Category Archives: UK Politics

Corbyn was Never Going to get a Fair Hearing in the EHRC Antisemitism Report

• This is the full version of an article published in edited form by Middle East Eye

It was easy to miss the true significance of last week’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on the British Labour Party and antisemitism amid the furore over the party suspending its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The impression left on the public – aided by yet more frantic media spin – was that the EHRC’s 130-page report had confirmed the claims of Corbyn’s critics that on his watch the party had become “institutionally antisemitic”. In fact, the watchdog body reached no such conclusion. Its report was far more ambiguous. And its findings – deeply flawed, vague and glaringly inconsistent as they were – were nowhere near as dramatic as the headlines suggested.

The commission concluded that “there were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible”. Those failings, according to the commission, related to the handling of antisemitism complaints, interference by the leader’s office in the disciplinary procedure, and “unlawful harassment” by two Labour Party “agents”.

None of that seemed to amount to anything like the supposed claims of a “plague” and “tidal wave” of antisemitism that have dominated headlines for five years.

Missing the point

Paradoxically, the equalities commission’s conclusions sounded a lot like Corbyn’s statement that the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated”. That remark quickly became grounds for the party suspending him.

So sustained has the furore about “institutional antisemitism” been in Labour that, according to a recent survey by academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry, the British public estimated that on average a third of Labour members had been disciplined for antisemitism – more than 300 times the real figure.

But in the end, the commission could identify only two cases of unlawful antisemitism the party was responsible for. According to the report, there were 18 “borderline” cases, however, “there was not enough evidence to conclude that the Labour Party was legally responsible for the conduct of the individual”.

Nonetheless, in a comment published approvingly by the Guardian newspaper at the weekend, the commission’s executive director, Alastair Pringle, stated that the figures involved were irrelevant. “‘Was it 3% or 30% or 0.3%’ misses the point,” he said. In response to questions from MEE, the EHRC stated that the investigation “sought to determine whether the Labour Party committed a breach of the Equality Act related to Jewish ethnicity or Judaism, to look at what steps the Party had taken to implement the recommendations of previous reports, and to assess whether the party had handled antisemitism complaints lawfully, efficiently and effectively.”

The commission, however, confirmed Pringle’s observation that the investigation “did not focus on an assessment of the scale of antisemitism in the Party”. Members of the commission, it seems, were quite happy to acquiesce in the impression that Labour was riddled with antisemitism, however marginal they discovered the phenomenon to be in practice.

Complaints stalled

Notably, the EHRC avoided attributing responsibility to any named individuals for the party’s failings in handling antisemitism complaints – the most serious charge it levelled. That decision conveniently allowed the blame to be pinned on the former leader. In its statement to MEE, the commission conceded that “the failure of leadership extended across the Labour Party during the period [of] our investigation”.

But in practice, the report and commission have pinned the blame squarely on Corbyn. Alasdair Henderson, the commission’s lead investigator, has been quoted as saying “Jeremy Corbyn is ultimately accountable & responsible for what happened at that time.”

But Corbyn was not responsible for those flawed procedures.

They long predated his election as leader. And further, his ability to influence the complaints procedure for the better was highly limited by the fact that the party’s disciplinary unit was firmly in the hands of a centrist bureaucracy deeply hostile to him.

As an internal report leaked in the spring made clear, Labour’s senior officials were so opposed to Corbyn and his socialist agenda that they even tried to sabotage the 2017 general election to be rid of him. They soon found in antisemitism an ideal way to besmirch Corbyn. They took on dubious cases that – before he became leader – would never have been considered, including against Jewish members of the party strenuously critical of Israel. Then they impeded the resolution of complaints as a way to foster the impression that the party – and by implication, Corbyn himself – was not taking the issue of antisemitism seriously.

By the time most of these officials had left their posts by early 2018, the equalities commission concedes that the handling of antisemitism complaints had started to improve.

As Peter Oborne and Richard Sanders, my colleagues at Middle East Eye, have pointed out, there is a rich irony to the fact that these same officials have refashioned themselves as antisemitism “whistleblowers” when it is they who were primarily responsible for the biggest failings noted by the commission. It was these officials who helped create the politicised climate that made it possible for the EHRC to take on its 18-month investigation – the first into a major political party.

Unfair investigations

The watchdog body’s second finding against Labour follows from – and starkly contradicts – the first. Corbyn’s team are blamed for “political interference” in the complaints procedure, creating the risk of “indirect discrimination”.

Out of 70 complaints it studied, it found 23 instances over a three-year period where there was “political interference” by the leader’s office and other actors in the handling of antisemitism cases.

In most of these, Corbyn’s staff were seeking to expedite stalled antisemitism proceedings that were causing – and meant to cause – the party a great deal of embarrassment. They were trying to do exactly what critics like the Board of Deputies of British Jews demanded of them.

The EHRC report accepted that, in some cases, interference by Corbyn staff catalysed action.

Buried in the report is the astonishing admission by the commission that, among the 70 sampled cases, it found “concerns about fairness” towards 42 Labour Party members who had been investigated for antisemitism. In others words, it was those accused of antisemitism, rather than those making the accusations, who were being mistreated by Labour – either by the disciplinary unit hostile to Corbyn or by Corbyn’s own staff as they tried to speed up the resolution of cases.

Damned if you do, or don’t

In the report, the commission holds Corbyn’s team to an impossible standard. Labour was expected to demonstrate “zero tolerance” towards antisemitism, but Corbyn’s team is now accused of discriminatory actions for having tried to make good on that pledge.

Exemplifying this inconsistency, the equalities watchdog found that Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London, committed “unlawful harassment”. At the same time, the commission castigates Corbyn’s office for trying to get firmer action taken against him.

In another case, Corbyn’s inner circle expressed concern – after requests for advice by the disciplinary unit itself – that the complaints procedure risked being discredited if Jewish members continued to be investigated for antisemitism, typically after criticising Israel.

This looks like a classic example of “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.

When questioned on this point by MEE, the commission responded: “The inappropriateness of political interference in antisemitism complaints is not necessarily about the outcome that it led to, but rather the contamination of the fairness of the process.” This was a matter of “public confidence”.

But “public confidence” has been quietly repurposed: it no longer chiefly concerns a lack of seriousness from Labour about tackling antisemitism; it denotes instead Labour being too hasty and, in some cases, aggressive in tackling antisemitism.

Similarly, the use of the term “indirect discrimination” is deeply counter-intuitive in the context of the commission’s remit to investigate racism. “Discrimination” often appears to refer to efforts by Corbyn’s circle to ensure that Jewish party members, whether those accused of antisemitism or those doing the accusing, were treated sensitively – even if that came at the cost of fairness to non-Jewish members.

Hounded out of Labour

The elephant in the room ignored by the commission is that there was a “hostile environment” for everyone in the party, not just Jewish members, because of this civil war.

Did Jewish and non-Jewish members accused of being antisemites – often after criticising Israel or observing that there were efforts to rid the party of the left under cover of antisemitism allegations – feel welcomed in the Labour Party? Or did they feel hounded and stigmatised?

With this in mind, it is worth noting that the most high-profile case of former Labour MP Chris Williamson, is absent from the report’s major criticisms.

Williamson, a Corbyn ally, was forced out last year after suggesting that Labour had conceded too much ground to those critics claiming the party was beset by antisemitism. Labour, he argued, had thereby made those claims seem more plausible.

The commission repeatedly suggests in the report that comments of this kind constitute what it calls an “antisemitic trope”. Many party members have faced investigation and suspension or expulsion for making similar observations. Indeed, Williamson’s remark closely echoes last week’s comment by Corbyn that the scale of antisemitism in Labour had been “dramatically overstated”. That led to Corbyn’s suspension.

But unusually Williamson challenged his treatment by Labour in the high court last year and won. After he was sent a draft of the report, Williamson threatened legal action against the equalities commission for what he termed “an assortment of risible and offensive comments”.

