Category Archives: UK Politics

Russian “Collusion” is a Red Herring While a Fourth Reich Rises

As the 2018 U.S. midterm elections approach, there is still no evidence of ‘collusion’ between the campaign of President Donald J. Trump and the Russian government after nearly two years of inquiry. Thus far in the Department of Justice’s investigation led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, only a trail of corruption involving Trump associates has been discovered. None of their wrongdoings connect to the Russian nationals also indicted in the probe, including the illicit lobbying by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine which actually went against Russia’s interests on behalf of the EU. One can anticipate that more misdeeds by his cronies will be uncovered given that corruption in Washington grows on trees, some of which may even implicate Trump himself. However, if there were anything incriminating at the level of high treason, the likelihood that it wouldn’t have been unearthed already after such an exhaustive inquest relying on splitting hairs for indictments is slim.

The Kremlin has also fulfilled the need of a scapegoat across the Atlantic for the UK’s Brexit referendum. Mueller has examined emails from the shadowy British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, but seemingly only to scrutinize whether they contain evidence of intrigue between Trump and Russia. The UK-based voter profiling company, chaired by former Trump campaign and Breitbart CEO Stephen K. Bannon and owned by the mysterious right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, provided services for both the Trump and Brexit campaigns using the collected data of more than 80 million Facebook users for ‘electoral engineering.’ After the scandal broke, the firm was suspended by Facebook and then reported to have shut its doors. It quickly came to light that the company had merely re-branded itself under the handle Emerdata Ltd., now under the management of Mercer’s daughters Rebekah and Jennifer. It is even operating out of the same headquarters in London and although it is still under federal investigation, no criminal charges appear imminent against its previous incarnation. Cambridge Analytica denies breaking any laws but it is widely believed to have done so by electoral watchdog groups. Have there been no legal proceedings because the DOJ is prioritizing finding connections between Trump and Moscow?

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie made several admissions about its activities. One significant disclosure was that its database building of social media users was assisted by employees of Palantir Technologies, the nebulous software company owned by another pro-Trump billionaire, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel. A GOP mega-donor and Silicon Valley venture capitalist with close ties to Robert Mercer, Thiel was rewarded with a spot on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after his surprising victory. The Palantir moniker eerily derives from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings after a crystal ball used by a wizard to see into far off places and the past. Palintir employees aided the firm in constructing ‘psychographs’ of voters based on their preferences, behavior, and internet activity in order to target them with advertising. Why on earth is Russia the center of the investigation and not the multiple private intelligence and data mining firms hired to stage-manage the election?

One possibility is because Palintir’s expertise has previously been employed for data scraping services by a range of powerful clients, including predictive-policing software for law enforcement and even the National Security Agency for developing its XKEYSCORE internet surveillance database. If election manipulation by the Trump campaign was facilitated by a company previously contracted by the Pentagon to weaponize data using social media as a global spy tool, it is easy to conclude why Russia would be a preferred suspect in the investigation. Only the naive could believe the Mueller inquiry represents anything other than the interests of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. After all, it is their unsubstantiated word alone that has been the entire source for the claims of Russia’s alleged interference. If the investigation findings were to implicate Palintir which is funded by the CIA’s venture capital fund In-Q-Tel, we are really expected to believe a career spook like Mueller would be impartial?

Palintir also has an outpost in Tel Aviv, Israel. One of Trump’s most controversial foreign policy moves has been the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal accord and it just so happens that the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency used Palintir’s Mosaic software to ensure Tehran was in compliance. If the President of the United States is openly supported by the billionaire supplying the technology to verify Iran is in accordance with the agreement and has campaigned vowing to sabotage it, how in the world is this ethical and not a conflict of interest? Shortly before the U.S. withdrawal, Trump even met with Thiel just hours after speaking with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Iran. Cambridge Analytica is also tied to Israel through private intelligence firm Wikistrat Inc. which offered the Trump campaign social media election manipulation services in a partnership. It is clear that any loose associations between the Kremlin and Trump have been overplayed in order to soft pedal the overwhelming influence by Israel. Meanwhile, Putin cannot even appear to rig the vote in his own country, as following Russia’s recent unpopular pension reforms his political party suffered losses in regional elections.

Christopher Wylie indeed testified that it was a Russian data scientist who authored the survey app which gathered the information used by Cambridge Analytica from millions of Facebook profiles. The psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, provided the data to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). Evidently, his research for the app through the University of St. Petersburg was funded using Russian government grants but Kogan, who is actually a Moldovan-born U.S. citizen, has done academic studies subsidized by the U.S., UK, Chinese and Canadian governments as well. The dots that have been connected to Russian intelligence possessing access to Kogan’s data are pure speculation, as are the claims that Kogan is a spy, a highly unlikely possibility considering he is still currently employed by the University of Cambridge. What is more certain is Cambridge Analytica’s nefarious use of private information to target voters for the Trump and Leave EU campaigns, but the Mueller team remains fixated on Moscow.

What are the consequences of this smokescreen? Steve Bannon has been free to move on from his ouster in the Trump administration to offer his prowess to far rightists around the world with the formation of a organization dubbed “The Movement.” Based in Belgium and co-founded with the country’s populist demagogue Mischaël Modrikamen, its stated aim is to prop up ultra nationalism across the EU before next year’s European Parliament elections. The shady organization is intended to be a right-wing equivalent of the Open Society Foundation by bolstering far right political movements from behind the scenes. Bannon’s modus operandi is in giving a businesslike and accessible polish to right-wing populism while placing greater emphasis on anti-immigration, the refugee crisis and Islamophobia. The Movement is consulting parties such as:

  • Fidesz, party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
  • The Italian League, party of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini
  • Alternative for Germany/Alternative for Deutschland (AfD)
  • Sweden Democrats, third place in last month’s general election
  • Dutch Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders and is the second largest party in the Netherlands House of Representatives
  • Freedom Party of Austria
  • Swiss People’s Party
  • UK Independence Party (Ukip); Bannon is close colleagues with leader Nigel Farage
  • National Front/National Rally (France) led by Marine Le Pen
  • Belgium People’s Party
  • VOX (Spain)

Prior to the Great Recession, far right political organizations had remained on the periphery for decades following the Second World War until the 2008 financial crash reintroduced the economic circumstances that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Suddenly, the far right began to flourish in countries hit hardest by the Eurozone’s debts. This development was simultaneous with the emergence of the Tea Party in the U.S. resurrecting the Gadsden banner. Golden Dawn made notable gains in the Greek parliament but their brand still resembled the anti-Semitic nationalists of Eastern Europe, a hard sell in the rest of the continent. When a further destabilized Middle East facilitated by Western interventionism led to a flux of migrants seeking refugee status in the EU, an opportunity arose for transformation of nationalism in Western and Southern Europe to an ‘accessible’ Islamophobic variety.

The distinguishing characteristic of this new wave of fascism is not just jettisoning of anti-Semitism, but strong support of the state of Israel. For instance, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) which is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag is bankrolled by the pro-Israel Gatestone Institute and closely aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front (now known as National Rally) is historically anti-Semitic but has gradually shifted its agenda toward attacking Islam in recent decades as well. Steve Bannon himself even boasted he is an avowed “Judeo-Christian Zionist.” On the surface this disturbing alliance between Holocaust-denying figures like Viktor Orban and Israel may seem unlikely, it also makes perfect sense considering both Zionists and the extreme right hold the historical view that Jews are fundamentally non-native to Europe and they have a common civilizational ‘enemy’ in Islam.

Bannon isn’t limiting his enterprise to the Northern Hemisphere either and has already exported it to the global south. It was recently reported that the former White House Chief Strategist is advising the campaign of the runoff winner for Brazil’s presidency, Jair Bolsanaro, who has been described as a “Brazilian Trump” and “Tropical Hitler” for his disparaging statements about women, gays, blacks and the country’s indigenous minority. Bolsanaro has also expressed nostalgia for the military dictatorship that lasted more than two decades in Brazil after a 1964 U.S.-backed coup. Bolsanaro has been such a paralyzing figure in Brazilian politics, he was hospitalized after a knife stabbing at a campaign event last month. Historically, fascism and South America are no strangers — following WWII, it was Argentina under Juan Perón which provided secret safe harbor to Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele.

With no end or likely impeachment in sight, it is clear that the media and public have been diverted toward a ruse contrived by the U.S. intelligence community. The entire premise of the Russia investigation ostensibly presumes its own conclusion, searching for the missing pieces to a preconstructed narrative rather than determining what actually transpired. It has all the hallmarks of a counterintelligence PSY-OP, designed to commandeer public disapproval of Trump into serving the State Department’s objective of undermining Russia and sabotaging even the most modest efforts to be diplomatic with Moscow. The media and establishment can hardly contain their contempt for the working class in the theft of their agency, as if none of their grievances which the extreme right has capitalized on could be legitimate. Still, if it were to be determined that the election was compromised by the likes of Cambridge Analytica and Palintir instead of the Kremlin, it would remain a distraction from underlying causes.

The global economic downturn is what has nurtured the far right, but its rebirth in Europe truly originates with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously hypothesized in The End of History and the Last Man that Karl Marx had been proven wrong that communism would replace capitalism with the advent of liberal democracy. Fukuyama wrote:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

If socialism failed, almost thirty years later it appears that so too are capitalism and liberal democracy. We were told the fall of communism was the ‘end of history’, and there were no longer any further steps in humanity’s evolutionary process. Once a celebrated figure, what Fukuyama wrote then can only be interpreted today as a colossally failed prediction by an intellectual charlatan. Both a resurgence of socialism as well as a potential descent into fascist barbarism are back on the table in our present historical moment.

Last month, the media was enthralled by the collective laughter of the international community at Trump’s embarrassing speech to the United Nations General Assembly that seemed to all but confirm the dismantling of U.S. hegemony. While Trump made clear his ultra-nationalist departure from his predecessors in denouncing “the ideology of globalism”, per usual the presstitutes overlooked one of the address’s most significant moments when he stated:

Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism.

That Trump devoted a portion of his tirade to denounce socialism is remarkable and a virtual admittance that the ruling classes are trembling that it is no longer a dirty word in the Western lexicon. On the one hand, because capitalism is in a crisis large sections of the working class are desperately turning to a far-right appealing to their popular anger at the elite and prejudices against migrants. Capitalism has historically kept the far right on life support in reserve for absorbing revolt in its periods of crisis to be misdirected into jingoism and scapegoating, an opposition much easier to control. If the far right today is ascendant, so too is socialism which must seize upon the class struggle that has once again returned to the forefront determining political life. If liberal democracy speaks of the ‘end of history’, fascism represents the end of humanism in its hostility to culture and civilization, no matter how new and improved its image. History is indeed repeating itself. As the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once said in what could have been a rebuttal to Fukuyama’s thesis —“History never really says goodbye. It says, ‘see you later.’”

