionist lobby.

The literal definition of Semitism originally referred to anyone with an ethnic origin stretching from North Africa to Iraq. The etymology of the word derives from ‘descendants of Shem’, a son of Noah, from whom the Phoenicians are believed to have come – the people who colonised much of the Mediterranean. Hence Arabic is routinely identified as a Semitic language, and unsurprisingly has similarities to Hebrew. But the way Semitism is being interpreted today is almost as a synonym for Zionism, suggesting that anyone who criticises Israel’s Zionist government is being anti-Semitic. But Zionism is a repulsive political ideology not dissimilar in practice to apartheid, and has nothing to do with Semitism – and many of its supporters are not even Semites. It’s a clever tactic designed to confuse understanding of the horrendous situation in Occupied Palestine and eliminate criticism of the vicious junta that rules it – something Jeremy Corbyn has always rightly done, as have the Greens, to some extent, with their support for the BDS campaign against Israel. Given Corbyn’s longstanding support for the terrible plight of Palestinians – a Semitic people – how could anyone rightly accuse him of anti-Semitism? So this is indeed a good and legitimate subject to include in the subject of “avoiding infighting” – but perhaps not quite as the workshop organisers intended.

Avoiding infighting is a vitally important concept, but it’s also a deeply loaded expression which can lead to totalitarianism. Enemies of the Greens will always seek to exploit any potential divisions as a means of destroying the party – the old “divide and rule” tactic. The widely-used traditional method for dealing with dissenting voices in large organisations is simply to eliminate them, one way or another. This is not an option for an organisation that’s striving to reform democracy. The most effective way to do this, for Greens, is through proper open debate and Party-wide decision-making. When dissenting opinion occurs, as it always will, provide a proper debate where voices for and against that opinion can be widely heard and then allow the whole membership to decide the result. The dissatisfied losers of such debates are free to leave the Party if they choose, but should not be pushed. Real progress can only be made in an environment of truly free expression and open debate, never through repression. So “avoiding infighting” should be managed through a process of open debate and decision-making, never through some form of secret policing. The very important need for widespread debate over the horrors being perpetrated in Occupied Palestine, for example, is being silenced everywhere by the simple device of labelling it “anti-Semitic”.

As I was unable to attend the workshops I have no idea how successful they were. But the fact that they were done at all is a huge advance, a giant leap forward towards creating a system where essential Party-wide debates and decision-making can be created. The key to improving the model is through increasing membership involvement at all stages, not limiting it. Those individuals tasked with administering the process must have less ability to control it. Their role must be simply to properly administer, not decide. A way must be found where any Party member may be included in deciding what issues to discuss, and in what order. Another way must be found where Proper Information is provided for each and every issue being discussed, both for and against, in an environment of real free expression. The provision of Proper Information is an essential component of real democracy. The spirit of Voltaire (who is alleged to have said, “I may disagree with all you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”) must be the guiding principle (whether he actually said it or not – because the principle is a fine one). And a way must be found where any Party member can vote to decide the outcome of any debate. An honest, transparent, inclusive, trustworthy, voting system is another essential component of real democracy. There is no plausible excuse for not doing any of this. We have the technology. It must be used.

Many of today’s political decision-makers will inevitably resist the creation of real democracy. That has been the story of democracy from its very earliest days: every new advance has been bitterly opposed by those who wield political power. From the days when British kings lost their “divine right” to rule, allowing rich land barons to share power, to the days when the voting franchise expanded to permit a whole 1% of the population to vote, the right to make political decisions has been ruthlessly restricted. Such was the situation for hundreds of years. It’s not even a hundred years since women were finally allowed to vote, as they were always deemed incapable of doing so – just as non-white people were forbidden to vote, and for the same reason, in most parts of the world, up to as recently as just twenty five years ago when apartheid ended in South Africa. Even today voting is still not a natural right for all citizens. Israel still practices apartheid, preventing many Arabs from voting in Israeli elections by the creation of Bantustans, where Arabs have no political rights outside their ghettoes, exactly as happened in South Africa.

Emma Goldman was mostly right when she made her observation about the uselessness of voting. Her words are still largely true even today, when so-called democracy is largely a cynical pantomime carefully stage-managed by the super-rich to create the illusion of democracy. But in recent years technology has provided the means to set us truly free. We now have the technical ability continually to provide good information to the entire population, and then to harvest the opinions and choices of the population. It’s only a question of time before that is routinely available to all citizens.

The GPEW is now leading the way in providing this inevitable innovation. A noble place in history awaits those who first deliver real democracy to the people. The Greens must surge ahead with this fine start they have made, and use its changes as a campaigning aid. We must create a model of real democracy within the Party to show citizens a working example of how a Green government could deliver real democracy to the whole country, and then the world. The Greens have long had a policy aim of Direct Democracy. We now have the opportunity to start providing it. The days of policy decision-making being restricted to the few people who are able to attend party conferences must end. Every Green Party member should be able to take part in all Party decision-making. If the holistic review does not include that, and propose steps to achieve it, it will be a largely pointless exercise.

Stomping in Britain: Donald Trump and May’s Brexit

What a rotten guest, but then again, that was to be expected.  Ahead of his visit to Britain, there was some indignation that US President Donald Trump should even be visiting in the first place.  Protesters were readying their assortment of paraphernalia in anticipation.  Walls of noise were promised.  Trump, on the other hand, was bullish after his NATO performance, which did a good deal to stir and unsettle partners and leaders.  On leaving Brussels, his singular account was that all partners had, in fact, agreed to a marked rise in defence spending.

Having settled into dinner with British Prime Minister Theresa May at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, there was a whirring buzz that the president had been busy, having given an interview to that infamous rag of reaction The Sun newspaper.  It was spectacularly poor form, featuring a series of pot shots against his host on how she had handled Brexit negotiations so far.  Not that May’s handling has been brilliantly smooth. Characterised by Tory saboteurs, confusion and ill-expertise, the British tangle with the European Union has persisted with barnacle tenacity.

This did not inspire confidence from Trump, and the Chequers agreement that May had reached with cabinet members was deemed “very unfortunate”.  For the president, a Brexit softened and defanged to keep it bound up in some form in the EU could well spell an end to a separate, post-separation trade pact with the United States.  “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.”

The sting was greater for the fact that May was using the dinner to pitch her case for a separate trade arrangement.  “As we prepare to leave the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do more.”  Any free trade agreement between the countries, she asserted, would create “jobs and growth here is in the UK and right across the United States.” Bureaucracy would be defeated in the transatlantic venture.

Trump, as he tends to, was operating on a different frequency, claiming that he, brilliant chap that he is, had the formula for how May might best get a workable Brexit through. If only the prime minister had listened instead of chasing her own flight of fancy.