Apparently as a consequence, he is not named alongside the two officials criticised in the report – Livingstone and Pam Bromley. In fact, again paradoxically, he is mentioned chiefly in relation to “political interference” in Labour’s complaints procedure – because, in scandalous fashion, he was suspended, then reinstated, then quickly suspended again.

The abuses suffered by Williamson serve to show once again just how perverse the media narrative about Labour’s treatment of antisemitism so often was. Rather than ignoring antisemitism, Labour too often hounded people like Williamson out of the party on the flimsiest of evidence.

It was exactly this kind of “political interference” against Williamson and others that suggests antisemitism was indeed weaponised in the Labour party.

Free speech ignored

The commission is legally required to weigh and balance competing rights – to free speech and to protection from racism. Such considerations are especially tricky when examining the conduct of a major political party.

The equalities watchdog has to take account of Article 10  of the European Convention of Human Rights – protecting freedom of speech – that is also enshrined in UK law. But the commission’s findings appear to clash fundamentally with respect for free speech. Any reasonable reading of the law suggests that a political party should be investigated only when it flagrantly and systematically breaks anti-racism laws. But the report itself shows that those conditions were nowhere near being met.

The commission itself makes this point inadvertently in the report. It states that Article 10 protections apply even if comments are offensive and provocative, and that this protection is further “enhanced” in the case of elected politicians.

It adds: “Article 10 will protect Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party.” It then proceeds to ignore that protection entirely in the report, as the Labour Party has done once again in its suspension of Corbyn.

A reasonable reading of Article 10 would suggest too that, in weighing the Labour Party’s approach to antisemitism, the commission was obligated to offer a clear, precise and non-controversial definition of antisemitism. That definition would then have set the bar for the commission to determine whether significant proof had been found of antisemitism in the party’s practices to justify placing limitations on free speech.

Contested language

But that bar could not be determined because the commission never properly set out what it meant by antisemitism. Instead the commission has shouldered its way into a factional war inside a major political party, and one in which language itself – with all its ambiguities – has become deeply contested.

In response to these criticisms, the commission observed that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition – widely criticised for conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism but forced on Corbyn when he was Labour leader – “is not legally binding”. It added: “We note the approach of the Home Affairs Select Committee, namely that it is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, to criticise the Israeli government, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

That definition, of course, leaves out in the cold many on the party’s left, including its Jewish left, who believe Israel is not a liberal democracy and does not even aspire to be one, as the passage of Israel’s Jewish Nation State Law made clear in 2018. That law excluded a fifth of Israel’s population who are not Jewish from the state’s self-definition. In imposing ideological assumptions of this kind on a political party, the commission itself appears to be the one most guilty of “political interference”.

Lack of evidence

Far from resolving tensions, the EHRC report accentuates the party’s festering, irreconcilable narratives about antisemitism. It adds considerable fire to the party’s simmering civil war.

The referral to the commission was made by two pro-Israel groups, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

Corbyn’s supporters argued that the claims of an especial antisemitism problem in Labour amounted to an ideologically motivated and evidence-free smear. When Corbyn tried to defend his record last week, arguing that the scale of the antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, he was suspended.

But he and his allies have solid evidence to justify that claim.

First, they note, surveys demonstrate that Labour supporters were less likely to express antisemitic attitudes than Conservative supporters or the general public. A poll by the Economist magazine last year showed that while those on the far-left in the UK had by far the most critical views of Israel, they were also the least likely to engage in antisemitism.

Second, Corbyn’s supporters can point to the party’s own statistics that show only a minuscule proportion of members were ever referred to the party’s disciplinary procedure for antisemitism. That was the case even after pro-Israel groups like the CAA and the JLM scoured social media accounts trying to find examples to discredit Corbyn and after they managed to browbeat the party into adopting the new IHRA definition of antisemitism that conflated hatred of Jews with criticism of Israel.

And third, of those who faced investigation for antisemitism, a significant proportion were Jewish members outspoken in their criticism of Israel. Many Jews vocally opposed to Israel are active in the Labour Party, including nowadays in a group called Jewish Voice for Labour. By obscuring the fact that many of Israel’s harshest critics in Labour were Jewish, the media and pro-Israel partisans handed Corbyn’s opponents a convenient whip to beat him with.

Again, questioned on the report’s failure to address the lack of evidence, the commission’s statement to MEE reiterated the point that the report “did not focus on an assessment of the scale of antisemitism in the Party”. And, seemingly confirming the criticisms of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour that there very few antisemitism cases among a membership of over 500,000, the statement added: “The complaints included more than 220 allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party, dating back to 2011.”

Establishment campaign

The commission’s report avoids addressing any of this evidence, which would have undermined the rationale for its investigation and suggested its political nature. But if Corbyn’s supporters are right and there was little tangible evidence for claiming Labour had an especial antisemitism problem – aside, inevitably, from a small number of antisemites in its ranks – how did the clamour grow so big?

Here the EHRC allies with Corbyn’s critics in advancing a self-rationalising theory. It appears to accept that anyone who denies Labour had a distinct antisemitism problem under Corbyn – or claims that Labour had no more of a problem than the rest of British society – thereby proves that they are an antisemite.

But in reality there are other, entirely credible reasons about why the antisemitism claims against Labour were, as Corbyn observed, “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, or were even outright smears.

Corbyn was indeed targeted by pro-Israel groups for very understandable reasons, from their partisan perspective. He was the first British party leader within reach of power to unapologetically support the Palestinian cause and threaten Israel with serious repercussions for its continuing oppression of the Palestinian people.

But the claims of pro-Israel lobbyists only gained traction politically because, in concert, he was being targeted by the neoliberal establishment. That included the media, the Conservative Party and, particularly damagingly, the still-dominant “Blairite” wing of his own party, which hankered for a return to Labour’s glory days under former leader Tony Blair.

They all wanted to keep Corbyn from reaching No 10. Ultimately, antisemitism proved the most effective of a range of smears they tried on Corbyn for size. The goal was to discredit him in the eyes of British voters to ensure he could never implement a socialist platform that would challenge establishment interests head-on.

‘Part of government machine’

Realistically, the EHRC was never going to side with Corbyn and his supporters against this establishment narrative. In its statement to MEE, the equalities watchdog insisted it was an “independent regulator” that took its “political impartiality incredibly seriously”.

The commission, however, gives every appearance of being the epitome of an establishment body, full of corporate business people and lawyers honoured by the Queen. It has been sharply criticised even by former insiders. Simon Woolley, a former commissioner, recently noted that none of the current commissioners is black or Muslim, after he and Meral Hussein-Ece were forced out because, they say, there were seen as “too loud and vocal” on the wrong kind of race issues.

Meanwhile, David Isaacs, its outgoing chair, was appointed by the Conservative government in 2016 even though his law firm carried out “significant work for the government”. Concerns were raised by a parliamentary committee at the time about a very obvious conflict of interest.

Back in June, Corbyn noted to Middle East Eye that Conservative governments had slashed the commission’s budget by nearly three-quarters over the past decade. There have been widespread concerns that the watchdog body might wish to curry favour with the government to avoid further cuts. The commission was, Corbyn observed, now “part of the government machine”.

That might explain why, after making the incendiary decision to investigate the opposition Labour Party, the commission refused to carry out a similar investigation of the Conservatives, even though the evidence suggests that both Islamophobia and antisemitism are far more prevalent in the ruling party than Labour.

A beginning, not an end

Some in Labour may hope that the report will draw to a close the party’s troubling antisemitism chapter. They could not be more wrong.

Armed now with the blessing of the equalities commission, and emboldened by Corbyn’s suspension, the Campaign Against Antisemitism immediately sent a letter to the Labour Party demanding the scalps of a dozen more MPs, including Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader.

The Jewish Chronicle, which has been pushing for years the claim that Labour is riddled with antisemitism, published a leading article that the commission report “marks not an end but a beginning”.