Barely Breathing: May’s Gasping Premiership

The Boris Johnson storm, beating away at the British Prime Minister’s doors with an ancient fury, has been stayed for the moment in the wake of the Conservative Party Conference held at Birmingham last week.  While the potential usurper batters away on the domestic front with red faced enthusiasm, Theresa May faces the impossible sell: convincing the European Union that the divorce Britain is initiating will still entail some form of faux conjugal relations.  In this, she must also convince the forces of the remainder group that she has a solution that is not the worst of all worlds, a form of permissive molestation that will yield some benefits from the Brussels machinery.

In the background, protests abuzz in an effort to turn the ship away from its current course for March 29, 2019.  The referendum of 2016 that led to a Brexit, goes this line of argument, was attained by audacious cheek, a fraud couched in populist sentiment.  London remains ground zero for the resistance (wasn’t it always?), with its mayor, Sadiq Khan, holding the fort in insisting for a second vote.  The UK, he argued, was trapped between cripplingly dangerous options: “a public vote on any deal or a vote on a no-deal, alongside the option of staying in the EU”.

Khan’s views function as vain hopes in search of a mind changing miracle.  Expressed from London, they might as well sound like the tinny sounds of a capsule lodged in the red earth of Mars.  “People didn’t vote to leave the EU to make themselves poorer, to watch their businesses suffer, to have the NHS wards understaffed, to see the police preparing for civil unrest or for our national security to be put at risk if our cooperation with the EU in the right against terrorism is weakened.”

European leaders, anxious that the EU compact is being gnawed at from within, have also been muttering approvingly for a change of heart.  Keep voting, seems to be this view, till the minds change, a recipe less for democracy than managed thought.  Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat went as far as to tell BBC Radio 4 last month that, “We would like the almost impossible to happen… that the UK has another referendum.”

Johnson did have a good go at stirring the pot, and delegates and those gathered at the Tory Conference – some 1,500 – were not disappointed.  “If I have a function here today it is to try, with all humility, to put some lead in the collective pencil, to stop what seems to me to be a ridiculous seeping away of our self-belief, and to invite you to feel realistic and justified confidence.”

As usual, Johnson was short on what exactly to do.  The hearts would beat, throb even, and the mind would catch-up.  After the wrecking ball, what’s there to do?  “Our diplomatic strategy,” he observed, “was focused on the EU.  That made sense in the 1970s. It makes much less sense today, when 95 percent of the world’s growth is going to be outside the EU.”  This has become a stodgy mantra – the world as Britain’s eager oyster waiting to be prized over, pearl and all.

May had certainly been struggling to contain the Johnson bull in the china shop, whose message is to “chuck Chequers”, which was nothing more than a “cheat” that, should it be enacted, would “escalate the sense of mistrust.”  It is a point that has noisy traction. Patrick Robinson, writing in The Telegraph, suggested that the “Chequers plan is not a ‘compromise’ or a negotiating position.  This was the public face of a ploy to keep the UK inside the EU by tying our hands on rules governing foods, food, the environment, the workplace and much else, and maintaining the supremacy of European law in our country.”

In this, he has found common ground from the EU technocrats, who are also none too keen on the prime minister’s distinction between the “common rulebook” for goods but not services, designed to prevent the creation of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  As a wary Donald Tusk of the European Council explained in Salzburg last month, “The suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market.”

May claimed last Tuesday that she had a new policy about immigration in a post-Brexit Britain.  Critics were quick to point out she did not.  Instead of upstaging Johnson, Home Secretary Sajid Javid found himself left in the lurch.  “Boris,” claimed Charles Moore, “was boosted by her hostility, and people listened to his wide-ranging speech.”

Then came the Wednesday speech, made in the aftermath of Johnson’s show which, by her own admission, made her “cross.” She was attempting, while taking a swipe at Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, to appeal to those wishing for “a party that is decent, moderate and patriotic.” There would be no more fiscal conservatism in the Cameron-Osborne mould.  The political sectarians would be shunned.  And she could deliver all these promises with weak jokes and an awkward robotic dance.

While quantifiable figures on sentiment must be treated with studied caution, one poll conducted for The Observer in the aftermath of May’s concluding conference speech suggested that the prime minister had shored up her position. A small 17 percent pitted for Johnson; double that number preferred May.  Washed out and barely breathing, the pulse has returned.  Time, however, is running out.

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

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

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

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

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

In their study, Schlosberg and Laker identified:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times added:

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

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

How on earth has it come to this?

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

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

He added:

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

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

But, note Schlosberg and Laker:

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

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

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

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

Response to the Media Reform Coalition Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chomsky and his co-signatories add:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We responded:

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

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

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

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

We answered:

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

Her follow-up:

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

And our reply:

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

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

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

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

Schlosberg pointed out:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real anti-Semites please stand up

Amongst the highly prolific author HG Wells’ many publications is a less well-known book titled A Short History of the World. Given the potential immensity of such a subject, the fact that Wells produced a book of very modest length (my copy is a mere 350 pages or so) no doubt would encourage some to dismiss it as trite and superficial. Obviously it’s superficial, but it might be reasonable to say the same of something twenty or fifty times longer – depending on how well it’s written. But Wells’ book is truly remarkable for its economy of language, with hardly a single unnecessary word used; and it’s also remarkable for its scholarship.

Wells studied biology before he became a writer, and carved a meagre existence for himself as a teacher for almost ten years. Perhaps the early discipline of scientific method, together with the need to communicate new ideas to young minds, influenced much of his later writing style, because what he created with Short History is an amazingly compact and very readable collection of short essays covering a multitude of historical events from the creation of the Earth, through discussions on all the main religions, to the Russian Revolution – which took place a mere five years before he published his book.

Few of the sixty-seven chapters exceed four pages in length, yet each chapter is packed with such a wealth of information that it’s difficult not to be impressed with the depth of Wells’ scholarship, because to write as informatively and concisely as he does in each chapter implies a huge depth of knowledge. Like a few other great thinkers, Wells was an autodidact and acquired most of his knowledge by charting his own course, free of the constraints that hinder many of those restricted to lives of formal education.

Of particular interest in these times where the expression “anti-Semitism” is seldom out of the mainstream fake-news for any length of time, are a couple of chapters Wells devotes to the early history of the Middle East. It’s necessary to repeat the important point that Wells wrote this book in the early 1920s. Israel did not exist at that time, yet the word that Wells seems to use most often when referring to the natives of the massive area stretching roughly from where Iran is today to Tunisia in the West, Egypt in the South, and Turkey in the North, is “Semite”:

We have already noted the appearance of the Semitic people as wanderers and nomads in the region of Syria and Arabia, and how they conquered Sumeria and set up first the Akkadian and then the Babylonian Empire. In the west these same Semitic peoples were taking to the sea. They set up a string of harbour towns along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief; and by the time of Hammurabi in Babylon, they had spread as traders, wanderers and colonizers over the whole Mediterranean basin. These sea Semites were called the Phoenicians.1

Now he clearly did not believe that these people were all Jewish, for he refers specifically to them as:

[A] little Semitic people, the Hebrews, in the hills behind the Phoenician and Philistine coasts.2

And then he devotes a whole chapter to “The Early History of the Jews”, whose importance to the history of mankind Wells clearly understands and appreciates, as the chapter opens:

And now we tell of the Hebrews, a Semitic people, not so important in their own time as in their influence upon the later history of the world.3

(He couldn’t begin to know how prophetic those words would become.)

Note that Wells points out that the Hebrews were “a” Semitic people, not “the” Semitic people, and remember once again that he was writing before Israel had been invented. The importance that Wells rightly assigns to the Hebrews:

is due to the fact that they produced a written literature, a world history… which became at last what Christians know as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. This literature appears in history in the fourth or fifth century BC.3

Sometime around 600BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered the destruction of Jerusalem, which had been the Hebrew capital for at least 400 years, and

The remnant of the people was carried off captive to Babylon [where] they remained until Cyrus took Babylon (538BC). He then collected them together and sent them back to resettle and rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.3

Wells notes that the period of time that the Hebrews spent in Babylon was highly significant, because:

It civilized them and consolidated them. They returned aware of their own literature, an acutely self-conscious and political people.4

And very interestingly,

[Hebrew] accounts of the Creation of the World, of Adam and Eve and of the Flood, with which the Bible begins [and which vast numbers of westerners still believe to this day] run closely parallel with similar Babylonian legends; they seem to have been part of the common beliefs of all the Semitic peoples. So too the stories of Moses and of Samson have Sumerian and Babylonian parallels.4

So it appears that the original Semitic people were very different to what most of the world thinks today:

In the seventh century BC it would have seemed as though the whole civilised world was to be dominated by Semitic rulers. They ruled the great Assyrian empire and they had conquered Egypt; Assyria, Babylon, Syria were all Semitic, speaking languages that were mutually intelligible. The trade of the world was in Semitic hands. Tyre, Sidon, the great mother cities of the Phoenician coast, had thrown out colonies that grew at least to even greater proportion in Spain, Sicily and Africa. Carthage, founded before 800 BC, had risen to a population of more than 1 million.5

Now Wells did not invent the word “Semite”, nor did he invent this interpretation of their history. He simply related what would have been common understanding of history at the time. And this understanding survived for quite a long a time afterwards. Because in my edition of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (an interesting use of the word “shorter”, as my two-volume copy is nearly 4,000 pages long), the word “Semite” is defined as:

A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen. 10:21 – 31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.6

And my edition of this dictionary was published in 1993, over seventy years after Wells wrote his book. So in relatively recent times, the definition of the word “Semite” has been almost totally transformed from what was in common usage for many, many years to a new definition, widely promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which is now being used to refer only to Jewish people generally, and Zionists in particular. All of the other hundreds of millions of other people living in Semitic lands, as they’ve done for thousands of years, are simply removed from the new definition.

Now that publication date of 1993 is quite interesting, because it is a date after the First Gulf War, which took place in 1991. This war, which doesn’t deserve to be dignified with the word “war”, as it was more like a mass slaughter of defenceless people, was not only a massive abomination, it was also a massively illegal abomination, for it not only ignored numerous international laws, it also ignored the constitution of the very country that was mostly responsible for the abominations – the United States of America.

Ramsey Clark who, as a former attorney general of the US, knows a little bit about the law. His superb book The Fire This Time: US Crimes in the Gulf relates much of the detail of the monstrous crimes perpetrated by the US and its allies – and provides a comprehensive account of some of the various laws which were contemptuously ignored.

Clark describes just how one-sided this so-called war was:

Before 1991 was over, more than 250,000 Iraqis and thousands of other nationals were dead as a result of the attack. Most were civilian men, women, children, and infants.