May was not the only British politician rostered for a tongue lashing. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who reached some prominence criticising Trump’s election promise to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration to the United States, also came in for special mention.  “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad.”  Reflecting on the problems facing European cities as a result, he told The Sun that London had “a mayor who has done a terrible job in London.  He has done a terrible job.”  The mayor had blotted his copybook by doing “a very terrible job on terrorism” and, just for good measure, crime in general.

Not content at leaving it at that, Trump revealed that childish vulnerability typical in unstoppable, and encouraged egomaniacs. This had undoubtedly been spurred on by Khan’s refusal to ban the flying of a 20ft blimp depicting Trump as an indignant, orange infant, nappy and all.  “I think [Khan] has not been hospitable to a government that is very important.  Now he might not like the current President, but I represent the United States.”

Having said earlier in the week that the issue of whether May should continue as British prime minister was “up to the people”, Trump was less judicious in his liberating interview. In what could be construed as an act of direct meddling (foreign interference for the US imperium is genetic, programmed and inevitable), Trump had his own views about who would make a suitable replacement.  The blundering, now ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a person with his own conditioning of Trumpism, would “make a great prime minister.”

For those incensed by Trump’s say in the matter, it is worth noting that his predecessor was no less terse in warning, not just the Cameron government, but the British people, that leaving the EU would banish Britain to the end of any trade agreement queue.  Britain was far better being part of a collective voice generated by the EU, rather than a single power going its own way.  At “some point down the line,” President Barack Obama explained at a press conference held at the Foreign Office on a visit in April 2016, “there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done.”

Perhaps the most striking delusion that runs so deeply through the Brexit pathology is the idea the Britannia’s flag will again fly high, and that power shall, mysteriously, be reclaimed by a nation made anew.  Other powers will heed that; respect shall be observed.  What Presidents Obama and Trump have shown from different sides of the coin is that such hopes might be terribly misplaced.

Making Heavy Weather: Boris Johnson the Despoiler

There is a certain haunting similarity between the President of the United States and the now former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson.  This does not merely extend to mad, oddly positioned hair, and misshaped mullets.  Both share a philosophy of upending the order and permanent disruption, impossible for those on their putative side of politics to measure, predict or contain.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May thought that her cabinet, moulded by cabinet responsibility, would be able to go forth with the bare bones of a plan for negotiations with the European Union for Britain’s departure.  Johnson, with characteristic muddling, had signed on to the Chequers statement, but had issued public utterances about his dissatisfaction.  He was on board, but only in wobbly fashion.

Having first seen which way the wind would turn, Johnson waited for the initial resignations of the Brexit team led by David Davis to take the plunge. His resignation was intended as an improvised explosive device, timed to blow up in the prime minister’s face just before she was to address members of parliament on Monday.

The letter has all the elements of BJ the opportunist, the cad, the slippery debater.  It has no definite shape in terms of what should be done, but is filled with defiance and, dare one say it, hope. Central to the argument is a defence of the “British people”, those subjects for whom he supposedly speaks for.  “They were told that they would be able to manage their own immigration policy, repatriate the sums of UK cash currently spent by the EU, and, above all, that they would be able to pass laws independently and in the interests of the people of this country.”

He warned, with irate frustration, that the “dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”  Decisions had been postponed on vital issues “with the result that we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit, with large parts of the economy still locked in the EU system, but with no UK control over that system.”

Ever chancing his arm, and interpretation of events, Johnson brought a touch of drama into the note.  The new plan proposed by May, he argued, seemed to take Britain further back since the last Chequers meeting in February.  Then, he described frustrations “as Mayor of London, in trying to protect cyclists from juggernauts.  We had wanted to lower the cabin windows to improve visibility; and even though such designs were already on the market, and even though there had been a horrific spate of deaths, mainly of female cyclists, we were told that we had to wait for the EU to legislate on the matter.”

Ever forceful with the dire scenario, Johnson insisted that the May plan would put Britain into a “ludicrous position” of asserting that “huge amounts” of EU law would have to be accepted “without changing an iota”, while shutting Britain out from influencing them. “In that respect we are truly headed for the status of a colony”.

Such imagery qualifies as both entertainment and conceit.  Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer summed up the Johnson approach in a sentence: “Boris Johnson’s whole political career has been characterised by self-promotion and spreading misinformation.”

On the issue of introducing cab design changes to improve visibility for trucks, Johnson conveniently avoided the European Parliament’s vote in 2014 requiring such improvements to be made, a point subsequently decreed by a 2015 directive.  A more complex picture to emerge from here is one of institutional lethargy and foot dragging across a range of institutions, of which Johnson’s own stint as London mayor may count as one.

The resignation has been read in some circles of British commentary as decisively damning for Johnson’s future influence over the Tories.  His stint as foreign secretary, suggested Stephen Bush of The New Statesman, was so gaffe-strewn as to erode “his standing among MPs”. Where his effect becomes different is in the realms of disruption: encouraging Tory members to press for a confidence motion in the prime minister.  A mere 15 percent of Conservative MPs are needed to sign letters calling for such a vote.

Such readings of Johnson ignore the beguiling force he retains in politics.  His buffoonery and populism do have retail value.  Deemed unelectable at points of his career, let alone beyond promotion, he managed to win the mayorship of London.  He was indispensable to swinging the mood to Brexit prior to the 2016 referendum.  To that end, dismissive interpretations of Johnson’s career suffer, to some extent, from a rational view that sees politics as predictable and reasonable.  It was exactly such an approach that missed, almost in its entirety, the furious rise of Donald Trump.

“Johnson,” went William Davies in the London Review Books on March 8 this year, “approaches public life as a game in which he commits sackable offences as a way of demonstrating his unsackability.”

Making him foreign secretary had served only one purpose: a restraint, and a means of minimising any potential damage to May. But his presence, his bravado and his disruptive penchant made Davies wonder whether Trumpism was, as matter of reality, a British problem. “Johnson,” he admitted, “is as close as British politics has to a Trump problem; and his seniority suggests that Trumpism has permeated our political culture more deeply than we like to admit.”  This streak of British-styled Trumpism is bound to provide Johnson more nourishment, though its duration, and depth, remain questionable.

Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt

It was meant to be an away day at Chequers in total hermetic isolation, an effort on the part of UK Prime Minister Theresa May to sketch some common ground in a cabinet that has struggled to agree on much regarding the imminent departure of Britain from the European Union.  The clock is ticking, for many ominously, with the departure date slated for March 29, 2019.

The initial signs seemed good: a consensus had, initially, been reached by all brands of Brexiter. Chief Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had, in principle, come on board, though there were mutterings of dissatisfaction at the PM’s new plan.  At least for a time, collective cabinet responsibility had been satisfied.