The commission itself recommends that undefined “Jewish community stakeholders” be put in charge of training Labour Party officials about antisemitism. In practice, those stakeholders are likely to be the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, both of which have been keen to conflate antisemitism with entirely unrelated criticism of Israel.

In a now-familiar authoritarian move, Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, has warned local parties not to discuss the report or question its findings. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has threatened that anyone suggesting that antisemitism in Labour has been “exaggerated” or used for factional purposes – as even the commission implies in its report – will be summarily punished by the party.

Labour officials are reported to be already preparing to investigate expressions of support for Corbyn on social media, while MPs sympathetic to Corbyn are reportedly considering whether to jump before they are pushed out of the party. Len McCluskey, head of Unite, the biggest union donating to Labour, has spoken of “chaos” ahead. He warned: “A split party will be doomed to defeat.”

He is likely right. The civil war in Labour is on course to get worse. And that – as Britain reels under the glaring mismanagement and corruption of a Conservative government – will make some very happy indeed.

The post Corbyn was Never Going to get a Fair Hearing in the EHRC Antisemitism Report first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Guardian-Friendly Omissions

In his latest book, This Land: The Story of a Movement ((Penguin, ebook version, 2020.)), the Guardian’s Owen Jones charts the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn.

Jones depicts Corbyn as a ‘scruffy,’ (p. 8), ‘unkempt’ (p. 50), thoroughly shambolic backbench MP, ‘the most unlikely’ (p. 50) of contenders for the Labour leadership. In May 2015, Corbyn reluctantly dipped his toe in the water of the leadership contest, saying: ‘You better make fucking sure I don’t get elected’ (p. 54), only to be swept away on a tide of popular support.

As this suggests, Jones argues that while Corbyn was indeed relentlessly savaged by forces both inside and outside the Labour Party – including the ‘mainstream’ media, with ‘profound hostility’ from ‘the publicly funded, professedly impartial’ BBC (p. 68) – he was out of his depth, his team making constant, massive mistakes from which all progressives must learn. It is not at all inevitable, Jones says, that future leftist movements need suffer the same fate.

Much of this analysis is interesting and useful; Jones interviewed 170 insiders closest to the action, ‘people at the top of the Labour Party right down to grassroots activists’, who supply important insights on key events.

Jones portrays himself as someone who fundamentally agrees with much that motivated Corbyn, emphasising that his disagreement lies in tactics and strategy. But, once again, we note a remarkable pattern of omissions in the work of Jones, an ostensibly outspoken, unconstrained leftist, and by his serious misreading of the antisemitism furore that engulfed Corbyn.

Jones recognises that people loved Corbyn because, unusually for a UK politician, he was made of flesh rather than PR plastic; he told the truth:

‘While other contenders refused to give direct answers to questions, and were caught squirming between their principles and their political compromises, he spoke with immediacy – sometimes rambling, always authentic, always passionate.’ (p. 57)

Ironically, Jones does plenty of his own ‘squirming’ between ‘principles’ and ‘political compromises’ as he airbrushes out of existence facts, views and voices that are consistently and conspicuously Guardian-unfriendly. He writes:

‘Corbynism… was woven together from many disparate strands: from people who marched against the Iraq war in 2003’ to people hit by the ‘trebling of college tuition fees in 2010’ and ‘the millions more frightened by a looming climate emergency’. (p. 10)

Above all, of course, ‘Corbyn’s entire career had been devoted to foreign affairs’. (p. 29) Andrew Murray of the union, Unite commented: ‘Corbyn was very prominent in the anti-war movement.’ (p. 33)

Thus, deep popular outrage at the Iraq war is key in understanding Corbyn’s popularity. And yet, in discussing this central feature of the movement, Jones makes no mention at all of Julian Assange (or WikiLeaks), of Noam Chomsky, or John Pilger – the most important anti-war voices – exactly as he made no mention of them in his previous book, The Establishment, published in 2014.

Jones has not mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in the last twelve months. Indeed, his sole substantive mention came in April 2019.

Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015, but Jones mentions NATO’s catastrophic, 2011 war on Libya, opposed by Corbyn, once in passing, noting merely that Labour MP Chris Williamson had ‘supported the war in Libya’. (p. 251)

Jones’ previous book, The Establishment, published three years after NATO’s assault, similarly granted ‘Libya’ a single mention, noting that UK voters were ‘Weary of being dragged by their rulers into disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya…’.1. (See our discussion.)

The fact that the US-UK assault resulted in mass death, ethnic cleansing, mass displacement for millions of Libyans and the destruction of the entire country was not mentioned in either book.

Elsewhere, Jones has been more forthright. In February 2011, with NATO ‘intervention’ clearly looming, he tweeted:

‘I hope it’s game over for Gaddafi. A savage dictator once tragically embraced by me on left + lately western governments and oil companies.’2

On 20 March 2011, one day after NATO bombing had begun, like someone writing for the ‘Soaraway Sun’, Jones commented:

‘Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive.’3

Similarly, in 2012, Jones reacted to news of the killings of Syrian ministers in a bomb explosion with:

‘Adios, Assad (I hope).’4

After all, Jones tweeted, ‘this is a popular uprising, not arriving on the back of western cruise missiles, tanks and bullets’.4

As was very obvious then and indisputable now, Jones was badly mistaken.  The West, directly and via regional allies, played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had become embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’.5

As though tweeting from the NATO playbook, the same Guardian columnist now analysing the peace movement supporting Corbyn, wrote:

‘I’m promoting the overthrow of illegitimate and brutal dictatorships by their own people to establish democracies.’4

In This Land, Jones mentions Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war in famine-stricken Yemen exactly once, again in passing:

‘…Labour MPs refused to back Corbyn’s call for a UN investigation into alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen’. (p. 81)

There is no mention of the UK’s support for these crimes since 2011, no discussion of the horrors the UK has inflicted (See our discussion). The word ‘Yemen’ was unmentioned in Jones’ previous book in 2014. To his credit, he has written several Guardian pieces on the war in Yemen, the most recent in 2018.

Gaza was mentioned once, in passing, in Jones’ previous book and three times, in passing, in This Land. Our media database search found that, since he joined the Guardian in March 2014, Jones has made three substantive mentions of Gaza, in 2014 (a philosophical piece focusing on ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, with few facts about the situation in Gaza) a brief piece here, and one in 2018 (with a single paragraph on Gaza).

This Land simply ignores the Western propaganda wars on Iran and Venezuela.

Remarkably, while recognising the role of climate fears in the rise of Corbyn and discussing the UK’s ‘Climate Camp’ in the late 2000s, Jones makes no mention of Extinction Rebellion or of Greta Thunberg, both strongly supported by Corbyn, further fuelling popular support for his cause.

There is no mention of the Guardian’s lead role in destroying Corbyn; although, ironically, Jones does celebrate the fact that, ‘I wrote the first pro-Corbyn column to appear in the mainstream media: a Guardian piece’. (p. 53)

The silence is unsurprising. In 2017, Jones tweeted:

‘I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column.’6

He wasn’t joking:

‘Guardian colleagues aren’t supposed to have these public spats…’

Of his own opposition to Corbyn, in the Guardian and elsewhere, Jones writes:

‘Although I voted for him again in 2016, I had a period of disillusionment before the [June 2017] general election – something which still riles his most ardent supporters.’ (p. 14)

In fact, the ‘period of disillusionment’ was extensive and began long before the 2017 election. In July 2016, fully one year earlier, Jones wrote:

‘As Jeremy Corbyn is surrounded by cheering crowds, Labour generally, and the left specifically, are teetering on the edge of looming calamity.’

He added:

‘As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster. Many of you won’t thank me now. But what will you say when you see the exit poll at the next general election and Labour is set to be wiped out as a political force?’