US war casualties, including those who died from U.S. “friendly fire,” totalled 148, we are told. Out of an acknowledged 109,876 air sorties, total U.S. aircraft losses were 38, less than the accident rate during war games without live ammunition…

Iraq had no capacity to either attack or defend… The U.S. did not lose a single B52 in combat, as these planes dropped 27,500 tons of bombs. No Iraqi projectile penetrated a single Abrams tank, while the U.S. claimed to destroy 4,300 Iraqi tanks and 1,856 armored vehicles…7

U.S. forces buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive, wounded, dying, and dead. Miles of trenches with Iraqi troops in them were bulldozed over with sand. The United States refused to count, locate, identify or honor the dead. General [Colin] Powell said of the death count that it was “not a number I am terribly interested in.”8

General William G. Pagonis, stating proudly that this was the first war in modern time where every screwdriver and every nail was accounted for, simultaneously defended General Schwarzkopf’s policy against counting enemy dead. The generals knew but never mentioned that the Geneva Convention of 1949 required them not merely to count enemy dead, but to identify and honor them as well.9

Now there’s nothing unusual in the United States ignoring international law whenever it feels so inclined. After all, it’s knowingly been committing war crimes since Korea, and even one of its own Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, freely admitted in the 1970s that:

The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.10

But the relevance to this particular discussion is around the question of anti-Semitism. Now I think I’ve established that for many, many years, and up until at least 1993, it was commonly understood that Semites were people with ethnic roots stretching from Iraq to North Africa.

However, in 2001 it was decided at the very highest levels of US government to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.

The catastrophic destruction that had already been wreaked on Iraq – one of the earliest Semitic lands – ten years earlier was not enough. Nowhere near enough Semitic people had suffered enough. Tens of millions of other Semitic people would have to be killed, injured and made homeless. And true enough we have indeed seen the destruction of what was left of Iraq, then Libya. Syria has been made to suffer terribly, and were it not for the intervention of Russia would likely have gone the same way as Iraq and Libya. All Semitic countries.

For much of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office as leader of Britain’s Labour Party, he has been persistently accused of anti-Semitism. He has been accused of “not doing enough” to purge the party of anti-Semitism, and he has been accused of being an anti-Semite himself, most notably by the senior and highly respected Labour MP Margaret Hodge who allegedly called him a fucking anti-Semite. Yet hard evidence to justify the accusations are very difficult to find – which is quite extraordinary if it’s such a serious problem in the Labour Party generally, and with Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Much media comment was recently made about a remark Corbyn is said to have made – six years ago – about a wall mural depicting a group of bankers and which was, apparently anti-Semitic. This is about the best Jeremy Corbyn’s accusers can do in terms of providing hard evidence of his supposed anti-Semitism. The fact that Corbyn has spent much of his political career fighting for justice for cruelly oppressed Palestinians – a Semitic people – is not only ignored, it’s now considered further evidence of his anti-Semitism, thanks to IHRA’s new definition of the expression.

So the question is what is real anti-Semitism? Is it really a refusal to condemn a wall painting? Is that really the best Corbyn’s enemies can come up with? And even if it is, how does it compare when measured against the illegal murder of millions of Semitic people across the Middle East and North Africa, the destruction of countless thousands of Semitic homes, and forcing millions of semites to become refugees in alien and unwelcoming countries?

  1. A Short History of the World, HG Wells, p. 74.
  2. Ibid, p. 79.
  3. Ibid, p. 92.
  4. Ibid, p. 93.
  5. Ibid, p. 98.
  6. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, p. 2772.
  7. The Fire This Time, Ramsey Clark, p. 206/7.
  8. Ibid, p. 178.
  9. Ibid, p. 208.
  10. The Wikileaks Files, Verso, 2015 edition, p. 66.

The Neoliberal Order is dying: Time to Wake Up

In my last blog post I argued that power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are, of course, deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.

In other words, our political and media debates reduce to who should be held to account for problems in the economy, the health and education systems, or the conduct of a war. What is never discussed is whether flawed policies are really the fleeting responsibility of individuals and political parties or symptoms of the current neoliberal malaise – manifestations of an ideology that necessarily has goals, such as the pursuit of maximised profit and endless economic growth, that are indifferent to other considerations, such as the damage being done to life on our planet.

The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.

So deep is this misdirection that even efforts to talk about real power become treacherous. My words above might suggest that power is rather like a person, that it has intention and will, that maybe it likes to deceive or play tricks. But none of that is true either.

Big and little power

My difficulty conveying precisely what I mean, my need to resort to metaphor, reveals the limitations of language and the necessarily narrow ideological horizons it imposes on anyone who uses it. Intelligible language is not designed adequately to describe structure or power. It prefers to particularise, to humanise, to specify, to individualise in ways that make thinking in bigger, more critical ways near-impossible.

Language is on the side of those, like politicians and corporate journalists, who conceal structure, who deal in narratives of the small-power of individuals rather than of the big-power of structure and ideology. In what passes for news, the media offer a large stage for powerful individuals to fight elections, pass legislation, take over businesses, start wars, and a small stage for these same individuals to get their come-uppance, caught committing crimes, lying, having affairs, getting drunk, and more generally embarrassing themselves.

These minor narratives conceal the fact that such individuals are groomed before they ever gain access to power. Business leaders, senior politicians and agenda-setting journalists reach their positions after proving themselves over and over again – not consciously but through their unthinking compliance to the power-structure of our societies. They are selected through their performances in exams at school and university, through training programmes and indentures. They rise to the top because they are the most talented examples of those who are blind or submissive to power, those who can think most cleverly without thinking critically. Those who reliably deploy their skills where they are directed to do so.

Their large and small dramas constitute what we call public life, whether politics, world affairs or entertainment. To suggest that there are deeper processes at work, that the largest of these dramas is not really large enough for us to gain insight into how power operates, is to instantly be dismissed as paranoid, a fantasist, and – most damningly of all – a conspiracy theorist.

These terms also serve the deception. They are intended to stop all thought about real power. They are scare words used to prevent us, in a metaphor used in my previous post, from stepping back from the screen. They are there to force us to stand so close we see only the pixels, not the bigger picture.

Media makeover

The story of Britain’s Labour party is a case in point, and was illustrated even before Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Back in the 1990s Tony Blair reinvented the party as New Labour, jettisoning ideas of socialism and class war, and inventing instead a “Third Way”.

The idea that gained him access to power – personified in the media narrative of the time as his meeting with Rupert Murdoch on the mogul’s Hayman Island – was that New Labour would triangulate, find a middle way between the 1% and the 99%. The fact that the meeting took place with Murdoch rather than anyone else signalled something significant: that the power-structure needed a media makeover. It needed to be dressed in new garb.

In reality, Blair made Labour useful to power by re-styling the turbo-charged neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party of the rich had unleashed. He made it look compatible with social democracy. Blair put a gentler, kinder mask on neoliberalism’s aggressive pursuit of planet-destroying power – much as Barack Obama would do in the United States a decade later, after the horrors of the Iraq invasion. Neither Blair nor Obama changed the substance of our economic and political systems, but they did make them look deceptively attractive by tinkering with social policy.

Were the neoliberal order laid bare – were the emperor to allow himself to be stripped of his clothes – no one apart from a small psychopathic elite would vote for neoliberalism’s maintenance. So power is forced to repeatedly reinvent itself. It is like the shape-shifting Mystique of the X-Men films, constantly altering its appearance to lull us into a false sense of security. Power’s goal is to keep looking like it has become something new, something innovative. Because the power-structure does not want change, it has to find front-men and women who can personify a transformation that is, in truth, entirely hollow.

Power can perform this stunt, as Blair did, by repackaging the same product – neoliberalism – in prettier ideological wrapping. Or it can, as has happened in the US of late, try a baser approach by adding a dash of identity politics. A black presidential candidate (Obama) can offer hope, and a woman candidate (Hillary Clinton) can cast herself as mother-saviour.

With this model in place, elections become an illusory contest between more transparent and more opaque iterations of neoliberal power. In failing the 99%, Obama so woefully voided this strategy that large sections of voters turned their back on his intended successor, the new makeover candidate Hillary Clinton. They saw through the role-playing. They preferred, even if only reluctantly, the honest vulgarity of naked power represented by Trump over the pretensions of Clinton’s fakely compassionate politics.

Unstable politics

Despite its best efforts, neoliberalism is increasingly discredited in the eyes of large sections of the electorate in the US and UK. Its attempts at concealment have grown jaded, its strategy exhausted. It has reached the end-game, and that is why politics now looks so unstable. “Insurgency” candidates in different guises are prospering.

Neoliberal power is distinctive because it seeks absolute power, and can achieve that end only through global domination. Globalisation, the world as a plaything for a tiny elite to asset-strip, is both its means and its end. Insurgents are therefore those who seek to reverse the trend towards globalisation – or at least claim to. There are insurgents on both the left and right.

If neoliberalism has to choose, it typically prefers an insurgent on the right to the left. A Trump figure can usefully serve power too, because he dons the clothes of an insurgent while doing little to actually change the structure.

Nonetheless, Trump is a potential problem for the neoliberal order for two reasons.

First, unlike an Obama or a Clinton, he too clearly illuminates what is really at stake for power – wealth maximisation at any cost – and thereby risks unmasking the deception. And, second, he is a retrograde step for the globalising power-structure.

Neoliberalism has dragged capitalism out its nineteenth-century dependency on nation-states into a twenty-first ideology that demands a global reach. Trump and other nativist leaders seek a return to a supposed golden era of state-based capitalism, one that prefers to send our children up chimneys if it prevents children from far-off lands arriving on our shores to do the same.

The neoliberal order prefers a Trump to a Bernie Sanders because the nativist insurgents are so much easier to tame. A Trump can be allowed to strut on his Twitter stage while the global power-structure constrains and undermines any promised moves that might threaten it. Trump the candidate was indifferent to Israel and wanted the US out of Syria. Trump the president has become Israel’s biggest cheerleader and has launched US missiles at Syria.

Faustian pacts

The current power-structure is much more frightened of a left insurgency of the kind represented by Corbyn in the UK. He and his supporters are trying to reverse the accommodations with power made by Blair. And that is why he finds himself relentlessly assaulted from every direction – from his political opponents; from his supposed political allies, including most his own parliamentary party; and most especially from the state-corporate media, including its bogus left-liberal elements like the Guardian and the BBC.

The past three years of attacks on Corbyn are how power manifests itself, shows its hand, when it is losing. It is a strategy of last resort. A Blair or an Obama arrive in power having already made so many compromises behind the scenes that their original policies are largely toothless. They have made Faustian pacts as a condition for being granted access to power. This is variously described as pragmatism, moderation, realism. More accurately, it should be characterised as betrayal.