The plan focused on, in the words of the Chequers statement, a proposal establishing “a free trade area for goods. This would avoid friction at the border, protect jobs and livelihoods, and ensure both sides meet their commitment to Northern Ireland and Ireland through the overall future relationship.”  Such a vision free of friction would entail maintaining “a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food” with a stress on harmonising UK laws with those of the EU.  Parliament have the ultimate say on their passage. “Regulatory flexibility” would govern the issue of services; “strong reciprocal commitments related to open and free trade” would characterise UK-EU relations.

The issue of the role played by EU courts, always trouble for the fanatical leavers, would continue to play a part in so far as UK courts would heed “the common rulebook”.  A joint institutional framework would ensure consistent interpretation and application of such rules, but “the supremacy of UK courts” would be assured.

As for the issue most worrying to the market types amongst the Tories, the proposal suggested “a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if a combined customs territory.”  This would leave Britain to have its own seat at the World Trade Organisation and strike trade deals with other states, another cherry for the harsh Brexiters.

The populist element was also considered: free movement, a central EU principle, would end, but the UK would seek a principle of ensuring that UK and EU citizens would still be permitted to visit, work and live in respective jurisdictions with ease.  Large annual payments to the EU, those so heavily stigmatised during the 2016 referendum campaign, would also end, though this would not terminate specific contributions to areas of “joint action”.

It did not take long for the ruptures within government ranks to begin.  After the discomforting unity came the blood filled flood; first three resignations, all associated with the “hard” variety of Brexit lore.  The most prominent of them was Davis himself who had shown various, and variable colourings of competence during his time in that newly created position in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum.  He had been marginalised of late, the Prime Minister evidently feeling that the issue was simply too important to leave to him. More to the point, he had threatened some five times to resign since November 2017, making him seem like a purveyor of empty threats.

With Davis’ exit went deputy Steve Baker and junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman.  “The general direction of policy,” came a liberated Davis in his letter of resignation, “will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”  Parliamentary control, he opined, would be “illusory rather than real”.  The “common rule book” policy would effectively hand “control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”

On Monday, just minutes before May’s address to members of parliament, Downing Street announced that Johnson was also making a dash for it.  His resignation letter was certainly heavy with opportunistic John Bull flavour; Britain, he charged, risked heading “for the status of a colony”.  The PM, he accused, was “sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them” in preparations for a “semi-Brexit”.  “It now seems that the opening bid of our negotiations involves accepting that we are not actually going to be able to make our own laws.”

There is not much sincerity all around.  Individuals like Environment Minister Michael Gove are backing May for the moment, thinking that a streak of sound pragmatism runs through this flawed plan.  But anyone having Gove’s backing is bound to feel the sheath of a blade, if not the blade itself, at some point.

Those remaining on May’s rocked ship have become apocalyptic in a different way, suddenly seeing the EU as less problematic than their opponents opposite the Parliamentary chamber.  “If we don’t pull together,” went a Cabinet minister to The Guardian, “we risk the election of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.”  Never mind Europe, went this particular line of reasoning: Labour might just walk in.

Within British politics, May’s Friday product does not seem to be flying well, though it had taken off in a fashion.  Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, taking the Scottish angle on this, suggested that the plan had started to unravel early, though it had a kernel of good sense. “It simply underlines the fact that the UK is leaving the EU (which I wish it wasn’t) the only workable solution is to stay in single market and customs union.”

Then comes the most obvious point that would render this whole exercise drily spent and academic: Will the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his crew have a bar of it?  There is, superficially, too much of the Swiss solution to this, too much of the “give me your market” but spare me the regulatory trade-off.  Having expressed his dislike for such a solution in the past, it is clear that May is facing the toughest of sells.   The EU apparatchiks still wish to make an example of Britain, a form of deterrence against others who wish to take the exiting step in the name of reclaiming sovereignty.

But there is something striking about the latest chapter in the ever ballooning Brexit script.  The Chequers statement is a product of a person who has not only survived, but shredded the hard Brexit base within her cabinet.  With Davis and Johnson gone into the dangerous ether of political disruption, the issue is whether the positions will firm up or loosen.  Till then, and even after, few sane individuals will want May’s job.

Will the Slaughter in Gaza Finally prick the International Conscience for Firm Action?

“We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do,” David Steel tells the House of Lords.

I’d like to share with you the speech by Steel (aka Lord Steel of Aikwood) in a recent House of Lords debate, the motion being ‘That this House takes note of the situation in the Palestinian Territories’. Steel himself opened proceedings with as good a summing-up of the appalling situation as I have heard anywhere.

Here it is word for word from Hansard:

My Lords, I put in for the ballot for today’s debate just after the terrible slaughter of 62 Palestinians inside the Gaza fence, which included eight children. I should at the outset ​declare a former interest. I served for seven years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians — and I am delighted to see that the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is to speak in this debate. During that time I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times, once touring Gaza just after the Cast Lead operation, when I saw for myself the wanton destruction of hospitals, schools and factories in what was described by David Cameron as one vast prison camp.

Before anyone accuses me of being one-sided, let me also say that I spent an afternoon with the local Israeli MP in the Ashkelon area in the south of that country and fully understand the intolerable life of citizens there threatened by rockets fired by Hamas from inside Gaza.

In fact, long before I got involved with MAP, back in 1981, I first met Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, at a time when our Government would not speak to him on the grounds that the PLO was a terrorist organisation refusing to recognise Israel, a mistake that we have repeated with Hamas. As I got to know Arafat over the years, I recognised that he was a brilliant liberation leader but a disappointing failure as head of the Palestinian Administration. Indeed, it was the incompetence and even corruption of that Administration which led to the success of Hamas in the election in Gaza. But those of us who pride ourselves in democracy cannot just give them the cold shoulder because we did not like the result, and yet that is what happened. The lesson of the successful peace process in Northern Ireland should surely have taught us that the only route to peace has to be through dialogue with those we may not like, rather than confrontation.

That brings me to the policy of the current Israeli Government, backed by the United States of America and, sadly, by our own Government. Israel’s great tragedy was the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had been relentless in his pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians. The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is very different. I met him once at a breakfast meeting in Tel Aviv. I admired his obvious ability and indeed swagger. He could, had he so wished, have gone down in history by heading an Administration to pursue a legitimate settlement with the Palestinians based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, when every member state of the Arab League had offered to recognise Israel and host her embassies in their countries in return for the establishment of a proper Palestinian state. Instead, he has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According ​to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit. Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.

I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem. When I was a student in the 1950s, many of my friends, not just Jewish ones, spent their vacations doing voluntary work in a kibbutz, such was the idealism surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, but that is no longer the case.