Similar comments followed in February, March and April 2017. For example:

‘My passionate and sincere view is Jeremy Corbyn should stand down as soon as possible in exchange for another left-wing MP being allowed to stand on for leadership in his place: all to stop both Labour and the left imploding, which is what is currently on the cards.’7

Blaming The Victim – The Great, Fake Antisemitism Scandal

Time and again, Jones criticises the Corbyn leadership for failing to deal adequately with antisemitism claims: ‘there was no coherent strategy within the leader’s office on how to tackle claims of antisemitism’. (p. 227)

While Jones accepts that there were ‘bad-faith actors opposed to Corbyn’s policies’, his emphasis is focused elsewhere: ‘ultimately there were severe and repeated errors by the leadership, which resulted from those two characteristic failings: a lack of both strategy and emotional intelligence’. (p. 254)

Remarkably, Jones concludes that the crisis ‘need never have happened’. (p. 254)

This is nonsense. The crisis had to happen because sufficiently powerful forces within the Labour Party and Conservative Party, and across the corporate media ‘spectrum’, were determined to make it happen.

Compare Jones’ account with that of Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps. Finkelstein’s father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an interview with RT in May, Finkelstein commented:

‘Corbyn, he did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented – the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’

He added:

‘Yeah, there’s some fringe members of Labour who, you know, play the anti-semitic [interrupted by interviewer]… I read the polls, I read the data – it hovers between six and eight per cent are hardened anti-semites in British society. It’s nothing! Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no “institutionalised” anti-semitism in the British Labour Party. There’s no threat of anti-semitism in British society. I’ve read all the data, I’ve studied it closely. It just doesn’t exist. It’s all being designed and manipulated… I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, as you know, but this is a conspiracy.’

Jones accepts that ‘the former leadership and the vast majority of Labour’s membership abhor antisemitism’, arguing that the problem lay with a ‘small minority’. (p. 254) But Jones does not cite an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found:

‘Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.’

And he does not cite a September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which found:

‘Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population… The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.’

Instead, Jones pours scorn on leftists who ‘still were in denial, claiming that the antisemitism crisis had been entirely manufactured by a media “out to get” Corbyn…’ (p. 254)

Rational commentators have always accepted that antisemitism exists within the Labour Party. The point is that making that ugly reality a ‘crisis’ specifically for Labour, rather than for other parties and other sectors of society, and above all making it a ‘crisis’ for Corbyn – reviled as a dangerous antisemite – was entirely manufactured.

Jones cites ‘the passionately anti-Corbyn editor of the Jewish Chronicle’, Stephen Pollard, who grotesquely claimed to perceive ‘nudge, nudge’ (p. 253) antisemitism in one of Corbyn’s self-evidently anti-capitalist critiques. Such outlandish claims, Jones notes, only encouraged leftists to believe the whole furore was a smear campaign:

‘It was a vicious circle, and it turned to nobody’s benefit – least of all Corbyn’s, while causing more hurt and distress to Jewish people.’ (p. 253, our emphasis)

But this is absurd. Quite obviously, the smear campaign was to the very real benefit of the political and media forces trying to crush Corbyn’s version of socialism.

The claims targeting Corbyn were fake and they depended on ignoring as non-existent a mountain of evidence indicating that Corbyn is a passionate, committed and very active anti-racist. What is so outrageous is that this was accepted by essentially everyone before Corbyn stood for the leadership in 2015. As Jones comments:

‘Anti-racism is core to Corbyn’s sense of identity. He believes, proudly, that he has fought oppression all his life, so being labelled a racist was a cause of profound personal trauma to him.’ (p. 228)

Corbyn’s chief of staff, Karie Murphy, commented on the impact of the smear campaign:

‘This was a man who was beyond broken-hearted, that, as a proud antiracist campaigner, he was being accused of racism. So he was paralysed… It wasn’t true – no one will convince me that he has an antisemitic bone in his body…’ (p. 242)

Genuine racists are not left ‘beyond broken-hearted’ by claims that they are racist. They are not ‘paralysed’ by a sense of injustice and grief.

Jones comments on Corbyn: ‘no one close to him believes for a moment that he would ever willingly associate with a Holocaust denier’. (p. 222) And Corbyn ‘could point to an extensive record opposing antisemitism and showing pro-Jewish solidarity’ (p. 221). Jones lists some of Corbyn’s efforts in this regard: helping to organise a counter-mobilisation to a demonstration by National Front fascists in the so-called Battle of Wood Green in 1977; taking part in a campaign to save a Jewish cemetery from being sold off to property developers in 1987, calling on the British government to settle Yemeni Jewish refugees in 2010.

Before the sheer intensity of propaganda caused most commentators to find truth in lies, Corbyn’s deep-rooted opposition to racism was simply unquestioned. Chris Mullin, who did not vote for Corbyn to either become or remain leader, commented:

‘I’ve always liked him as long as I’ve known him. He’s a thoroughly decent human being, almost a saintly man.’ (p. 30)

As Jones writes of Corbyn at the time he stood for the leadership in 2015:

‘Corbyn had no personal enemies. Everyone liked him. Relentlessly cheerful, endlessly generous with his opponents, he exuded integrity.’ (pp. 50-51)

Despite this, Jones says of the antisemitism crisis:

‘The damage to Corbyn’s Labour was grievous. The crisis led to months of media coverage.’ (p. 254)

In fact, the media coverage was the crisis! It was this real crisis that was the cause of the ‘crisis’. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ was just one more fabrication by an awesomely corrupt and immoral media system willing to throw, not just the kitchen sink, but – God help us! – Nazi gas chambers at Corbyn.

The key to understanding the anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was explained by Jones himself:

‘Anybody who knows anything about the British press knows that it is almost unique in the Western world for its level of commitment to aggressively defending and furthering right-wing partisan politics… the media onslaught that greeted his [Corbyn’s] leadership win in 2015 was as predictable as it was unrelentingly hostile.’ (p. 67)

Jones lists only a few of the endlessly fabricated stories used to smear Corbyn: he supposedly planned to ‘abolish’ the army, refused to bow his head on Remembrance Day, danced happily on Remembrance Day, didn’t sing the national anthem loudly enough, and so on. The London School of Economics reported in 2016:

‘the British press systematically delegitimised Jeremy Corbyn as a political leader’ through a ‘process of vilification that went beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy’. (p. 68)

Corbyn’s great anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was a non-story, a fabricated non-event, a Soviet-style propaganda smear. Sufficient numbers of people wanted it to be true because they wanted to be rid of Corbyn. Everyone else bowed their heads to avoid being subject to the same career-destroying smears.

Jones often mentions Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite Union, in This Land. McCluskey commented in the New Statesman last week on Corbyn’s press chief Seumas Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy:

‘Having given a brilliant and detailed polemic of the history of anti-Semitism, he [Jones] veers away to lay blame at the [door of] Milne and Murphy, based on a distorted view of what it was like trying to deal with the constant daily attacks.

‘When you are in a war – and be under no illusion, from day one of his leadership, Corbyn was subjected to an internal and external war – you develop methods of defence and attack that change by necessity almost on a daily, if not hourly basis.  Being in your living room, observing with a typewriter, is a damn sight easier than being in the ditches on the front line, trying to dodge bullets flying at you from all angles, especially from your own side.’

Establishment forces were out to destroy Corbyn with antisemitism, or whatever else they could think of, no matter what he did, how he replied. And it worked. The incompetence of Corbyn’s team may have made things worse, but the truth that matters is that a form of ruthless fascism arose out of British society to crush an attempt to create a more democratic politics.

Needless to say, Jones has not one word to say about the lead role of his employer, the Guardian, in the antisemitism smear campaign.

Conclusion

Why do we focus so intensely on popular progressives like Owen Jones, George Monbiot and loveable, NATO-loving loon Paul Mason?

The reason is that they breathe life into the faded dream that progressive change can be achieved by working within and for profit-maximising corporations that are precisely the cause of so many of our crises. Even the best journalists cannot tell the truth within these undemocratic systems of top-down power. As Jones freely admits, they have to compromise, to self-censor. Guardian colleagues may not be criticised! Ultimately, they have to compromise in ways that allow the state-corporate status quo to thunder on.