It does not stop when they reach high office. Obama made a series of early errors, thinking he would have room to manoeuvre in the Middle East. He made a speech in Cairo about a “New Beginning” for the region. A short time later he would help to snuff out the Egyptian Arab Spring that erupted close by, in Tahrir Square. Egypt’s military, long subsidised by Washington, were allowed to take back power.

Obama won the 2009 Nobel peace prize, before he had time to do anything, for his international diplomacy. And yet he stepped up the war on terror, oversaw the rapid expansion of a policy of extrajudicial assassinations by drone, and presided over the extension of the Iraq regime-change operation to Libya and Syria.

And he threatened penalties for Israel over its illegal settlements policy – a five-decade war crime that has gone completely unpunished by the international community. But in practice his inaction allowed Israel to entrench its settlements to the point where annexation of parts of the West Bank is now imminent.

Tame or destroy

Neoliberalism is now so entrenched, so rapacious that even a moderate socialist like Corbyn is seen as a major threat. And unlike a Blair, Obama or Trump, Corbyn is much harder to tame because he has a grassroots movement behind him and to which he is ultimately accountable.

In the US, the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party prevented the left-insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, from contesting the presidency by rigging the system to keep him off the ballot paper. In the UK, Corbyn got past those structural defences by accident. He scraped into the leadership race as the token “loony-left” candidate, indulged by the Labour party bureaucracy as a way to demonstrate that the election was inclusive and fair. He was never expected to win.

Once he was installed as leader, the power-structure had two choices: to tame him like Blair, or destroy him before he stood a chance of reaching high office. For those with short memories, it is worth recalling how those alternatives were weighed in Corbyn’s first months.

On the one hand, he was derided across the media for being shabbily dressed, for being unpatriotic, for threatening national security, for being sexist. This was the campaign to tame him. On the other, the Murdoch-owned Times newspaper, the house journal of the neoliberal elite, gave a platform to an anonymous army general to warn that the British military would never allow Corbyn to reach office. There would be an army-led coup before he ever got near 10 Downing Street.

In a sign of how ineffectual these power-structures now are, none of this made much difference to Corbyn’s fortunes with the public. A truly insurgent candidate cannot be damaged by attacks from the power-elite. That’s why he is where he is, after all.

So those wedded to the power-structure among his own MPs tried to wage a second leadership contest to unseat him. As a wave of new members signed up to bolster his ranks of supporters, and thereby turned the party into the largest in Europe, Labour party bureaucrats stripped as many as possible of their right to vote in the hope Corbyn could be made to lose. They failed again. He won with an even bigger majority.

Redefining words

It was in this context that the neoliberal order has had to play its most high-stakes card of all. It has accused Corbyn, a lifelong anti-racism activist, of being an anti-semite for supporting the Palestinian cause, for preferring Palestinian rights over brutal Israeli occupation. To make this charge plausible, words have had to be redefined: “anti-semitism” no longer means simply a hatred of Jews, but includes criticism of Israel; “Zionist” no longer refers to a political movement that prioritises the rights of Jews over the native Palestinian population, but supposedly stands as sinister code for all Jews. Corbyn’s own party has been forced under relentless pressure to adopt these malicious reformulations of meaning.

How anti-semitism is being weaponised, not to protect Jews but to protect the neoliberal order, was made starkly clear this week when Corbyn criticised the financial elite that brought the west to the brink of economic ruin a decade ago, and will soon do so again unless stringent new regulations are introduced. Useful idiots like Stephen Pollard, editor of the right wing Jewish Chronicle, saw a chance to revive the anti-semitism canard once again, accusing Corbyn of secretly meaning “Jews” when he actually spoke of bankers. It is a logic intended to make the neoliberal elite untouchable, cloaking them in a security blanket relying on the anti-semitism taboo.

Almost the entire Westminister political class and the entire corporate media class, including the most prominent journalists in the left-liberal media, have reached the same preposterous conclusion about Corbyn. Whatever the evidence in front of their and our eyes, he is now roundly declared an anti-semite. Up is now down, and day is night.

High-stakes strategy

This strategy is high stakes and dangerous for two reasons.

First, it risks creating the very problem it claims to be defending against. By crying wolf continuously about Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism without any tangible evidence for it, and by making an unfounded charge of anti-semitism the yardstick for judging Corbyn’s competence for office rather than any of his stated policies, the real anti-semite’s argument begins to sound more plausible.

In what could become self-fulfilling prophecy, the anti-semitic right’s long-standing ideas about Jewish cabals controlling the media and pulling levers behind the scenes could start to resonate with an increasingly disillusioned and frustrated public. The weaponising of anti-semitism by the neoliberal order to protect its power risks turning Jews into collateral damage. It makes them another small or bigger drama in the increasingly desperate attempt to create a narrative that deflects attention from the real power-structure.

And second, the effort to stitch together a narrative of Corbyn’s anti-semitism out of non-existent cloth is likely to encourage more and more people to take a step back from the screen so that those unintelligible pixels can more easily be discerned as a smoking gun. The very preposterousness of the allegations, and the fact that they are taken so seriously by a political and media class selected for their submissiveness to the neoliberal order, accelerates the process by which these opinion-formers discredit themselves. Their authority wanes by the day, and as a result their usefulness to the power-structure rapidly diminishes.

This is where we are now: in the final stages of a busted system that is clinging on to credibility by its fingernails. Sooner or later, its grip will be lost and it will plunge into the abyss. We will wonder how we ever fell for any of its deceptions.

In the meantime, we must get on with the urgent task of liberating our minds, of undoing the toxic mental and emotional training we were subjected to, of critiquing and deriding those whose job is to enforce the corrupt orthodoxy, and of replotting a course towards a future that saves the human species from impending extinction.

Our Broken System has no “Moderate” Devotees

Western politics is tearing itself apart, polarising into two camps – or at least, it is in the official narrative we are being fed by our corporate media. The warring camps are presented as “moderate centrists”, on one side, and the “extreme right”, on the other. The question is framed as a choice about where one stands in relation to this fundamental political divide. But what if none of this is true? What if this isn’t a feud between two opposed ideological camps but rather two differing – and irrational – reactions to the breakdown of late-stage capitalism as an economic model, a system that can no longer offer plausible solutions to the problems of our age?

Neighbouring news headlines this week offered a neat illustration of the media’s framing of the current situation. Representing the “moderates”, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a “passionate address” in which she denounced the outbreak of far-right protests in east Germany and reports of the “hunting down” of “foreigners” – asylum seekers and immigrants.

She observed:

There is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police.

Ostensibly pitted against Merkel is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s “extreme right” prime minister. Hungary risks being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union because of Orban’s “rabble-rousing” policies and his anti-migrant agenda.

Shortly before the European parliament voted against Hungary, accusing its government of posing a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law, Orban argued that his country was being targeted for preferring not to be “a country of migrants”.

He is far from an outlier. Several other EU states, from Italy to Poland, are close behind Orban in pursuing populist, anti-immigrant agendas.

Family feud

But does this civil war in Europe really reflect a divide between good and bad politics, between moderates and extremists? Are we not witnessing something else: the internal contradictions brought to the fore by a turbo-charged neoliberalism that is now so ideologically entrenched that no one dares question its suitability, let alone its morality?

In truth, the row between Merkel and Orban is a family feud, between sister and brother wedded to the same self-destructive ideology but in profound disagreement about which placebo should be administered to make them feel better.

What do I mean?

Merkel and the mainstream neoliberal elite are committed to an ever-more deregulated world because that is imperative for a globalised economic elite searching to accrue ever more wealth and power. That elite needs open borders and a lack of significant regulation so that it can plunder unrestricted the Earth’s resources – human and material – while dumping the toxic waste byproducts wherever is most profitable and convenient.

In practice, that means creating maximum damage in places and against life-forms that have the least capacity to defend themselves: the poorest countries, the animal kingdom, the forests and oceans, the weather system – and, of course, against future generations that have no voice. There is a reason why the deepest seabeds are now awash with our plastic debris, poisoning and killing marine life for decades, maybe centuries, to come.

Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These “offshore tax havens” are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them. While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore “safe deposit boxes” are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.

International order

Meanwhile, the global elite has created international or trans-national structures and institutions precisely to remove the power of nation-states to regulate and dominate the business environment. The political class in the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Mexico or Brazil do not control the corporations. These corporations control even the biggest states. The banks are too big to fail, the arms manufacturers too committed to permanent war to rein in, the largely uniform narratives of the corporate media too powerful to dissent from.

Instead, global or trans-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and many others, remake our world to promote the globalised profits of the corporations.

The United Nations – a rival international project – is more problematic. It was created immediately after the Second World War with the aim of imposing a law-based international order, premised on respect for human rights, to prevent future large-scale wars and genocide. In practice, however, it chiefly serves the interests of the dominant western states through their capture of the Security Council, effectively the UN’s executive.

A few UN institutions – those in charge of human rights and prosecuting war crimes – that have the potential to restrain the power of the global elite find themselves ever more marginalised and undermined. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court have been under sustained assault from US officials, both before and after Donald Trump became president.

Towards the abyss

The internal contradictions of this globalised system – between the unfettered enrichment of the elite and the endless resource depletion of the Earth and its weakest inhabitants – are becoming ever more apparent. Historically, the toxic waste from this system was inflicted on the poorest regions first, like puddles forming in depressions in the ground during a rainstorm.

As the planet has warmed, crops have failed, the poor have gone hungry, wars have broken out. All of this has been an entirely predictable outcome of the current economics of endless, carbon-based growth, coupled with resource theft. But unlike puddles, the human collateral damage of this economic system can get up and move elsewhere. We have seen massive population displacements caused by famines and wars, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. These migrations are not about to stop. They are going to intensify as neoliberalism hurtles us towards the economic and climate abyss.

The political class in the west are now experiencing profound cognitive dissonance. Merkel and the “moderates” want endless growth and a world without borders that is bringing gradual ruination on their economies and their privileges. They have no answers for the “extremists” on the right, who acknowledge this ruination and say something needs to be done urgently about it.

Orban and the far-right want to fiercely resurrect the borders that globalisation erased, to build barriers that will stop the puddles merging and inundating their higher ground. This is why the right is resurgent. They, far more than the moderates, can describe our current predicament – even if they offer solutions that are positively harmful. They want solid walls, national sovereignty, blocks on immigrants, as well as racism and violence against the “foreigners” already inside their borders.

The system is broken

We have to stop thinking of these political debates as between the good “moderates” and the nasty “extreme right”. This is a fundamental misconception.

The deluded “moderates” want to continue with a highly unsustainable form of capitalism premised on an impossible endless growth. It should be obvious that a planet with finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth, and that the toxic waste of our ever-greater consumption will poison the well we all depend on.