The reason I joined the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group was that I got fed up with being blamed, as Liberal leader, for the then Government’s Balfour Declaration encouraging the establishment of that state, people forgetting that the famous letter included the words, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

The conduct of its present Government is a clear betrayal of the basis on which the Lloyd George Government welcomed a state of Israel.

I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.

The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.

Recently some of us met a couple of Israeli professors in one of our committee rooms. They stressed to us the urgency of staying with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed as recently as December 2016, which roundly condemns all the illegal activities of the current Administration. It is worth reminding the House of just three of its 13 clauses, beginning with this one: “Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of ​Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law”.

A second clause reads: “Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”.

A third reads: “Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the grounds that they are imperilling the two-State solution”.

Those are not my words: they are taken from the UN Security Council. My mind went back to 1967 when, as a young MP, I was present when our then UK representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, led the drafting of Resolution 242 which was supposed to be the building block for peace after the Arab/Israeli war. My complaint is that the international community, including successive British Governments, have paid only lip service to that and allowed Israel to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of the Palestinians.

But there are signs of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows how high he is held in the opinion of the House and we cannot expect him as the Minister of State to change United Kingdom policy, but when the Statement on Gaza was made in the other place, two senior and respected Conservative ex-Ministers gave strong voice objecting to our current stance. Sir Nicholas Soames hoped that our Foreign Office would “indulge in a little less limp response to the wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”, while Sir Hugo Swire said that “one reason it is a festering hellhole and a breeding ground for terrorists is that each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans, by doing something about their water … or about their quality of life, Israel has blockaded it”.

We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had “been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”, which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.

We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.

David Steel, son of a Church of Scotland minister, was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1965 and, being only 23, was dubbed  the “Baby of the House”. He wasted no time making his mark and introduced, as a Private Member’s Bill, the Abortion Act 1967. Following the Jeremy Thorpe scandal he became Liberal Party leader until the merger with Labour renegades that formed the Liberal Democrats. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2004 as Baron Steel of Aikwood.

As Steel mentions in his speech, he served for 7 years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a remarkable organisation that “works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees”.

He lives in Aikwood Tower, a Borders fortified house built in 1535 which he painstakingly restored and modernised in the 1990s.

Aikwood Tower or Oakwood Tower (MacGibbon and Ross) Courtesy of Castles of Scotland

 

Will the Slaughter in Gaza Finally prick the International Conscience for Firm Action?

“We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do,” David Steel tells the House of Lords.

I’d like to share with you the speech by Steel (aka Lord Steel of Aikwood) in a recent House of Lords debate, the motion being ‘That this House takes note of the situation in the Palestinian Territories’. Steel himself opened proceedings with as good a summing-up of the appalling situation as I have heard anywhere.

Here it is word for word from Hansard:

My Lords, I put in for the ballot for today’s debate just after the terrible slaughter of 62 Palestinians inside the Gaza fence, which included eight children. I should at the outset ​declare a former interest. I served for seven years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians — and I am delighted to see that the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is to speak in this debate. During that time I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times, once touring Gaza just after the Cast Lead operation, when I saw for myself the wanton destruction of hospitals, schools and factories in what was described by David Cameron as one vast prison camp.

Before anyone accuses me of being one-sided, let me also say that I spent an afternoon with the local Israeli MP in the Ashkelon area in the south of that country and fully understand the intolerable life of citizens there threatened by rockets fired by Hamas from inside Gaza.

In fact, long before I got involved with MAP, back in 1981, I first met Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, at a time when our Government would not speak to him on the grounds that the PLO was a terrorist organisation refusing to recognise Israel, a mistake that we have repeated with Hamas. As I got to know Arafat over the years, I recognised that he was a brilliant liberation leader but a disappointing failure as head of the Palestinian Administration. Indeed, it was the incompetence and even corruption of that Administration which led to the success of Hamas in the election in Gaza. But those of us who pride ourselves in democracy cannot just give them the cold shoulder because we did not like the result, and yet that is what happened. The lesson of the successful peace process in Northern Ireland should surely have taught us that the only route to peace has to be through dialogue with those we may not like, rather than confrontation.

That brings me to the policy of the current Israeli Government, backed by the United States of America and, sadly, by our own Government. Israel’s great tragedy was the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had been relentless in his pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians. The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is very different. I met him once at a breakfast meeting in Tel Aviv. I admired his obvious ability and indeed swagger. He could, had he so wished, have gone down in history by heading an Administration to pursue a legitimate settlement with the Palestinians based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, when every member state of the Arab League had offered to recognise Israel and host her embassies in their countries in return for the establishment of a proper Palestinian state. Instead, he has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According ​to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit. Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.

I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem. When I was a student in the 1950s, many of my friends, not just Jewish ones, spent their vacations doing voluntary work in a kibbutz, such was the idealism surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, but that is no longer the case.

The reason I joined the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group was that I got fed up with being blamed, as Liberal leader, for the then Government’s Balfour Declaration encouraging the establishment of that state, people forgetting that the famous letter included the words, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

The conduct of its present Government is a clear betrayal of the basis on which the Lloyd George Government welcomed a state of Israel.

I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.

The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.

Recently some of us met a couple of Israeli professors in one of our committee rooms. They stressed to us the urgency of staying with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed as recently as December 2016, which roundly condemns all the illegal activities of the current Administration. It is worth reminding the House of just three of its 13 clauses, beginning with this one: “Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of ​Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law”.

A second clause reads: “Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”.

A third reads: “Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the grounds that they are imperilling the two-State solution”.

Those are not my words: they are taken from the UN Security Council. My mind went back to 1967 when, as a young MP, I was present when our then UK representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, led the drafting of Resolution 242 which was supposed to be the building block for peace after the Arab/Israeli war. My complaint is that the international community, including successive British Governments, have paid only lip service to that and allowed Israel to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of the Palestinians.

But there are signs of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows how high he is held in the opinion of the House and we cannot expect him as the Minister of State to change United Kingdom policy, but when the Statement on Gaza was made in the other place, two senior and respected Conservative ex-Ministers gave strong voice objecting to our current stance. Sir Nicholas Soames hoped that our Foreign Office would “indulge in a little less limp response to the wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”, while Sir Hugo Swire said that “one reason it is a festering hellhole and a breeding ground for terrorists is that each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans, by doing something about their water … or about their quality of life, Israel has blockaded it”.

We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had “been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”, which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.

We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.

David Steel, son of a Church of Scotland minister, was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1965 and, being only 23, was dubbed  the “Baby of the House”. He wasted no time making his mark and introduced, as a Private Member’s Bill, the Abortion Act 1967. Following the Jeremy Thorpe scandal he became Liberal Party leader until the merger with Labour renegades that formed the Liberal Democrats. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2004 as Baron Steel of Aikwood.

As Steel mentions in his speech, he served for 7 years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a remarkable organisation that “works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees”.