Our most celebrated public radicals – almost all of them made famous by corporate media – function as dissident vaccines that inoculate the public against a pandemic of authentic dissent.

Corporate media are careful to incorporate a tiny bit of progressive poison, so that we all hang around for a whole lot of propaganda-drenched news and commentary, and a perma-tsunami of unanswered corporate advertising persuading us that status consumption, status production and paper-thin concern for the problems of our world are all there is.

Ultimately, corporate dissidents are the final nail in the corporate coffin, normalising the blind, patently doomed rush to disaster called ‘business as usual.’

  1. Owen Jones, The Establishment:  And how they get away with it, Penguin, 2014, p. 275.
  2. Jones, Twitter, 20 February 2011.
  3. Jones, ‘The case against bombing Libya’, Left Futures, March 2011.
  4. Jones, Twitter, 18 July 2012.
  5. Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, ‘Behind the sudden death of a $1 billion secret C.I.A. war in Syria’, New York Times, 2 August 2017.
  6. Jones, Twitter, 19 November 2017.
  7. Jones: ‘“I don’t enjoy protesting – I do it because the stakes are so high”’, Evening Standard, 3 February 2017.

The post Guardian-Friendly Omissions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Sinking Transparency at the Old Bailey: The Assange Extradition Hearing Resumes

The fine circus that is British justice resumed at London’s Central Criminal Court on September 7, with the continued extradition proceedings against Julian Assange.  Judge Vanessa Baraitser was concerned that approximately 40 individuals had received remote video access they apparently should not have.  “In error, the court sent out orders to others who had sought access.  I remain concerned about my ability to maintain the integrity of the court if they are able to attend remotely.”

Showing a continuing obsession with controlling her court as manorial property, Baraitser felt that having such individuals access the proceedings might lead to breaches (she did not specify which ones).  “Once livestreaming takes place, the court cannot manage this breach even less when the person is outside the jurisdiction.” Inadvertently, the judge had put her finger on the very heart of WikiLeaks and the terror it inspires in the establishment: an event or occurrence that is published, remotely; information, previously confined, escaping.  “I want to make it clear that the public interest and allowing remote access is unlikely to meet the interests of justice tests.”  To wit, she needed new applications from the excluded observers.  “For those who consider they still cannot travel to the UK to attend the hearing, then they need to apply again and I will consider it.”

One of the organisations excluded by Baraitser’s ruling was Amnesty International, a body that has sent fair trial monitors to observe the practices of regimes more authoritarian and less inclined to observe the rule of law.  Marie Struthers stated it plainly, noting the initial rejection of the application for a physical spot last month, followed by the granting of six remote viewing slots, reduced to one, then, it transpired, none. “This is not normal.”  To have the organisation’s “legal observer … find out this morning that he had not been granted even REMOTE access to the Assange proceedings is an outrage.”

Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns of Reporters Without Borders suggested that allowing “so few trial monitors [and] journalists into today’s hearing seemed more of a political decision rather than a logistical one.”  To such exclusions could also be added parliamentarians.

With assured opacity and a lack of transparency, the scene was set.  What would Judge Baraitser come up with to restrict the scope of Assange’s case against extradition to the US?  One lay in controlling the presentation of witness statements.   The defence suggested a full show, assisting witnesses in going through their statements in court.  The public might be better informed of the issues.

Baraitser offered a novel reading: doing so would not assist the defence, the public or Assange “and would not be a fair.”  Another way of reading it would have been: no justifications and podiums for the cause.  James Lewis QC of the prosecution thought that the statements were adequate enough.  It followed that they would be made public.  “In my view,” concluded Baraitser on that point, “there is no benefit whatsoever to allowing the witnesses give evidence in chief.”  Thirty minutes for orientation was more than adequate.

Defence counsel Mark Summers QC focused on the staggered nature of the US indictment against Assange, beginning initially as a single charge, ballooning into an enlarged indictment stuffed by allegations of espionage, followed by a second superseding indictment.  “It is a curiosity that the US had, in previous hearings, been content for the hearings to go ahead in February and May, presumably knowing that this was coming.”  It was not initially clear what had changed, but by August 21, the material put before the court constituted a “potential standalone basis for criminality”.  Irrespective of whether the US rejected the existing allegations linked to Chelsea Manning, “Assange can be extradited and potentially convicted for this conduct on its own and this is a resounding and new development in this case.”

One feature of the prosecution attacked by Summers was the mentioning of Assange’s alleged “co-conspirators” linked to hacking incidents.  As Kevin Gosztola reminds us, they had been subject of legal prosecutions in the US and UK a decade ago, while Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson was mentioned in a filing by the prosecution last year.  It followed that material from that case, which involved conviction in Iceland for fraud, theft and impersonation of Assange, should have been included in the previous indictment.  The defence also brought up those rich remarks by the Icelandic Interior Minister at the time, who “believed the investigation [of Thordarson by the FBI] was in order to ‘frame Assange’.”

Other co-conspirators mentioned were Hector Xavier Monsegur (“Sabu”), Jake Davis (“Topiary”) and Ryan Ackroyd (“Kalya”), all making legal appearances in the Southwark Crown Court for their alleged hacking spree with LuzSec.  The defence contended that, as they were all prosecuted in the UK despite “competing US indictments being issued during the currency of the UK case”, Assange should have been prosecuted in the UK alongside such conspirators at the time. “The forum bar is obviously engaged.”

The prosecution case, in short, had become a quite different creature to the beast it originally was.  The indictment now claimed, for instance, that Assange and WikiLeaks had assisted former security contractor Edward Snowden to evade arrest.  The prosecution had also brought the focus back on alleged nefarious cyber activity on Assange’s part, thereby discrediting the need to publish material exposing, for instance, US war crimes.  Targeting the hacker distracts from the more sinister implication of targeting a publisher.

“It would be extraordinary for this court to be beginning an extradition hearing in relation to allegations like that within weeks of their announcement,” submitted Summers, “without warning and even more extraordinary to do so in circumstances where the defendant is in custody.”

The stunning lack of fairness was emphasised.  It was “impossible” for Assange’s team to “deal with the allegations being put to him and in relation to material for which you have been provided no explanation for their late arrival.”  Inadequate time had been given and inadequate notice, on dealing with these new “separate criminal allegations”.  With that in mind, Summers submitted that the court excise the new allegations.

Obstacles to adequate preparation have never bothered the judge in this case.  With her usual rusted stubbornness, Judge Baraitser put the blame down to the defence, essentially approving the conduct of the US Department of Justice.  Excision could only be granted in instances of a bar outlined in statute or a case of abuse of process. But not even the forum bar seemed to sway her.

Failing in that application, Summers moved to the issue of an adjournment to January.  It was not an application without risk, given Assange’s conditions in Belmarsh prison.  “We have not been able to answer the allegations which have only been made in the last few weeks.  This has been made worse because of the conditions we are having to work under.”  No earlier application had been made for the very simple reason that Assange had not seen the new request, hobbled by poor access to documentation provided by his defence team via traditional postal means.  “We have not had an opportunity to meet and consult with him.”  He still had not received “the revised opening note” with accompanying documentation that the DOJ was developing more than a narrative, but the basis for “standalone criminality capable of sustaining a conviction if accepted in its own right.”

Judge Baraister initially offered a nibble of tokenistic interest.  She acknowledged that the defence team had not seen Assange for some six months, and wondered if they had spoken to him by phone. Yes, came the reply, but these were incoherent episodes, consisting of two short conversations.  He had “to take in information from us on – any view – complex documents and to make him aware of the issues and to take a decision on them.”  A 10 minute adjournment followed.  Baraitser’s decision: the defence should have applied previously to do so but did not; the defence, in not doing so, should have acted as if the proceedings would continue.