The west’s deluded far-right, on the other hand, believe that they can stand guard and protect their small pile of privilege against the rising tide of migrants and warming oceans caused by western policies of resource theft, labour exploitation and climate destruction. The far-right’s views are no more grounded in reality than King Canute’s.

Both sides are failing to grasp the central problem: that the western-imposed global economic system is broken. It is gradually being destroyed from within by its own contradictions. The “moderates” are doubly blind: they refuse to acknowledge either the symptoms or the cause of the disease. The “extremists” are as oblivious to the causes of the illness besetting their societies as the “moderates”, but they do at least recognise the symptoms as a sign of malaise, even if their solutions are entirely self-serving.

Squaring the circle

This can be seen in stark fashion in the deep divide over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, so-called Brexit, which has cut across the usual left-right agendas.

The Remain crowd, who want to stay in Europe, believe Britain’s future lies in upholding the failed status quo: of a turbo-charged neoliberalism, of diminishing borders and the free movement of labour, of distant, faceless technocrats making decisions in their name.

Like a child pulling up the blanket to her chin in the hope it will protect her from the monsters lurking in the darkness of the bedroom, the “moderates” assume European bureaucrats will protect them from economic collapse and climate breakdown. The reality, however, is that the EU is one of the trans-national institutions whose chief rationale is accelerating our rush to the abyss.

Meanwhile, the Brexit crowd think that, once out of the EU, a small island adrift in a globalised world will be able to reclaim its sovereignty and greatness. They too are going to find reality a terrifying disappointment. Alone, Britain will not be stronger. It will simply be easier prey for the US-headquartered global elite. Britain will be jumping out of the EU frying pan into the flames of the Atlanticists’ stove.

What is needed is not the “moderates” or the “extreme right”, not Brexit or Remain, but an entirely new kind of politics, which is prepared to shift the paradigm.

The new paradigm must accept that we live in a world that requires global solutions and regulations to prevent climate breakdown. But it must also understand that people are rightly distrustful of distant, unaccountable institutions that are easily captured by the most powerful and the most pitiless. People want to feel part of communities they know, to have a degree of control over their lives and decisions, to find common bonds and to work collaboratively from the bottom-up.

The challenge ahead is to discard our current self-destructive illusions and urgently find a way to solve this conundrum – to square the circle.

Charges “Without Merit”: Jeremy Corbyn, Antisemitism, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky

Last week, Peter Brookes tweeted his latest cartoon for The Times, commenting:

#Novichok not the only poison being spread around Britain. #LabourAntisemitism #Corbyn.

Referencing allegations that two Russian agents had been responsible for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4, the cartoon depicted a British policeman holding up mugshots of a menacing, bug-eyed ‘Jeremy Korbynski’ (wearing an ‘I Love Hamas’ badge) and a vampiric, evil-looking ‘Seumasov Milne’ (wearing a ‘Down With Israel’ badge), with the policeman saying:

THESE TWO MEN ARE SUSPECTED OF SPREADING POISON AROUND BRITAIN…

As Brookes made clear in his tweet, the alleged ‘poison’ Corbyn and Milne, Labour’s director of communications, are supposedly spreading is, of course, antisemitism.

We have always been struck by the sense of complete unreality surrounding this debate and decided to check when and how often Corbyn has been accused of antisemitism since first being elected as an MP in 1983.

Labour was defeated in the general election of May 7, 2015, causing leader Ed Miliband to resign. On June 3, the BBC reported that Corbyn had joined the contest to replace him. We monitored this period closely and it is simply unarguable that Corbyn was portrayed by journalists, and even party political foes, as a basically decent person. He was depicted as a left relic, certainly – irrelevant and ridiculous – but also as sincere and well-intentioned. There was no sense whatever in ‘mainstream’ media coverage that Corbyn was a malign individual.

In July, we conducted a ProQuest newspaper database search, which found the following hits for UK press articles mentioning:

‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ before May 2015 = 18 hits

‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ after May 2015 = 6,133 hits

None of the 18 mentions before May 2015 included any accusation that Corbyn was antisemitic. And it was not, as some people have claimed, that Corbyn, a leading anti-war MP, was unknown or unworthy of attention. ProQuest found 3,659 hits for ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ before May 2015.

Writing for the Medium website last month, Patrick Elliot described his own research confirming these results. Elliot noted that the first story ever to be published in a UK national newspaper with the words ‘Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ in the same sentence appeared in the Guardian on August 13, 2015, reporting an accusation the previous day in The Jewish Chronicle. The voting process for the Labour leadership election began one day later, on August 14. Elliot wrote:

During the three years of Corbyn’s Labour leadership, the association of antisemitism with the Labour Party has been a relentless media narrative. The 2,087 articles published in that time have come at an average of nearly two per day.

Yet in more than six and a half years prior to his election, just 178 articles were published associating the Party with antisemitism, at an average of one every fortnight. Is antisemitism 25 times more prevalent in the Party now?

Freedland’s ‘Game Changer’

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland – now into his fourth year of relentlessly attacking Corbyn – highlighted the Labour leader’s ‘2013 attack on a group of “Zionists” he’d encountered’. In fact, Corbyn did not ‘attack’ them; they had berated the Palestinian ambassador after he delivered a speech at a meeting in Parliament. Freedland noted that Corbyn said of these activists that despite ‘having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony’. Freedland explained the significance:

The implication of that remark is clear – and it has nothing to do with defending Palestinians. It’s that Corbyn sees Jews as fundamentally alien, foreigners who might live here a long time, might even be born here, but are still essentially other. People who will never be truly English.

Political analyst Alex Nunns had already exposed the fallacy of the same argument made in an article by Guardian columnist Simon Hattenstone, to which Freedland linked with the comment:

For many, including some [like Hattenstone] who’d long defended the Labour leader, that was a game changer.

Nunns pointed out the absurdity of Hattenstone’s logic:

This is an inversion of what Corbyn said. He compared a group of pro-Israel activists to the Palestinian ambassador whose talk they attended, saying the latter had a better grasp of irony. That only makes any sense if he was saying the activists WERE actually “properly English.”

Nunns spelled it out:

In clearer language, the point Corbyn made was: “Despite being English, these particular pro-Israel activists have a poorer sense of irony than the Palestinian ambassador whose speech they attended”.

Corbyn was making a wry comment about a non-native English speaker understanding nuances in the language better than native English speakers – the exact opposite of what Hattenstone/Freedland were suggesting.

The Guardian’s George Monbiot tweeted a response to Hattenstone’s piece:

It dismays me to say it, as someone who has invested so much hope in the current Labour Party, but I think @shattenstone is right: Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 comments about “Zionists” were antisemitic and unacceptable.

This reminded us strongly of Monbiot’s investigation into a ‘malign intellectual subculture’ on the left, comprised of Edward Herman, John Pilger, Media Lens and others who were guilty of ‘belittling the acts of genocide committed by opponents of the western powers’. Monbiot was again dismayed:

And, to my great distress, as I rate him very highly, #NoamChomsky doesn’t come out of it too well either.

Monbiot confidently denounced Corbyn’s ‘antisemitic’ comments in several tweets. One day later, having learned of Alex Nunns’ analysis, Monbiot tweeted:

For fairness, here is another explanation of what Jeremy Corbyn said, which casts it in a very different light.

Was this Monbiot performing another of his famous U-turns? It’s difficult to say. Responding to the suggestion that he perhaps should have highlighted Nunns’ analysis, not Hattenstone’s, Monbiot responded with sarcasm.

Freedland went on:

Similar was the mural of hooked-nose bankers, counting their money on the backs of the poor. The artist himself said he had depicted Jews, but when Corbyn heard it was to be removed his response was “Why?” He literally could not see anything wrong with it. Again, that’s nothing to do with opposing Israel. That’s just old school antisemitism.

The key comment here: ‘The artist himself said he had depicted Jews.’

The deceptiveness of this version of events becomes clear when we look a little closer. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in March:

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

In his outstanding essay, ‘The chimera of British anti-Semitism (and how not to fight it if it were real)’, Norman Finkelstein, Jewish author of The Holocaust Industry and the son of Holocaust survivors, comments:

The degree of anti-Semitism infecting British society has been the subject of numerous polls over a sustained period of time. These surveys have uniformly, consistently, and unambiguously concluded that anti-Semitism (1) has long been a marginal phenomenon in British society, infecting under 10 percent of the population, (2) is far less salient than hostility to other British minorities, and (3) is less pronounced in the UK than almost anywhere else in Europe.

Finkelstein argues that Jews have considerable power within British society. Indeed, the intensity and longevity of the campaign targeting Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism’ in part reflect that influence:

Jews are incomparably organized as they have created a plethora of interlocking, overlapping, and mutually reinforcing communal and defense organizations that operate in both the domestic and international arenas. In many countries, not least the US and the UK, Jews occupy strategic positions in the entertainment industry, the arts, publishing, journals of opinion, the academy, the legal profession, and government. “Jews are represented in Britain in numbers that are many times their proportion of the population,” British-Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer notes, “in both Houses of Parliament, on the Sunday Times Rich List, in media, academia, professions, and just about every walk of public life.”

As Finkelstein says, ‘it cannot be right to deny (or suppress) critical socioeconomic facts’ of this kind. Noting them has nothing to do with ugly, racist fantasies about Jews controlling the world. He adds:

Jeremy Corbyn is the democratically elected head of the Labour Party. His ascendancy vastly expanded and galvanized the party’s ranks. Corbyn has devoted a lifetime to fighting racism; like eponymous labor organizer Joe Hill, where workers strike and organize, it’s there you’ll find Jeremy Corbyn. By British and even global leadership standards, he cuts a saintly figure. On the opposite side, mostly unelected Jewish bodies have dragged Corbyn’s name through the mud, slandering and defaming him. They have refused to meet with Corbyn, even as he has repeatedly extended olive branches and offered substantive compromises. Instead they issue take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums.

Finkelstein summarises accurately:

The transparent motive behind this cynical campaign is to demonize Corbyn, not because he’s a “fucking anti-Semite,” [the words of former Labour minister Margaret Hodge] but because he’s a principled champion of Palestinian rights’, although ‘a broad array of powerful entrenched social forces, acting on not-so-hidden agendas of their own’ are all seeking to destroy Corbyn.

Indeed, no rational observer can see this as anything other than an extension of the relentless establishment attack on Corbyn, the mild socialist threatening to let democracy loose from its box.

The objective of the antisemitism moral panic is obvious, writes Lindsey German of Stop the War:

removing Corbyn from the Labour leadership and his replacement with someone much more amenable to the needs of British capital, whether in the arena of foreign policy or in terms of domestic policies.