He lives in Aikwood Tower, a Borders fortified house built in 1535 which he painstakingly restored and modernised in the 1990s.

Aikwood Tower or Oakwood Tower (MacGibbon and Ross) Courtesy of Castles of Scotland

 

Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankly, I was astounded by the comparison.

Nazi propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

Limiting political debate

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

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

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

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

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

Israel and Jews

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

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

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

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

A dangerous confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Livingstone problem

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

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

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

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

A mural becomes anti-semitic

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

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

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

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

The 1 per cent off-limits

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

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

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

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

Frankie Boyle: Your new show betrayed Gaza

Dear Frankie Boyle,

I’d prefer not to be writing this as an open letter, but you didn’t leave me much choice: I can no longer engage with you on Twitter because you blocked me (and many hundreds of others, it seems) for criticising the first episode of your New World Order TV show on Friday.

Since then, having purged your Twitter feed of critics, you have created a series of straw men. In the worst, you have suggested that those unhappy with the show are really closet racists for objecting to the fact that you spent half of your 30-minute schedule allowing your guests, led by David Baddiel, to flay Jeremy Corbyn for a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in the Labour party. Presumably that offers you a comfortingly circular proof of Labour’s anti-semitism problem.

Another straw man is that those criticising you are simply Corbyn devotees defending their man. Well, that’s certainly not true in my case. Like you, I am dissatisfied with the Labour party as a vehicle for real change, and I think Corbyn is too moderate on a range of issues. But he is also a blast of fresh air in British politics, and the only party leader in living memory who has put anti-racism – and class solidarity – at the heart of his political agenda.

Which may be why some of us were infuriated watching a show hosted by you – probably the only true dissident currently given a show on mainstream TV – trash Corbyn in exactly the same terms used over the past two years by every section of the corporate media, from the Daily Mail and the Times to the Guardian and the BBC. Even were these anti-semitism allegations grounded in a verifiable reality, we really don’t need Frankie Boyle indulging prejudices we’ve heard almost every day since Corbyn was elected Labour leader.

Politically toxic

But sadly, that segment of your show was more than simply wasted airtime. Far worse, you peddled – or rather gave a platform to Baddiel and the other guests to peddle – allegations that are rooted in no reality at all, as people like me have been pointing out for a long time and in a great deal of detail. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

We are not saying there is no anti-semitism on the left (another straw man). Unfortunately, there are racists, including anti-semites, everywhere in life. We are saying that there is no anti-semitism crisis on the left. That is not my or anyone else’s opinion. It is documented fact. Surveys show that Labour is significantly better on the issue of anti-semitism than the right.

Your decision to echo the Murdoch press by focusing on a Labour/left anti-semitism “crisis” can have only two consequences, both of them politically irresponsible and socially toxic.

The first is that this allegation undermines – completely unfairly – the left, creating the impression among the wider public that there is a significant problem of anti-semitism in Labour, and implying, again unfairly, that Corbyn is the source of that problem. We understand very well why the corporate media is devoting so much time and energy to the character assassination of Corbyn. What we can’t understand is why you would use your own slot in the corporate media to steady the rifle for them.

But the irresponsibility of focusing on a confected Labour anti-semitism “crisis” extends beyond simply helping the right wing damage Corbyn and the left more generally. You have also assisted the right in deflecting public attention from its very real anti-semitism problem. And that kind of right wing anti-semitism isn’t about criticising Israel (in fact, the right increasingly loves Israel), but about promoting hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. While you and everyone else in the corporate media are busy directing our critical gaze at the Labour party, the right can get on with stoking real Jew hatred. If you doubt that, let Donald Trump be a warning to you.

A history of ‘new’ anti-semitism

Doubtless, David Baddiel thinks he’s defending Jews by concentrating on a supposed left wing “anti-semitism” that criticises Israel or, as he was also allowed to argue on your show, vilifies a “global elite”. Maybe he’s right and the Occupy Movement’s talk about “the 1 per cent” was just a way to repackage the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But I rather think not, and you should have required some evidence for those insinuations rather than grinning approvingly as he made them.

(Baddiel exposed his own unconscious racism on the show by making an ugly analogy in which anti-semitism was treated as the equivalent of “cancer”, while other forms of racism – against blacks and Muslims, presumably – were only “shingles”. I have analysed the problem of creating hierarchies of racism that prioritise anti-semitism, and undermine class solidarity, here.)

I understand, Frankie, that you may not realise that anti-semitism began to be weaponised by Israel and its supporters nearly two decades ago – long before Corbyn became Labour leader. From my vantage point in Israel, I have been tracking the mischievious misuse of anti-semitism since Israel began exploiting it more aggressively to silence critics in the early 2000s.

Then it was known as the “New Anti-Semitism”, or sometimes Judeophobia, and the Israeli and US media dedicated acres of newsprint to this supposedly new “problem” on the European left.

One prominent exponent of the thesis was Daniel J Goldhagen, a scholar of the Holocaust, who feared Muslim and Arab immigration to Europe had unleashed a new kind of anti-semitism. In 2003 he wrote in the Forward, a prestigious US Jewish weekly:

Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world. It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today, and on the United States as the world’s omnipresent power. …

Essentially, Europe has exported its classical racist and Nazi anti-Semitism to Arab countries, which they then applied to Israel and Jews in general. …

Then the Arab countries re-exported the new hybrid demonology back to Europe and, using the United Nations and other international institutions, to other countries around the world. In Germany, France, Great Britain and elsewhere, today’s intensive anti-Semitic expression and agitation uses old tropes once applied to local Jews — charges of sowing disorder, wanting to subjugate others — with new content overwhelmingly directed at Jews outside their countries.

Silencing criticism of Israel

In fact, this theme was enthusiastically picked up by a group of British Jewish intellectuals, who produced a book that same year called “A New Antisemitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st Century Britain”. The contributors included the Guardian’s executive editor Jonathan Freedland; far-right Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, formerly of the Guardian; novelist Howard Jacobson; and Britain’s then chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. A review in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described its thesis in these terms:

The irreducible fact is this: something new is at work in Britain. But it’s not the old anti-Semitism. It’s not eliminationist. It’s not genocidal. Nor is it even a deep-seated, visceral hatred of individual Jews. …

Not widespread in “Middle England” at the moment, [Judeophobia] nevertheless resides among certain “cognitive elites” within the news media, churches, universities, and trades unions. … Today’s Judeophobia is an assault on the essence of the Jewish collectivity, both in terms of a Jewish sovereign state in its ancient homeland, and the nature of robust, emancipated, and self-aware Diaspora communities. …

The discriminatory outcome of this campaign of vilification is the demonization of Israel, and by association Jews wherever they may live. Such demonization contributes little to constructive dialogue over Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In fact, it is another obstacle on the road to peace.