Peering through the ruins of a process that is becoming more political with each session was the testimony of Mark Feldstein of the University of Maryland, authority on history and journalism.  Feldstein’s point in defence of WikiLeaks is outlined in his statement: drawing exacting definitions of what journalism is or otherwise within the US Constitution makes little sense.  “Assange … is protected by the First Amendment whether he qualifies as a journalist or not.”

The testimony proceeded to develop such ideas.  Thousands upon thousands of leaks of classified information had informed “the public about government decision making but they also evidence government dishonesty”. Journalists made Pulitzer Prize winning careers in using material from such leaks, an activity protected by the First Amendment as “the public had a right to be informed.”  Charging publishers and news outlets was simply not done; authorities preferred to charge the source or whistleblowers.  While history evinces cases of “presidential enemies” being sought, the line had always been drawn.  Till now.

The post Sinking Transparency at the Old Bailey: The Assange Extradition Hearing Resumes first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How the Guardian betrayed not only Corbyn but the Last Vestiges of British Democracy

It is simply astonishing that the first attempt by the Guardian – the only major British newspaper styling itself as on the liberal-left – to properly examine the contents of a devastating internal Labour party report leaked in April is taking place nearly four months after the 860-page report first came to light.

If you are a Labour party member, the Guardian is the only “serious”, big-circulation paper claiming to represent your values and concerns.

One might therefore have assumed that anything that touches deeply on Labour party affairs – on issues of transparency and probity, on the subversion of the party’s democratic structures, on abuses or fraud by its officials – would be of endless interest to the paper. One might have assumed it would wish both to dedicate significant resources to investigating such matters for itself and to air all sides of the ensuing debate to weigh their respective merits.

Not a bit of it. For months, the leaked report and its implications have barely registered in the Guardian’s pages. When they have, the coverage has been superficial and largely one-sided – the side that is deeply hostile to its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

That very much fits a pattern of coverage of the Corbyn years by the paper, as I have tried to document. It echoes the paper’s treatment of an earlier scandal, back in early 2017, when an undercover Al-Jazeera reporter filmed pro-Israel Labour activists working with the Israeli embassy to damage Corbyn from within. A series of shocking reports by Al-Jazeera merited minimal coverage from the Guardian at the time they were aired and then immediately sank without trace, as though they were of no relevance to later developments – most especially, of course, the claims by these same groups of a supposed “antisemitism crisis” in Labour.

Sadly, the latest reports by the Guardian on the leaked report –presented as an “exclusive” – do not fundamentally change its long-running approach.

Kicked into the long grass

In fact, what the paper means by an “exclusive” is that it has seen documents responding to the leaked report that were submitted by Corbyn and his team to the Forde inquiry – Labour’s official investigation into that report and the circumstances of its leaking. The deadline for submissions to Martin Forde QC arrived last week.

Setting up the Forde inquiry was the method by which Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, hoped to kick the leaked report into the long grass till next year. Doubtless Starmer believes that by then the report will be stale news and that he will have had time to purge from the party, or at least intimidate into silence, the most outspoken remnants of Corbyn’s supporters.

Corbyn’s submission on the leaked report is an “exclusive” for the Guardian only because no one in the corporate media bothered till now to cover the debates raging in Labour since the leak four months ago. The arguments made by Corbyn and his supporters, so prominent on social media, have been entirely absent from the so-called “mainstream”.

When Corbyn finally got a chance to air the issues raised by the leaked report in a series of articles on the Middle East Eye website, its coverage went viral, underscoring how much interest there is in this matter among Labour members.

Nonetheless, despite desperately needing clicks and revenue in this especially difficult time for the corporate media, the Guardian is still spurning revelatory accounts of Corbyn’s time in office by his former team.

One published last week – disclosing that, after winning the leadership election, Corbyn arrived to find the leader’s offices gutted, that Labour HQ staff refused to approve the hiring of even basic staff for him, and that disinformation was constantly leaked to the media – was relegated to the OpenDemocracy website.

That Joe Ryle, a Corbyn team insider, either could not find a home for his insights in the Guardian or didn’t even try says it all – because much of the disinformation he laments being peddled to the media ended up in the Guardian, which was only too happy to amplify it as long as it was harming Corbyn.

A political coup

Meanwhile, everything in the Guardian’s latest “exclusive” confirms what has long been in the public realm, via the leaked report.

Through its extensive documentation of WhatsApp messages and emails, the report shows conclusively that senior Labour officials who had dominated the party machine since the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown eras – and were still loyal to the party’s centre-right incarnation as New Labour – worked at every turn to oust Corbyn from the leadership. They even tried to invent ways to bar him from standing in a rerun leadership election a year later, in 2016, after Owen Smith, the Labour right’s preferred candidate, challenged him.

Corbyn and his supporters were viewed as dangerous “Trots” – to use a derisive term that dominates those exchanges.

The messages show these same officials did their level best to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign – an election that Corbyn was less than 3,000 votes from winning. Party officials starved marginal seats Corbyn hoped to win of money and instead focused resources on MPs hostile to Corbyn. It seems they preferred a Tory win if it gave momentum to their efforts to rid the party of Corbyn.

Or, as the submission notes: “It’s not impossible that Jeremy Corbyn might now be in his third year as a Labour prime minister were it not for the unauthorised, unilateral action taken by a handful of senior party officials.”

The exchanges in the report also show that these officials on the party’s right privately gave voice to horrifying racism towards other party members, especially black members of the party loyal to Corbyn.

And the leaked report confirms the long-running claims of Corbyn and his team that the impression of “institutional antisemitism” in Labour – a narrative promoted in the corporate media without any actual evidence beyond the anecdotal – had been stoked by the party’s right wing, Blairite officials.

They appear to have delayed and obstructed the handling of the small number of antisemitism complaints – usually found by trawling through old social media posts – to embarrass Corbyn and make the “antisemitism crisis” narrative appear more credible.

Corbyn’s team have pointed out that these officials – whose salaries were paid by the membership, which elected Corbyn as party leader – cheated those members of their dues and their rights, as well as, of course, subverting the entire democratic process. The submission rightly asks the inquiry to consider whether the money spent by Labour officials to undermine Corbyn “constituted fraudulent activity”.

One might go even further and argue that what they did amounted to a political coup.

The bogus ‘whistleblower’ narrative

Even now, as the Guardian reports on Corbyn’s submission to the Forde inquiry, it has downplayed the evidence underpinning his case, especially on the antisemitism issue – which the Guardian played such a key role in weaponising in the first place.

The paper’s latest coverage treats the Corbyn “claims” sceptically, as though the leaked report exists in a political vacuum and there are no other yardsticks by which the truth of its evidence or the plausibility of its claims can be measured.

Let’s start with one illustrative matter. The Guardian, as with the rest of the corporate media, even now avoids drawing the most obvious conclusion from the leaked report.

Racism was endemic in the language and behaviours of Labour’s senior, right wing officials, as shown time and again in the WhatsApp messages and emails.

And yet it is these very same officials – those who oversaw the complaints procedure as well as the organisation of party headquarters – who, according to the corporate media narrative, were so troubled by one specific kind of racism, antisemitism, that they turned it into the biggest, most enduring crisis facing Corbyn during his five-year tenure as leader.

To accept the corporate media narrative on this supposed “antisemitism crisis”, we must ignore several things:

  • the lack of any statistical evidence of a specific antisemitism problem in Labour;
  • the vehement racism expressed by Labour officials, as well as their overt and abiding hostility to Corbyn;
  • moves by party officials forcing Corbyn to accept a new definition of antisemitism that shifted the focus from a hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel;
  • and the fact that the handling of antisemitism complaints dramatically improved once these right wing officials were removed from their positions.

And yet in its latest reporting, as with its earlier coverage, the Guardian simply ignores all this confirmatory evidence.

There are several reasons for this, as I have documented before, but one very obvious one is this: the Guardian, like the rest of the British media, had worked hard to present former officials on the right of the party as brave “whistleblowers” long before they were exposed by the leaked report.