David Hearst, a former Middle East editor at the Guardian, concurs:

The Labour leader’s opponents don’t care about anti-Semitism. They’ll just do anything to remove Corbyn.

Hearst argues that Corbyn’s opponents are using:

the tactics of fascists – smearing, libelling, intimidating.

Unable to put up a candidate capable of defeating him by democratic means, at the ballot box, unable to attack him on his polices for which there is majority support in the country, Corbyn’s detractors have methodically and consistently set about the task of character assassination.

We asked Noam Chomsky for his view on these issues. He replied:

The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.1

The Lobby

While much of the media focuses on alleged Russian attempts to undermine Western democracy, Asa Winstanley, an investigative journalist with Electronic Intifada, recently reported evidence that Israel is running a campaign to undermine Corbyn. Human rights activists have now lodged a freedom of information request under Israeli law, seeking to release documents about the campaign. Last year, Al Jazeera broadcast a four-part investigation titled ‘The Lobby’ into the Israel lobby’s activities in the UK. It revealed that Israeli embassy spy Shai Masot was working with front organizations in Labour to smear critics of Israel as ‘antisemitic’. Masot worked closely with two important pro-Israel groups in Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel. The latter includes 80 Labour MPs. He has since returned to Israel.

In ‘The Lobby USA’, a follow-up to ‘The Lobby’, Al Jazeera also investigated the activities of the Israeli lobby in the US where it has been instrumental in smearing and silencing pro-Palestinian voices. However, the film was suppressed after strong Israeli pressure on Qatar, the state owners of Al Jazeera, and has never been shown. Electronic Intifada has now obtained leaked excerpts of the film. As Winstanley notes:

The film has been censored even though it addresses matters of considerable public interest, including covert efforts on behalf of a foreign state to spy on, harass or prevent Americans from engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.

The corporate media are playing a major role in this insidious campaign to stifle democratic choice. It is no surprise that Corbyn and his advisers are calling for big changes to the ‘free press’. In his recent Alternative Mactaggart Lecture on the state of the media, Corbyn noted that:

We must break the stranglehold of elite power and billionaire domination over large parts of our media. Just three companies control 71% of national newspaper circulation and 5 companies control 81% of local newspaper circulation.

He added:

For all the worry about new forms of fake news, most people think our newspapers churn out fake news day in, day out. It’s hardly a surprise in the last 4 years one political earthquake after another has been missed by most of our media.

In summary:

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

Conclusion: Very, Very Serious Problems

Finkelstein accepts that Jews are subject to racial prejudice, but questions whether this ‘ranks a “very, very serious problem” in the UK’, as claimed. He places the prejudice in context:

Yes, Jews must endure the reputation of being stingy, pushy, and clannish—but Muslims are profiled as terrorists and misogynists, Blacks are despised as chronically lazy and genetically stupid, and Roma/Sinti are loathed as dirty beggars and thieves.

It really is remarkable that Corbyn’s speeches and off-the-cuff comments are being scoured far into the past in search of signs of racism when a far more lethal form of prejudice is clearly informing current US-UK foreign policy devastating entire countries. It is a prejudice that views the lives of brown-skinned people in Afghanistan Iraq, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere as far less important than the lives of white, European and US people.

In his book, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, wrote that during ‘phase V’ of the Oil-For-Food programme, from November 1998 to May 1999, each Iraqi citizen received a food allocation worth $49, or 27 cents per day. Von Sponeck commented that ‘the UN was more humane with its dogs than with the Iraqi people’: $160 was allocated for food for each UN dog over the same period.2

As a result, 500,000 Iraqi children lost their lives. The price was deemed to be ‘worth it’ by Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. But what is really telling is just how little impact this mass death had on Western politics and journalism. The same is true of the one million Iraqis who died as a result of the 2003 invasion. It is true of the Afghan civilians forced to eat grass to survive in the wake of 9/11, when US threats to bomb Afghanistan, and then the invasion itself, shut down aid convoys. It is true of the horrendous impact of sanctions on Iran, renewed and worsened under Trump. It is true of the ongoing destruction of Palestinian society along with regular massacres, the destruction of Libyan society, the destruction of Syrian society, and so on…

The fact that none of this matters, that it puts not the slightest dent in the political-media enthusiasm for war, that it is not even considered relevant in a national discussion on racism, is itself the result of a deeply toxic racism. It is a form of cultural arrogance and contempt for human lives quite obviously deemed far less important, far less valuable.

The mostly fraudulent, politically expedient nature of the endless expressions of concern about antisemitism in the Labour party is indicated by the striking lack of interest in asking exactly what can be done about this kind of prejudice. It seems clear that stifling free speech, expelling party members and castigating the guilty does little to address the real causes of hatred and bias in the human heart and deluded mind.

Deeper answers lie, firstly, in understanding that racist prejudice is ultimately a function of individual and collective egotism – the desire to raise oneself above others, to perceive oneself as ‘special‘. An antidote to this illusion lies in recognising that happiness and suffering are equal – ‘my’ happiness simply cannot be deemed more important than ‘your’ happiness. Likewise, the welfare of ‘this’ group of people versus the welfare of ‘that’ group of people. The self-evident logic of this assertion can help equalise our perception of others – ‘their’ happiness is not worth less than ‘ours’, no matter how different from us they may appear to be.

We can also reflect on evidence indicating that treating others with generosity, kindness and compassion is extremely positive for our own welfare. This is not mere wishful thinking, modern science is catching up on the ancient assertion that caring for others is the basis and cause of genuine happiness. It turns out that happiness truly is not found in cynical selfishness, in viewing women, Jews, blacks, LGBT people, Muslims and so on as ‘lesser’ people. To view others this way is to burden ourselves with a closed, shrunken, miserable heart.

No-one should take any of this on trust, which is why a meaningful response to prejudice involves verifying the truth of these observations through introspection and meditation. It quickly becomes clear, for example, that thoughts of hostility and contempt for others are absolutely poisonous to our sense of well-being.

  1. Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 9, 2018.
  2. Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p. 38.

Tory Kafuffles: Boris Johnson, Brexit and Suicide Vests

The next blow in Boris Johnson’s chapter of political suicide has been made: a piece in the Mail on Sunday which supplied him ample room to take yet another shot at the ghostly British prime minister, Theresa May.  There was nothing new in it; everybody knew what Johnson’s views were, and the position he had taken since hyperventilating over July’s Chequers statement on Brexit was simply reiterated with the usual reckless prose.

May’s Brexit deal, scribbled Johnson with an almost boorish predictability, was tantamount to wrapping “a suicide vest around the British constitution” and handing “the detonator to (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier”. (He failed to mention that he has been as indispensable as anybody else in adding to that wrapping.)

While the EU had played the role of playground bully, the UK had been unacceptably “feeble” in response, a truly pathetic counterpart.  May might have sought a “generous free trade deal” with the EU in the aftermath of the divorce; instead, Britain was effectively saying to those in Brussels, “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir”.  “We look like a seven-stone weakling being comically bent out of shape by a 500lb gorilla.”

Johnson’s very public falling out with his fellow Tories after resigning as Foreign Secretary continues to play out the ailing nature of the May government in very public fashion.  Cabinet ministers have had to take very public stances to back the prime minister.  Current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt sounded trench bound in waiting for the barrage, calling on colleagues to keep firm behind May “in the face of intense pressure”.

Former army officer and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat found himself falling for the old trick that such provocation requires stern correction.  “A suicide bomber murdered many in the courtyard of my office in Helmand.  The carnage was disgusting, limbs and flesh hanging from trees and bushes.  Brave men who stopped him killing me and others died in horrific pain.  Some need to grow up.  Comparing the PM to that isn’t funny.”

Brexit, and in a sense, the broader miasmic effect of the Trump presidency on political language, has supplied a release of military metaphors, spells of doom, and imminent calamity.  Decorum has come to be seen as the enemy of honesty; opponents are just stopping short of lynching each other.  For Alistair Burt of the Foreign Office, the language used by Johnson was not merely “outrageous, inappropriate and hurtful”.  “If we don’t stop this extraordinary use of language over Brexit, our country might never heal.  Again, I say, enough.”

The issue with Johnson has certain similarities to another Westminster country thousands of miles away, and one still insisting on retaining the same British monarch as head of state.  Australia resumes parliament with a new prime minister after a needless bloodbath initiated by party functionaries hypnotised by pollsters and number crunchers.  The plotters there were also claiming that the governing party had gone vanilla and soft on the hard political decisions.  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been all too centrist when he could have done with a few lashings of decent, hard right ideology. The result: Australia’s first Pentecostal leader.

Johnson’s overall popularity in Britain is on par with May, a statement of true depression and deflation.  But where he has traction is in the ideological, stark-raving mad stakes, a point that May’s aides know all too well, given their efforts to compile a 4,000 word “war book” on the man’s sexual proclivities in 2016.  Unlike other European states, sexual prowess, evenly spread inside and out of marriage, is seen as an impediment to high office.

Johnson certainly has his own cheer squad within the Tories.  Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen acclaimed Johnson’s appeal and how he “speaks truth unto power”; Tory MP Nadine Dorries suggested that his detractors were merely “terrified by his popular appeal”.  Were he to become leader of the Tories, and prime minister, “he’ll deliver a clean and prosperous #Brexit.”

Others are playing the middling game.  Home Secretary Sajid Javid merely called for more “measured language” to be used, because that was evidently “what the public want to see.”  On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Javid was making sure about booking a seat in any future cabinet that might have a new prime minister.  “I think there are much better ways to articulate your differences.”

Johnson is a spluttering John Bull, foolhardy and all, and his supporters like that.  Irresponsible, destructive, a true political malefactor and dressed up public school boy charlatan, he is genetically programmed to disrupt rather than succeed, to undermine rather than govern.  His world is not that of figures and sober appraisals, the desk job assessment, the compiler of facts.  Those are best left to the hard working empirical types of industry and a hard day’s work.

Even his personal life has not been immune from the all-consuming circus that is the Boris show.  His announcement last week that he and his wife of 25 years, Marina Wheeler, would be divorcing, was seen as a political calculation, timed to eliminate any prospect of scandal in the event of a leadership challenge to May.

His opponents, however, have an eternal hope that he will self-destruct, stumbling into a back-end swamp where he will perish as quietly as possible.  Johnson’s barbed comments, came foreign office minister Alan Duncan, marked “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics”.  Making them spelled “the political end of Boris Johnson”.  Unlikely; should Johnson conclude his political career anytime soon, he is bound to be as destructive as the vest he claims May has wrapped Britain in.

Gullible, Gutless and Gagged

Jeremy Corbyn, knifed by his senior lieutenants and failed by his media team, is on the danger list and now looks isolated.