In Israel, a few analysts admitted at the time that this new kind of anti-semitism was intended to intimidate critics who were reacting to Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in the early years of the second intifada.

And proponents of the “New Anti-Semitism” argument, of course, wilfully ignored other, more convincing explanations of the mounting criticism of Israel on the European left – not least the growing exposure of western publics to Israel’s abuses of Palestinians in an age of 24-hour rolling news and social media.

The New Anti-Semitism playbook was quickly updated after Corbyn became Labour leader. He is seen as an enormous threat to Israel: the first head of a major modern European party to prioritise the suffering of Palestinians over Israel’s right to colonise the Palestinians’ homeland. I have written about this in too much detail to do so again, so if you need to get up to speed, it’s all set out here.

Censured for Israel jokes

There are a number of additional reasons why some of your followers are so angry with you over this episode. Rather than shutting them up, it might have been wise to listen to them.

1. You have spoken in the past about the BBC censuring you for jokes you made that were critical of Israel on the grounds that those jokes were supposedly anti-semitic. Remember what you wrote in an open letter eight years ago, before the media had set up Corbyn as the fall guy rather than you. Then, you stated:

I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal, was an appropriate target for satire. The [BBC] Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers.

It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.

Well, your prediction is fully vindicated. Now you don’t get censured by the BBC for anti-semitism; instead they pre-emptively censor your jokes on the assumption that they are anti-semitic (see point 2).

It’s a bad look for you to claim you were defamed as an anti-semite, and then allow your show to be used to defame others as anti-semites. It’s an explosive and hugely damaging accusation. It needs serious evidence before you joke about it at the expense of others.

2. You admitted in a tweet that BBC executives cut sections of Friday’s show – in violation of promises to you that those segments would be kept in – in which you criticised Israel as apartheid state and spoke out against Israel’s actions in Gaza. It is commendable that you made such comments, and that you have alerted us to the fact that the BBC excised them. It is yet further confirmation that the British state-corporate media is deeply unbalanced and untrustworthy on issues relating to Israel.

But that’s the point, isn’t it. Israel, as I have explained, chose to weaponise anti-semitism to silence criticism of its actions. When the BBC censors material critical of Israel, (as it has done to others, such as Max Keiser) it does so because – as you, Frankie, noted in the video clip referenced in point 1 – it conflates that criticism with anti-semitism, just as Israel hoped.

The BBC and the rest of the corporate media have similarly ignored the fact that many of the most high-profile suspension cases in the Labour party for anti-semitism have actually been of anti-Zionist Jews outspoken in their criticisms of Israel. That important fact is not mentioned by the corporate media, or on your show, because it dramatically undermines the narrative of an anti-semitism “crisis” on the left.

Now censored for Israel jokes

You want to treat the fact that your show focused on anti-semitism as entirely separate from the fact that in the same episode the BBC censored your comments critical of Israel. However, everyone but apparently you, Frankie, understands that these two matters can’t be separated because Israel, the BBC and many others now blur any distinction beyond recognition. Just take Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, who has argued that his Jewish identity is inextricably bound up in Israel, and therefore to criticise Israel is to attack him as a Jew.

When you play the anti-semitism card against Corbyn, you open the door for the BBC to play the anti-semitism card against you (as it has) and any routine you might want to perform that is critical of Israel. You threw Corbyn and the left under the bus with Friday’s show, while you whinge about the fact that you were censored on Israel. It simply won’t wash.

3. The anti-semitism allegations against Labour and Corbyn have been festering away for the best part of two years. Aside from all the other matters I have raised, it is not unreasonable to question why you would dredge them up now. The most topical issue of the week was the massacre by Israeli snipers of Palestinians protesting in Gaza, after a decade in which the enclave’s two million inhabitants have been slowly starved to death in line with Israeli policy.

You dismissed one of your followers who raised the incongruence of your priorities by suggesting that she was racist for holding the Jewish people collectively responsible for Israel’s actions. Yet another straw man. She did nothing of the sort.

But presumably she, like many others, has noticed that anti-semitism has been weaponised against Corbyn and the left more generally. It is intended to shut us up for talking too much about Israel. Quite how this has passed your notice is less easy to explain, given your double admisson that the BBC has censored your own criticisms of Israel and censured you by conflating such criticism with anti-semitism.

The very week when Palestinians need full-throated support, and Israel full-throated condemnation, you trotted out stale and bogus allegations of an anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour precisely designed (whether you understand it or not) to foreclose criticism of Israel. That is a betrayal of the Palestinian people in their time of need. I can’t think of a nicer way to dress it up.

Keeping you honest

There are those who say you, Frankie, are trying to do your best in a tough spot from within the corporate media, and therefore we should cut you some slack. Certainly, it is good that you have a platform that can reach far larger numbers of people than any of us social media activists.

But that is not a good reason for us to keep quiet. First, we need to keep you honest. You slipped up badly in this first episode, both in enthusiastically adopting the right’s anti-semitism “crisis” narrative and in not making a bigger noise about the censorship of your Gaza criticisms. If we don’t kick your arse over it, no one else will.

Second, we on the real left have to raise our expectations. Okay, it’s good to have you on the BBC, but we need to make as much noise as possible when we have a chance to remind viewers that you are a one-off, the exception that proves the rule; and that even so, you are being censored and doubtless forced to make other major compromises on your material to remain on the telly.

Our job is not to stand loyally by you while you trim your sails. It is to challenge you on your compromises and expose the difficulties you face to a wider public. That helps to raise awareness of how rarely alternative perspectives are available on the BBC, while at the same time deepening our own critical thinking.

The fact that you have blocked so many of us for simply pointing out what should have been obvious to you in the first place is a good sign that you do indeed need your arse kicked. We’ll happily do it again next time you play by the establishment’s rule book.

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“A Suffocating Groupthink”: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.1

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen’s assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on ‘mainstream’ media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

I’ve never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda […] What we’re seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power?

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current ‘mainstream’ reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called ‘failure’ of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, published thirty years ago:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.2 Our emphasis.

1. Israelis Deliberately Killing Palestinians, Including Children

A recent media alert highlighted the mass killing and wounding of Palestinians in Gaza, including children, by Israeli armed forces in what the media often describe as ‘clashes’. Before the latest major massacre on May 14 (see below), Israeli forces had already killed over 50 Palestinian protesters and injured over 5000, including 1700 by live fire, during Great March of Return protests that began on March 30. UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk condemned Israel’s actions as violations of international law.

On April 21, an Israeli general confirmed in a radio interview that even children have been shot deliberately under clear and specific orders. United Nations peace process envoy Nickolay Mladenov declared the targeting of children ‘outrageous.’