Like the BBC’s much-criticised Panorama “investigation” last year into Labour’s alleged “antisemitism crisis”, the Guardian took the claims of these former staff – of their supposed selfless sacrifice to save the party from anti-Jewish bigots – at face value.

In fact, it was likely even worse than that. The Guardian and BBC weren’t just passive, neutral recipients of the disinformation offered by these supposed “whistleblowers”. They shared the Labour right’s deep antipathy to Corbyn and everything he stood for, and as a result almost certainly served as willing, even enthusiastic channels for that disinformation.

The Guardian hardly bothers to conceal where its sympathies lie. It continues to laud Blair from beyond the political grave and, while Corbyn was leader, gave him slots in its pages to regularly lambast Corbyn and scaremonger about Labour’s “takeover” by the supposedly “extreme” and “hard” left. The paper did so despite the fact that Blair had grown ever more discredited as evidence amassed that his actions in invading Iraq in 2003 were crimes against humanity.

Were the Guardian to now question the narrative it promoted about Corbyn – a narrative demolished by the leaked report – the paper would have to admit several uncomfortable things:

  • that for years it was either gulled by, or cooperated with, the Blairites’ campaign of disinformation;
  • that it took no serious steps to investigate the Labour right’s claims or to find out for itself what was really going on in Labour HQ;
  • that it avoided cultivating a relationship with Corbyn’s team while he was in office that would have helped it to ascertain more effectively what was happening inside the party;
  • or that, if it did cultivate such a relationship (and, after all, Seamas Milne took up his post as Corbyn’s chief adviser immediately after leaving the Guardian), it consistently and intentionally excluded the Corbyn team’s account of events in its reporting.

To now question the narrative it invested so much energy in crafting would risk Guardian readers drawing the most plausible conclusion for their paper’s consistent reporting failures: that the Guardian was profoundly opposed to Corbyn becoming prime minister and allowed itself, along with the rest of the corporate media, to be used as channel for the Labour right’s disinformation.

Stabbed in the back

None of that has changed in the latest coverage of Corbyn’s submission to Forde concerning the leaked report.

The Guardian could not realistically ignore that submission by the party’s former leader and his team. But the paper could – and does – strip out the context on which the submission was based so as not to undermine or discredit its previous reporting against Corbyn.

Its main article on the Corbyn team’s submission becomes a claim and counter-claim story, with an emphasis on an unnamed former official arguing that criticism of him and other former staff at Labour HQ is nothing more than a “mythical ‘stab in the back’ conspiracy theory”.

The problem is that there are acres of evidence in the leaked report that these officials did stab Corbyn and his team in the back – and, helpfully for the rest of us, recorded some of their subversive, anti-democratic activities in private internal correspondence between themselves. Anyone examining those message chains would find it hard not to conclude that these officials were actively plotting against Corbyn.

To discredit the Corbyn team’s submission, the Labour right would need to show that these messages were invented. They don’t try to do that because those messages are very obviously only too real.

Instead they have tried two different, inconsistent strategies. First, they have argued that their messages were presented in a way that was misleading or misrepresented what they said. This claim does not hold water, given that the leaked report includes very lengthy, back-and-forth exchanges between senior staff. The context of those exchanges is included – context the officials themselves provided in their messages to each other.

Second, the self-styled “whistleblowers” now claim that publication of their messages – documenting efforts to undermine Corbyn – violates their right to privacy and breaches data protection laws. They can apparently see no public interest in publishing information that exposes their attempts to subvert the party’s internal democratic processes.

It seems that these “whistleblowers” are more committed to data concealment than exposure – despite the title they have bestowed on themselves. This is a strange breed of whistleblower indeed, one that seeks to prevent transparency and accountability.

In a telling move, despite claiming that their messages have been misrepresented, these former officials want the Forde inquiry to be shut down rather than given the chance to investigate their claims and, assuming they are right, exonerate them.

Further, they are trying to intimidate the party into abandoning the investigation by threatening to bankrupt it through legal actions for breaching their privacy. The last thing they appear to want is openness and a proper accounting of the Corbyn era.

Shrugging its shoulders

In its latest reporting, the Guardian frames the leaked report as “clearly intended to present a pro-Corbyn narrative for posterity” – as though the antisemitism narrative the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media spent nearly five years crafting and promoting  was not clearly intended to do the precise opposite: to present an anti-Corbyn narrative for posterity.

Peter Walker, the paper’s political correspondent, describes the messages of former, right wing Labour officials as “straying” into “apparent” racism and misogyny, as though the relentless efforts revealed in these exchanges to damage and undermine prominent black MPs like Diane Abbott are open to a different interpretation.

According to Walker, the report’s evidence of election-scuppering in 2017 is “circumstantial” and “there is seemingly no proof of active obstruction”. Even assuming that were true, such a deficiency could easily be remedied had the Guardian, with all its staff and resources, made even the most cursory effort to investigate the leaked report’s claims since April – or in the years before, when the Corbyn team were trying to counter the disinformation spread by the Labour right.

The Guardian largely shrugs its shoulders, repeatedly insinuating that all this constitutes little more than Labour playground bickering. Starmer is presented as school principal – the one responsible adult in the party – who, we are told, is “no stranger to managing Labour factions”.

The Guardian ignores the enormous stakes in play both for Labour members who expected to be able to shape the party’s future using its supposedly democratic processes and for the very functioning of British democracy itself. Because if the leaked report is right, the British political system looks deeply rigged: there to ensure that only the establishment-loving right and centre-right ever get to hold power.

The Guardian’s approach suggests that the paper has abdicated all responsibility for either doing real journalism on its Westminster doorstep or for acting as a watchdog on the British political system.

Guardian hypocrisy

Typifying the hypocrisy of the Guardian and its continuing efforts to present itself a hapless bystander rather than active participant in efforts to disrupt the Labour party’s internal democratic processes and sabotage the 2017 and 2019 elections is its lead columnist Jonathan Freedland.

Outside of the Guardian’s editorials, Freedland’s columns represent the closest we have to a window on the ideological soul of the paper. He is a barometer of the political mood there.

Freedland was among the loudest and most hostile opponents of Corbyn throughout his time as leader. Freedland was also one of the chief purveyors and justifiers of the fabled antisemitism narrative against Corbyn.

He, and the right wing Jewish Chronicle he also writes for, gave these claims an official Jewish seal of approval. They trumpeted the narrow, self-serving perspective of Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, whose leaders are nowadays closely allied with the Conservative party.

They amplified the bogus claims of the Jewish Labour Movement, a tiny, pro-Israel organisation inside Labour that was exposed – though the Guardian, of course, never mentions it – as effectively an entryist group, and one working closely with the Israeli embassy, in that detailed undercover investigation filmed by Al-Jazeera.

Freedland and the Chronicle endlessly derided Jewish groups that supported Corbyn, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, Just Jews and Jewdas, with antisemitic insinuations that they were the “wrong kind of Jews”. Freedland argued that strenuous criticism of Israel was antisemitic by definition because Israel lay at the heart of any proper Jew’s identity.

It did not therefore matter whether critics could show that Israel was constitutionally racist – a state similar to apartheid South Africa – as many scholars have done. Freedland argued that Jews and Israel were all but indistinguishable, and to call Israel racist was to malign Jews who identified with it. (Apparently unaware of the Pandora’s box such a conflation opened up, he rightly – if inconsistently – claimed that it was antisemitic for anyone to make the same argument in reverse: blaming Jews for Israel’s actions.)

Freedland pushed hard for Labour to be forced to adopt that new, troubling definition of antisemitism, produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that shifted the focus away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel. Under this new definition, claims that Israel was “a racist endeavour” – a view shared by some prominent Israeli scholars – was treated as definitive proof of antisemitism.

One-party politics

If anyone gave the weaponisation of antisemitism against Corbyn an air of bipartisan respectability it was Freedland and his newspaper, the Guardian. They made sure Corbyn was hounded by the antisemitism claims while he was Labour leader, overshadowing everything else he did. That confected narrative neutralised his lifelong activism as an anti-racist, it polluted his claims to be a principled politician fighting for the underdog.