At the fatal NEC (National Executive Committee) meeting this week to discuss whether the party should adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in full, with all its examples, he prepared and presented a 500-word statement to water down the definition but this met with an angry reaction from most NEC members and he dropped it.

According to the Guardian the most controversial passage in Corbyn’s draft statement said:

It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. Nor should it be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

That these words caused such a rumpus tells us all we need to know about the mentality of the modern Labour Party. It is surely self-evident that the Israel project was racist from the start and confirmation, if any were needed, is provided by the discriminatory nation state laws, emphasising Jewish supremacy, recently passed by the Knesset. Why deny the glaring truth? And last time I checked there was no ‘settlement’ of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the two-state idea endlessly talked about but never energetically pursued was stone-dead.

At the  end of a stormy meeting the NEC accepted the IHRA definition and all its examples but added a statement “which ensures this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians.”

But the Israel lobby were still not satisfied and renewed their whinging. The Jewish Leadership Council’s chief executive, Simon Johnson, said Corbyn had “attempted shamefully to undermine the entire IHRA definition”, adding that the free speech caveat “drives a coach and horses” through that definition. “It is clearly more important to the Labour leader to protect the free speech of those who hate Israel than it is to protect the Jewish community from the real threats that it faces.”

A false dichotomy, of course. And if their case cannot withstand free speech it must have been bullsh*t in the first place.

Richard Angell, director of the centre-left Progress group, said:

The Jewish community made it clear and simple to Labour: pass the IHRA definition in full – no caveats, no compromises. Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum-dominated NEC have just failed the most basic test. A ‘right to be racist’ protection when debating the Middle East is not just wrong, it harms the cause of peace but it will also continue a culture where Jewish people cannot feel at home in Labour.

Today’s decision is an insult. Labour does not know better than Jewish people about antisemitism.

He was backed up by another Progress director, Jennifer Gerber, who is also a director of Friends of Israel. She said:

It is appalling that the Labour party has once again ignored the view clearly and repeatedly stated by the Jewish community: that it should adopt the full IHRA definition without additions, omissions or caveats.

The IHRA definition has been adopted in full by 31 countries, including the UK, as well as over 130 UK local councils, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary. A ‘freedom of expression on Israel’ clause is unnecessary and totally undermines the other examples the party has supposedly just adopted.

The recurring message is that free speech is a threat and doesn’t seem to have a place in their world.

Re-frame anti-Semitism accurately – don’t accept the skewed version by the Israel lobby

So let’s get this straight: DNA research confirms that the great majority of those calling themselves Jews are not of Semitic blood. So does anti-Semitism mean what it says? Shouldn’t it mean that if we outlaw anti-Semitism we outlaw being nasty to the genuine Semites of the Holy Land; i.e. the indigenous people who include Palestinians whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish? And are they not terrorised and persecuted by the Israeli regime which is the chief perpetrator of anti-Semitism and which has oppressed, dispossessed, impoverished and slaughtered those people for 70 years?

Corbyn and his New Look Labour Party were in a position to lead a move to ‘unskew’ the definition of anti-Semitism and re-frame it accurately – with, of course, the help of the various campaign and BDS groups worldwide. But now they’ve effectively muzzled themselves.

And for some strange reason Corbyn and his team, throughout the unpleasant warfare in his party over anti-Semitism, completely ignored the warnings issued by legal experts Hugh Tomlinson QC, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Sir Stephen Sedley and others which explained how:

  • the IHRA definition is “too vague to be useful” and conduct contrary to it is not necessarily illegal. Public bodies are under no obligation to adopt or use it and, if they do, they must interpret it in a way that’s consistent with their statutory obligations and with the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
  • the right of free expression is now part of UK domestic law by virtue of the Human Rights Act;
  • Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights bestows on everyone “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference…”;
  • the IHRA definition is open to manipulation. “What is needed now is a principled retreat on the part of Government from a stance which it has naively adopted,”says Sedley;
  • calling Israel an apartheid state or advocating BDS against Israel cannot properly be characterized as anti-Semitic. Furthermore, any public authority seeking to apply the IHRA definition to prohibit or punish such activities “would be acting unlawfully”;
  • it is “not fit for any purpose that seeks to use it as an adjudicative standard. It is imprecise, confusing and open to misinterpretation and even manipulation”.

Robertson adds:

The Governments ‘adoption’ of the definition has no legal effect and does not oblige public bodies to take notice of it. The definition should not be adopted, and certainly should not be applied, by public bodies unless they are clear about Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is binding upon them, namely that they cannot ban speech or writing about Israel unless there is a real likelihood it will lead to violence or disorder or race hatred.

Crucially, freedom of expression applies not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population” – unless they encourage violence, hatred or intolerance.

What’s more, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism subject to the inclusion of these two caveats:

(1) It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

(2) It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

The Government in adopting the IHRA definition dropped these caveats saying they weren’t necessary. But you’d expect that from an administration brazenly stuffed with members of the Zionist Tendency.

These top legal opinions are lethal ammunition. Had Corbyn and his media team deployed them to good effect the baying attack dogs would have been stopped in their tracks.

So the IHRA definition is not something a sane organisation would incorporate into its Code of Conduct – certainly not as it stands. It contravenes human rights and freedom of expression. But when did the admirers of apartheid Israel ever care about other people’s rights?

The Israel Lobby’s Non-stop Attacks on Corbyn will Backfire

Back in the 1950s, the US intelligence community coined a term: “blowback”. It referred to the unintended consequences of a covert operation that ended up damaging one’s own cause.

There are mounting indications that the intensifying campaign by the Israel lobby in the UK against Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, is starting to have precisely such self-harming repercussions.

A campaign of smears

In the three years since he was elected to lead the Labour party, Corbyn has faced non-stop accusations that his party has an endemic “anti-Semitism problem”, despite all evidence to the contrary. Of late, Corbyn himself has become the chief target of such allegations.

Last month the Daily Mail led a media mauling of Corbyn over disparaging comments he made in 2013 about a small group of pro-Israel zealots who had come to disrupt a Palestinian solidarity meeting. His reference to them as “Zionists”, it was claimed, served as code for “Jews” and was therefore anti-Semitic.

Mounting evidence in both the UK and the US, where there has been a similar escalation of attacks on pro-Palestinian activists, often related to the international boycott movement (BDS), suggests that the Israeli government is taking a significant, if covert, role in coordinating and directing such efforts to sully the reputation of prominent critics.

Corbyn’s supporters have argued instead that he is being subjected to a campaign of smears to oust him from the leadership because of his very public championing over many decades of the Palestinian cause.

Israel lobbyists

Al-Jazeera has produced two separate undercover documentary series on Israel lobbyists’ efforts in the UK and US to interfere in each country’s politics – probably in violation of local laws. Only the UK series has been aired so far.

It showed an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, both plotting to “take down” a Conservative government minister seen as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and helping to create an anti-Corbyn front organisation in the Labour party.

Masot worked closely with two key pro-Israel groups in Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel. The latter includes some 80 Labour MPs.

Under apparent pressure from the Israel lobby in the US, the series on the US lobby was suppressed.

Last week Alain Gresh, the former editor of Le Monde diplomatique, published significant quotes from that censored documentary after viewing it secretly in Dubai. The US lobby’s aims and practices, as reported by Gresh, closely echo what has happened in the UK to Corbyn, as he has faced relentless allegations of anti-Semitism.

The US documentary reportedly shows that Israel’s strategic affairs ministry has taken a leading role in directing the US lobby’s efforts. According to Gresh, senior members of the lobby are caught on camera admitting that they have built up a network of spies to gather information on prominent critics of Israel.

In Gresh’s transcripted excerpts, Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a group of organisations fighting BDS, states: “When I got here a few years ago, the budget was $3,000. Today it’s like a million and a half [dollars], or more. … It’s a massive budget.”

“It’s psychological warfare,” he adds, noting how the smears damage the targeted groups: “They either shut down, or they spend time investigating [the accusations against them] instead of attacking Israel. It’s extremely effective.”

David Hazony, a senior member of another lobby group, The Israel Project, explains that a pressing aim is to curb political speech critical of Israel:

What’s a bigger problem is the Democratic Party, the Bernie Sanders people, bringing all the anti-Israel people into the Democratic Party. Then being pro-Israel becomes less a bipartisan issue, and then every time the White House changes, the policies towards Israel change. That becomes a dangerous thing for Israel.

No discussion

These reported quotes confirm much of what was already suspected. More than a decade ago scholars John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt wrote a book examining the composition and role of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.

But until the broadcasting of the Al-Jazeera documentary last year no comparable effort had been made to shine a light on the situation in the UK. In fact, there was almost no discussion or even acknowledgment of the role of an Israel lobby in British public and political life.

That is changing rapidly. Through its constant attacks on Corbyn, British activists are looking less like disparate individuals sympathetic to Israel and more recognisably like a US-style lobby – highly organised, on-message and all too ready to throw their weight around.

The lobby was always there, of course. And, as in the US, it embraces a much wider body of support than right-wing Jewish leadership organisations like the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, or hardline lobbyists such as the Community Security Trust and BICOM.

The earliest Zionists

That should not surprise us. The earliest Zionists were not Jews but fundamentalist Christians. In the US, the largest group of Zionists by far are Christian evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to the Promised Land is the key to unlocking the second coming of the Messiah and an apocalyptic end-times. Though embraced by Israel, many of these Christian fundamentalists hold anti-Semitic views.

In Britain, there is an unacknowledged legacy of anti-Semitic Christian support for Zionism. Lord Balfour, a devout Christian who regularly voiced bigotry towards Jews, was also the man who committed the British government in 1917 to create a home for Jews in Palestine. That set in motion today’s conflict between Israel and the native Palestinian population.

In addition, many British gentiles, like other Europeans, live with understandable guilt about the Holocaust.

One of the largest and most effective groups in Corbyn’s parliamentary party is Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), most of whose members are not Jewish. LFI takes some of the party’s most senior politicians on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel to wine and dine them as they are subjected to Israeli propaganda.

Dozens of Labour MPs have remained loyal to LFI even as the organisation has repeatedly refused to criticise Israel over undeniable war crimes.

When Israeli snipers executed dozens of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza in May, the LFI took to Twitter to blame Hamas for the deaths, not Israel. After facing a massive backlash online, the LFI simply deleted the tweet.

A double whammy

Historically the Israel lobby could remain relatively low-profile in the UK because it faced few challenges. Its role was chiefly to enforce a political orthodoxy about Israel in line with Britain’s role as Washington’s foreign policy junior partner. No British leader looked likely to step far from the Washington consensus.

Until Corbyn.

The Israel lobby in the UK now faces a double whammy.