In a sane world, such an appalling Israeli policy would be major headline news. Our searches revealed not a single ‘mainstream’ report about it in the days following the Israeli general’s comments. We asked senior BBC News editors and journalists to point us to the BBC News headlines and follow-up coverage on this revelation. BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was the only one to respond. And that was after we observed that she had previously reported in 2013 that Syrian children had been ‘targeted by snipers’. What about Palestinian children targeted by Israeli forces? She replied:

Thank you for message. Am involved in another story now but will forward to colleagues working in the region now.

Predictably, there was no follow-up on BBC News, as far as we could see. We need only imagine the global outrage if Palestinian snipers were found to be deliberately targeting Israeli children to gauge the current level of media silence.

Even more mass killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers have occurred since. On May 14, on the day that the US controversially opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers killed and wounded huge numbers of Palestinians. By the evening, the UN noted that 55 had been killed, including six children. 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 people in a critical condition. By the following day, the death toll had risen to 61, including an eight-month-old baby who died from tear gas inhalation.

All day long, BBC News disgraced itself with headline after headline on the top page of its website masking the truth. Despite weeks of public outrage at previous biased reporting of Gaza protests, BBC News was still using the Israeli-approved word ‘clashes’ to describe the deliberate mass killing of Palestinians.

Compare with the Guardian website which, for once, did not mince its words about Israel’s crimes: ‘Israeli troops kill dozens of Palestinians’. Would that really have been too difficult for someone at BBC News to type out? Clearly so, and no surprise given that the BBC routinely trembles in fear before the pro-Israel lobby. Why else would BBC News choose ‘Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy’ as a headline, masking the fact that Israeli troops had massacred civilians? To be fair to the BBC, the Guardian print edition of May 15 was equally as bad, featuring the headline, ‘Israel: Trump’s new embassy opens – and dozens are killed’.

By the end of the day, the top headline on the BBC News website was: ‘Israel defends Gaza action as 55 killed’. As ever, the Israeli perspective is given prominence, even as it commits abhorrent crimes against civilians. The massacre of unarmed civilians was merely an ‘action’, and the identity of the people murdered by the Israeli army was obscured – perhaps a mix of Israelis and Palestinians had been killed? In fact, there were no Israeli casualties.

On the flagship BBC News at Ten, graphics and headlines proclaimed, ‘Gaza Clashes’, an abomination used by the BBC instead of ‘Gaza Massacre’. The heart-breaking reality behind the lie of ‘clashes’ could be seen in the anguish of a Palestinian father crying in farewell to his little boy:

Oh people, my son

The following day (May 15), the BBC’s truth-mangling headline read:

Gaza braced for further violent protests

A more honest headline would have been:

Gaza civilians braced for a further Israeli massacre

A glimmer of hope for sanity was seen when, following public outrage, The New York Times changed its headline on an article from ‘Palestinians died in protest’ to ‘Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians’. As Twitter user @FalafelDad observed:

media accountability is NECESSARY and can be achieved.

2. Fact-Checking Trump’s Iran Deal Speech

When Donald Trump announced last week that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, analysis by Now This News website revealed in a short video that, in his speech:

Trump averaged one false claim every 83 seconds.

For example, Trump claimed:

The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and – over time – reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.

As the video pointed out:

False. The deal forced Iran to give up all weapons-grade uranium and barred it from producing more.

Trump continued:

The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity.

And in the real world?

Wrong. The deal gave inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear sites and suspicious facilities.

And so on.

In contrast, BBC News at Ten essentially took Trump’s speech at face value. Our challenge to senior BBC editors and correspondents to actually fact-check Trump’s assertions was met with the usual silence.

In an online piece, Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent, did go so far as to say:

The inconvenient truth for Donald Trump is that, as far as it goes, the nuclear deal was working.

Despite this, Mr Trump presented it in stark and frankly erroneous terms – for leaving out things that it was never supposed to cover in the first place.

But two lines couched in rather vague and non-specific terms is scant compensation for flagship BBC News television reporting that is little more than stenography. Senior editors and journalists seem to believe that their job is to tell the public what ‘our’ leaders say, and not to scrutinise claims made. This is galling; all the more so when dangerous rhetoric, making war more likely, goes unchallenged. But then, as John Pilger once wrote, corporate journalists are:

the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

3. Douma And The Salisbury Attack

There is so much that could be said on Douma following our recent two-part media alert. Note, for instance, the corporate media’s response to a press conference at the headquarters of the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW in the Hague on April 26. A number of Syrians, including children, gave their version of events in Douma, casting serious doubt on the official Western narrative of a chemical weapons attack that provided the pretext for missile attacks by the US, the UK and France on April 14. ‘Mainstream’ media dutifully headlined the scathing dismissal by Western powers of the Russia-organised press conference as ‘nothing more than a crude propaganda exercise‘ and an ‘obscene masquerade.’

Meanwhile, the corporate media blanked the assessment of Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector vindicated in his detailed appraisal that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of ‘WMD’ before the 2003 war. Last month, interviewer Dennis Bernstein of Flashpoints Radio asked Ritter:

Isn’t it also the case that there were problems with the allegations concerning Syria using chemical weapons in 2013 and then again in 2015? I believe The New York Times had to retract their 2013 story.

Ritter replied:

They put out a story about thousands of people dying, claiming that it was definitely done by the Syrian government. It turned out later that the number of deaths was far lower and that the weapons systems used were probably in the possession of the rebels. It was a case of the rebels staging a chemical attack in order to get the world to intervene on their behalf.

He continued:

A similar scenario unfolded last year when the Syrian government dropped two or three bombs on a village and suddenly there were reports that there was sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas wafting through the village, killing scores of people. Videotapes were taken of dead and dying and suffering people which prompted Trump to intervene. Inspectors never went to the site. Instead they relied upon evidence collected by the rebels.

Ritter expanded on this vital point:

As a weapons inspector, I can tell you that chain of custody of any samples that are to be used in the investigation is an absolute. You have to be at the site when it is collected, it has to be certified to be in your possession until the laboratory. Any break in the chain of custody makes that evidence useless for a legitimate investigation. So we have evidence collected by the rebels. They videotaped themselves carrying out the inspection, wearing training suits that would not have protected them at all from chemical weapons! Like almost everything having to do with these rebels, this was a staged event, an act of theater.

Ritter then turned to the US/UK/France missile attack on Syria on April 14:

We bombed three targets, a research facility in Damascus and two bunker facilities in western Syria. It was claimed that all three targets were involved with a Syrian chemical weapons program. But the Syria weapons program was verified to be disarmed. So what chemical weapons program are we talking about? Then US officials said that one of these sites stored sarin nerve agent and chemical production equipment. That is a very specific statement. Now, if Syria was verified to be disarmed last year, with all this material eliminated, what are they talking about? What evidence do they have that any of this material exists? They just make it up. [Emphasis in original]’

Serious questions also remain regarding the official story on the Skripal poison attack in Salisbury; not least, why the rebranded D-Notice committee has issued not just one, but two notices in an attempt to shut down aspects of media coverage.

As ever, the views of ‘experts’ and witnesses whose testimony accords with the Western narrative are given heavy coverage in the corporate media; while those whose testimony runs counter to that narrative tend to be either dismissed or simply ignored. As Noam Chomsky once observed:

Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits – that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.3

4. Today’s McCarthyism

As noted earlier, the ‘intense campaign of propaganda’ described by John Pilger is severely distorting what passes for journalism. A constant target of this distortion is Russia, in a grotesque echo of Cold War propaganda. From Moscow, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg plays the required role, recently commenting on the inauguration ceremony following Russian president Putin’s re-election:

The symbolism and the message couldn’t be clearer. Putin, the modern tsar. Loved by his people.

Putin and Russia are forever portrayed as flexing their military muscles and representing a threat to the West, not least by BBC News. It is notable that a similar snooty, doom-mongering tone is absent when UK state occasions, or military exercises, are reported.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News responded to us on Twitter:

You will find Putin has a little more power than the Queen by the way. Just a tad…

We replied:

UK churnalism endlessly drools over “our” dear leaders. Remember the Blair adulation? And Obama? But that’s okay, because they’re “good guys”, not like Putin.

Thomson followed up with:

I don’t see much drooling. And neither Blair nor Obama routinely liquidate opposition/journalists as happens under Putin’s Kremlin, unarguably.

Our response:

Because you don’t want to see it. But you can see Putin’s crimes. Can you also see that Blair and Obama destroyed entire countries [Iraq, Libya], also unarguably? Can you see that the state-corporate system they served is ferociously violent, exploitative and criminal?

Thomson did not answer, other than to request to be ‘untagged’ from an exchange he had initiated, following a further critical response from another tweeter.

Meanwhile, the increasingly neocon Guardian plastered on its front page, not just one, but three, pieces of anti-Russia propaganda:

Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance
‘Deny, distract and blame’: how Russia fights propaganda war
Clickbait and Skripal jokes: Russia’s RT thrives online

The Guardian, once regarded by many on the left as the vanguard of power-challenging journalism, was clearly pushing the ‘red scare’ agenda hard, in line with UK government priorities.

The big ‘Revealed’ piece was written by Patrick Wintour, the paper’s diplomatic editor. The main message, which could have come straight from a government press release, was this:

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook was rightly critical in a blog piece:

When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.

Cook continued:

But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia.

The author of the second piece on ‘how Russia fights propaganda war’ was, ironically, Luke Harding, the paper’s former Moscow-based correspondent who regularly churned out pro-West propaganda in that role. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray describes Harding as ‘MI6’s most important media conduit (after [BBC security correspondent] Frank Gardner)’. The pinpoint demolition of Harding by Aaron Maté of The Real News Network last year is a must-watch.

A later Guardian piece by Amanda Meade, Guardian Australia’s media correspondent, actually contained this line:

RT is a powerful PR arm of the Russian government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

When did the Guardian ever write the following line?

The BBC is a powerful PR arm of the British government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

As Caitlin Johnstone rightly notes, any discussion of ‘Russian disinformation’ is invalid if it sweeps under the carpet previous massive Western propaganda campaigns; not least that leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Those questioning the official Western narratives on Russia and Syria have been subjected to an appalling McCarthyite campaign of vilification and intimidation; in large part initiated by The Times and followed up by others, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Huffington Post. This has led to the late rearrangement of a planned conference in Leeds, titled ‘Media on Trial,’ after the city council pulled the plug on allowing Leeds City Museum to be used as the venue. A report on the event’s cancellation, written by Chris York, a senior editor at HuffPost UK, smeared the speakers, including Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, as ‘pro-Assad’. Indeed, York has been relentless in attacking the academics as ‘pro-Assad’.

As for George Monbiot, the Guardian’s long-time resident ‘dissident’, his subservience to the official narrative on Russia and Syria was starkly exposed by journalist Peter Hitchens in recent exchanges on Twitter. Hitchens had previously published a detailed piece on his blog titled, ‘Who Gassed Whom in Syria? We don’t Know. Please Don’t be Rushed into War.’

The Twitter exchange is lengthy and not archived in a single thread, as far as we are aware. But as an indicator of Monbiot’s inability to respond to Hitchens, consider this discussion on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW):

Monbiot:

The OPCW/JIM report on Khan Shaykhun [in 2017] presented a mountain of evidence for a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government

Hitchens:

1. The report is based on a study that breaks the OPCW’s own stated 2013 rule: No assessment without visiting the site. But the OPCW never visited the site. It is full of anonymous judgements of likelihood, phrases such as “appeared to be” and “highly likely”

Followed up by:

2. Sorry to put it like this George (but not very) but any proper journalist knows that “appears to be;” and “highly likely” are phrases used by people who would have loved to say “is”, but haven’t the facts which would allow them to do so.

And:

3. I’d also say that in a long career I have learned to be sceptical of opinions convenient to the person presenting them, originating from unnamed and unidentified sources, and of people with firm views about events they did not themselves witness.

After Monbiot had ‘liked’ a tweet smearing Hitchens as ‘a chemical weapons denier/Assad-Putin stooge’, together with Monbiot’s clear inability to properly respond to reasonable questions from Hitchens about supposed incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt, Hitchens concluded:

I have been dismayed and disappointed by the behaviour of @GeorgeMonbiot on this issue, where he has preferred smear to rational, fact-based debate. What has happened to radicalism in the west, when prominent left-wingers behave like this?

Indeed. Although, when it comes to UK foreign policy, far from being a ‘left-winger’, Monbiot has consistently aligned himself with dubious neocon and ‘interventionist’ voices for some considerable time.

Concluding Remarks

It may have taken several years, but Guardian columnist Owen Jones has come to realise something vital about the ‘mainstream’ media which, to his credit, he has been willing to share:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

As Ian Sinclair pointed out in the Morning Star:

the indignant responses [from corporate journalists] — perfectly illustrating Jones’s argument — came thick and fast.

The response from Deborah Haynes, Times defence editor, was typical when she proudly declared:

No-one tells me what to think

US writer and media critic Michael Parenti had the perfect response for this recurring facile boast from corporate journalists:

You say what you like because they like what you say.

In other words, journalists are filtered for ‘reliability’; only those who say, write and even think the right things are able to reach senior positions in journalism. The consequences for genuine truth-telling journalism are horrendous, as the above examples show.

  1. Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.20.
  2. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1.
  3. Quoted, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, New York, 2002, p. 13.