First, since Donald Trump entered the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dropped any pretence that Israel is willing to concede a Palestinian state, whatever the Palestinians do. Instead, Israel has isolated the Palestinian leadership diplomatically while seeking to terrorise the Palestinian population into absolute submission.

That was all too clear over the summer when those Israeli snipers picked off demonstrators each week in Gaza. As a result, the Israel lobby stands more exposed than ever. It can no longer buy time for Israeli expansionism by credibly claiming, as it once did, that Israel seeks peace.

Second, Israel’s partisans in the UK were caught off-guard by the unexpected rise of Corbyn to a place that puts him in sight of being the next prime minister. The use of social media by his supporters, meanwhile, has provided a counter-weight to the vilification campaign being amplified by the British media.

The media have been only too willing to assist in the smearing of the Labour leader because they have their own separate interests in seeing Corbyn gone. He is a threat to the corporate business interests they represent.

But not only has the messenger – the Israel lobby – now come under proper scrutiny for the first time, so has its message.

Lack of irony

The success of the lobby had depended not only on it remaining largely out of view. It also expected to shore up a largely pro-Israel environment without drawing attention to what was being advocated, beyond unquestioned soundbites. In doing so, it was able to entirely ignore those who had paid the price for Israel’s diplomatic impunity – the Palestinians.

The campaign against Corbyn has not only forced the lobby to come out into the open, but the backlash to its campaign has forced the lobby to articulate for the first time what exactly it believes and what is at stake.

The latest furore over Corbyn concerns a Youtube video of him speaking at a pro-Palestinian meeting in 2013, two years before he became Labour leader. He has been widely denounced in the media for making disparaging remarks about a small group of hardline pro-Israel partisans well-known for disrupting such meetings.

He referred to them as “Zionists” and suggested that the reaction of this particular hardline group to a speech by the Palestinian ambassador had betrayed their lack of appreciation of “English irony”.

Israel’s lobby, echoed by many liberal journalists, has suggested that Corbyn was using “Zionist” as code word for “Jew”, and that he had implied that all Jews – not the handful of pro-Israel zealots in attendance – lacked traits of Englishness.

This, they say, was yet further evidence of his anti-semitism.

Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, told the New Statesman last week that Corbyn’s comment was “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech”. In that notorious speech, the right-wing politician sought to incite race hatred of immigrants.

Calling Corbyn an “anti-Semite”, Sacks added: “It undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

Treacherous words

In a now familiar pattern to lobby claims, Sacks relied on the false premise that all Jews are Zionists. He conflated a religious or ethnic category with a political ideology. The Labour leader has held his ground on this occasion, pointing out that he was using the term “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people”.

Others have noted that his accusers – many of them senior journalists – are the ones lacking a sense of irony. Corbyn was not “otherising” Jews, he was highlighting a paradox not confirming a prejudice: that a small group of Britons were so immersed in their partisan cause, Israel, that it had blinded them to the “English irony” employed by a foreigner, the Palestinian ambassador.

However, the terms “anti-Semitism” and “Zionism” are likely to prove more treacherous to weaponise against Corbyn than the lobby thinks. As the anti-Semitism controversy is constantly reignited, a much clearer picture of the lobby’s implied logic is emerging, as illustrated by the hyperbolic, verging on delusional, language of Rabbi Sacks.

The argument goes something like this:

Israel is the only safe haven for Jews in times of trouble – and the only thing that stands between them and a future Holocaust. The movement that created Israel was the Zionist movement. Today most Jews are Zionists and believe Israel is at the core of their identity. Therefore, if you are too critical of Israel or Zionism, you must wish bad things for the Jewish people. That makes you an anti-Semite.

Problematic premises

It probably doesn’t require a logician to understand that there are several highly problematic premises propping up this argument. Let’s concentrate on two. The first is that it depends on a worldview in which the non-Jew is assumed to be anti-Semite until proven otherwise. For that reason Jews need to be eternally vigilant and distrustful of those outside their “tribe”.

If that sounds improbable, it shouldn’t. That is exactly the lesson of the Holocaust taught to children in Israel from kindergarten onwards.

Israel derives no universal message from the Holocaust. Its schools do not teach that we must avoid stigmatising others, and discourage sectarian and tribal indentifications that fuel prejudice and bigotry. How could it? After all, Israel’s core ideology, political Zionism, is premised on the idea of tribal and sectarian exclusivity – the “ingathering of exiles” to create a Jewish state.

In Israel, the Holocaust supplies a different lesson. It teaches that Jews are under permanent threat from non-Jews, and that their only defence is to seek collective protection in a highly militarised state, armed with nuclear weapons.

This idea was encapsulated in the famous saying by the late Israeli general Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog; too dangerous to bother.”

A ‘globalised virus’

Israel’s ugly, self-serving tribal reading of history has been slowly spreading to Jews in Europe and the US.

Fifteen years ago, a US scholar, Daniel J Goldhagen, published an influential essay in the Jewish weekly Forward titled “The Globalisation of anti-Semitism”. In it, he argued that anti-Semitism was a virus that could lie dormant for periods but would always find new ways to reinfect its hosts.

“Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world,” he wrote. “It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today.”

This theory is also known as the “new anti-Semitism”, a form of Jew hatred much harder to identify than the right-wing anti-Semitism of old. Through mutation, the new anti-Semitism had concealed its hatred of Jews by appearing to focus on Israel and dressing itself up in left-wing garb.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given his latest comments about Corbyn, that is also an approximation of the argument made by Rabbi Sacks in a 2016 essay in which he writes: “Anti-Semitism is a virus that survives by mutating.”

In a sign of how this kind of paranoia is becoming slowly normalised in Europe too, the Guardian published a commentary by a British journalist last month explaining her decision, Israel-style, to teach her three-year-old daughter about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. That, she hoped, would prepare her child for eventualities such as Corbyn becoming prime minister.

But the increasing adoption of Israel’s tribalist doctrine among sections of the British Jewish community – and the related weaponisation of anti-Semitism – is likely to shed further light on what kind of a state hardline Zionists uphold as at the core of their identity.

Paradoxically, the new anti-Semitism turns the tables by legitimising – in fact, necessitating – Jewish racism towards gentiles. Rather than Corbyn stigmatising Jews – except in some feverish imaginations – it is the pro-Israel lobby stigmatising non-Jews, by claiming that they are all tainted by Jew hatred, whether they know it or not.

The more the lobby kicks up a hysteria about Corbyn’s supposed anti-Semitism, the clearer it becomes that the lobby regards much of the non-Jewish public as suspect too.

Palestinians made invisible

The other obvious lacuna in the lobby’s logic is that it only works if we completely remove the Palestinians from the story of Zionism and Israel. The idea of a harm-free Zionism might have been credible had it been possible to establish a Jewish state on an empty piece of land, as the early Zionists claimed Palestine to be. In reality there was a large native population who had to be displaced first.

Israel’s creation as a Jewish state in 1948 was possible only if the Zionist movement undertook two steps that violate modern conceptions of human rights and liberal democratic practice. First, Israel had to carry out large-scale ethnic cleansing, forcing more than 80 per cent of the native Palestinian population outside the new borders of the Jewish state it created on the Palestinians’ homeland.

Then, it needed to deny the small surviving community of Palestinians inside Israel the same rights as Israeli Jews, to ghettoise them and stop them from bringing their expelled relatives back to their homes.

These weren’t poor choices made by flawed Israeli politicians. They were absolutely essential to the success of a Zionist project to create and maintain a Jewish state. The ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the structural racism of the Jewish state were unmentionable topics in “legitimate” public debates about Israel until very recently.

That has been changing, in part because it has become much harder to conceal what kind of state Israel is. Its self-harming behaviour includes its recent decision to make explicit the state’s institutionalised racism with the passage in July of the Nation-State Basic Law. That law gives constitutional weight to the denial of equal rights to a fifth of Israel’s population, those who are Palestinian.

The backlash against Corbyn and other Palestinian solidarity activists is evidence of the lobby’s fears that they can no longer hold the line against a growing realisation by western publics that there was a cost to Zionism’s success.

That price was paid by Palestinians, and there has yet been no historical reckoning over their suffering. By veiling the historical record, Israel and the Zionist movement have avoided the kind of truth and reconciliation process that led to the ending of apartheid in South Africa. The lobby prefers that Israel’s version of apartheid continues.

Loss of moral compass

If there is one individual who personifies the loss of a moral compass in the weaponisation of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and Israel’s critics, it is Rabbi Sacks.

Asked by the New Statesman what he thinks of the new Nation-State Basic Law, the normally erudite Sacks suddenly becomes lost for words. He asks a friend, or in his case his brother, for the answer: “I’m not an expert on this. My brother is, I’m not. He’s a lawyer in Jerusalem. He tells me that there’s absolutely nothing apartheid about this, it’s just correcting a lacuna… As far as I understand, it’s a technical process that has none of the implications that have been levelled at it.”

Sacks, it seems, cannot identify apartheid when it is staring him the face, as long as it is disguised as “Jewish”. Similarly, he is blind to the history of Zionism and the mass dispossession of Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba.

He tells the New Statesman: “Jews did not wish to come back to their land [Palestine] to make any other people [Palestinians] suffer, and that goes very deep in the Jewish heart.” Not so deep, it seems, that Sacks can even identify who had to suffer to make possible that Jewish “return”.

In a critique of Sacks’ lengthy 2016 essay on anti-Semitism, a liberal Jewish commentator Peter Beinart noted that the rabbi had mentioned the “Palestinians” by name only once.

He berated Sacks for equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism:

By denying that [Palestinians] might have any reason besides bigotry to dislike Zionism, it denies their historical experience and turns them into mere vessels for Jew-hatred. Thus, it does to Palestinians what anti-Semitism does to Jews. It dehumanizes them.

Topsy-turvy world

In a world that was not topsy-turvy, it would be Sacks and the Israel lobby that were being publicly upbraided for their racism. Instead Corbyn is being vilified by a wide spectrum of supposedly informed opinion in the UK – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – for standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

It is, remember, the Palestinian people who have been the victims of more than a century of collusion between European colonialism and Zionism, and today are still being oppressed by an anachronistic ethnic state, Israel, determined to privilege its Jewishness at all costs.

The lobby and its supporters are not just seeking to silence Corbyn. They also intend to silence the Palestinians and the growing ranks of people who choose to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. But while the lobby may be winning on its own limited terms in harming Corbyn in mainstream discourse, deeper processes are exposing and weakening the lobby. It is overplaying its hand.

A strong lobby is one that is largely invisible, one that – like the financial and arms industries – has no need to flex its muscles. In making so much noise to damage Corbyn, the Israel lobby is also for the first time being forced to bring out into the open the racist premises that always underpinned its arguments.

Over time, that exposure is going to harm, not benefit, the apologists for Israel.

• First published in Middle East Eye