Freedland and the Guardian not only helped to breathe life into the antisemitism allegations but they made them sound credible to large sections of the Labour membership too.

The right wing media presented the Corbyn project as a traitorous, hard-left move, in cahoots with Putin’s Russia, to undermine Britain. Meanwhile, Freedland and the Guardian destroyed Corbyn from his liberal-left flank by portraying him and his supporters as a mob of left wing Nazis-in-waiting.

Corbynism, in Freedland’s telling, became a “sect”, a cult of dangerous leftists divorced from political realities. And then, with astonishing chutzpah, Freedland blamed Corbyn’s failure at the ballot box – a failure Freedland and the Guardian had helped to engineer – as a betrayal of the poor and the vulnerable.

Remember, Corbyn lost by less than 3,000 votes in a handful of Labour marginals in 2017. Despite all this, Freedland and the Guardian now pretend that they played no role in destroying Corbyn, they behave as if their hands are clean.

But Freedland’s actions, like those of his newspaper, had one inevitable outcome. They ushered in the only alternative to Corbyn: a government of the hard right led by Boris Johnson.

Freedland’s choice to assist Johnson by undermining Corbyn – and, worse, to do so on the basis of a disinformation campaign – makes him culpable, as it does the Guardian, in everything that flowed from his decision. But Freedland, like the Guardian, still pontificates on the horrors of the Johnson government, as if they share no blame for helping Johnson win power.

In his latest column, Freedland writes: “The guiding principle [of the Johnson government] seems to be brazen cronyism, coupled with the arrogance of those who believe they are untouchable and that rules are for little people.”

Why should the Tories under Johnson be so “arrogant”, so sure they are “untouchable”, that “rules are for little people”, and that there is no political price to be paid for “cronyism”?

Might it not have much to do with seeing Freedland and the Guardian assist so willingly in the corporate media’s efforts to destroy the only political alternative to “rule by the rich” Toryism? Might the Johnson government have grown more confident knowing that the ostensibly liberal-left media were just as determined as the right wing media to undermine the only politician on offer who stood for precisely the opposite political values they did?

Might it not reflect an understanding by Johnson and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, that Freedland and the Guardian have played a hugely significant part in ensuring that Britain effectively has a one-party state – and that when it returns to being a formal two-party state, as it seems to be doing once again now that Starmer is running the Labour party, both those parties will offer the same establishment-worshipping agenda, even if in two mildly different flavours?

The Guardian, like the rest of the corporate media, has derided and vilified as “populism” the emergence of any real political alternative.

The leaked report offered a brief peek behind the curtain at how politics in Britain – and elsewhere – really works. It showed that, during Corbyn’s time as leader, the political battle lines became intensely real. They were no longer the charade of a phoney fight between left and right, between Labour and Conservative.

Instead, the battle shifted to where it mattered, to where it might finally make change possible: for control of the Labour party so that it might really represent the poor and vulnerable against rule by the rich. Labour became the battleground, and the Guardian made all too clear where its true loyalties lie.

UK Labour Party teeters on Brink of Civil War Over Antisemitism

Jeremy Corbyn, the former left-wing leader of Britain’s Labour party, is once again making headlines over an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly oversaw during his five years at the head of the party.

This time, however, the assault on his reputation is being led not by the usual suspects – pro-Israel lobbyists and a billionaire-owned media – but by Keir Starmer, the man who succeeded him.

Since becoming Labour leader in April, Starmer has helped to bolster the evidence-free narrative of a party plagued by antisemitism under Corbyn. That has included Starmer’s refusal to exploit two major opportunities to challenge that narrative.

Had those chances been grasped, Labour might have been able to demonstrate that Corbyn was the victim of an underhanded campaign to prevent him from reaching power.

Starmer, had he chosen to, could have shown that Corbyn’s long history as an anti-racism campaigner was twisted to discredit him. His decades of vocal support for Palestinian rights were publicly recast as a supposed irrational hatred of Israel based on an antipathy to Jews.

But instead Starmer chose to sacrifice his predecessor rather than risk being tarred with the same brush.

As a result, Labour now appears to be on the brink of open war. Competing rumors suggest Corbyn may be preparing to battle former staff through the courts, while Starmer may exile his predecessor from the party.

Rocketing membership

Corbyn’s troubles were inevitable the moment the mass membership elected him Labour leader in 2015 in defiance of the party bureaucracy and most Labour MPs. Corbyn was determined to revive the party as a vehicle for democratic socialism and end Britain’s role meddling overseas as a junior partner to the global hegemon of the United States.

That required breaking with Labour’s capture decades earlier, under Tony Blair, as a party of neoliberal orthodoxy at home and neoconservative orthodoxy abroad.

Until Corbyn arrived on the scene, Labour had become effectively a second party of capital alongside Britain’s ruling Conservative party, replicating the situation in the US with the Democratic and Republican parties.

His attempts to push the party back towards democratic socialism attracted hundreds of thousands of new members, quickly making Labour the largest party in Europe. But it also ensured a wide-ranging alliance of establishment interests was arrayed against him, including the British military, the corporate media, and the pro-Israel lobby.

Politicized investigation

Unlike Corbyn, Starmer has not previously shown any inclination to take on the might of the establishment. In fact, he had previously proven himself its willing servant.

As head of Britain’s prosecution service in 2013, for example, his department issued thinly veiled threats to Sweden to continue its legal pursuit of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had sought political asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, even as Swedish interest in the case waned.

With his background in realpolitik, Starmer appears to have grasped quickly the danger of being seen to share any common ground with Corbyn – not only should he pursue significant elements of his predecessor’s program, but by challenging the carefully crafted establishment narrative around Corbyn.

For this reason, he has refused to seize either of the two chances presented to him to demonstrate that Labour had no more of an antisemitism problem than the relatively marginal one that exists more generally in British society.

That failure is likely to prove all the more significant given that in a matter of weeks Labour is expected to face the findings of an investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The highly politicized watchdog body, which took on the probe into Labour while refusing to investigate plentiful evidence of an Islamophobia problem in the Conservative party, is expected to shore up the Corbyn-antisemitism narrative.

Labour has said it will readily accept the Commission’s findings, whatever they are. The watchdog body is likely to echo the prevailing narrative that Corbyn attracted left-wingers to the party who were ideologically tainted with antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. As a result, or so the argument goes, Jew hatred flourished on his watch.

Starmer has already declared “zero tolerance” of antisemitism, but he has appeared willing – in line with pro-Israel lobbyists in his party – to conflate Jew hatred with trenchant criticism of Israel.

The barely veiled intention is to drive Corbynite members out of Labour – either actively through suspensions or passively as their growing disillusionment leads to a mass exodus.

By distancing himself from his predecessor, Starmer knows no dirt will stick to him even as the Equality Commission drags Corbyn’s name through the mud.

Sabotaged from within

Starmer rejected the first chance to salvage the reputations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership days after he became leader.

In mid-April, an 850-page internal party report was leaked, stuffed with the text of lengthy email exchanges and WhatsApp chats by senior party staff. They showed that, as had long been suspected, Corbyn’s own officials worked hard to sabotage his leadership from within.

Staff at headquarters still loyal to the Blair vision of the party even went so far as to actively throw the 2017 general election, when Labour was a hair’s-breadth away from ousting the Conservatives from government. These officials hoped a crushing defeat would lead to Corbyn’s removal from office.

The report described a “hyper-factional atmosphere”, with officials, including then-deputy leader Tom Watson, regularly referring to Corbyn and his supporters as “Trots” – a reference to Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of a violent Communist revolution in Russia more than a century ago.

Corbynites were thrown out of the party on the flimsiest pretexts, such as describing those like Blair who led the 2003 attack on Iraq as “warmongers”.

But one early, favored tactic by staff in the disciplinary unit was to publicize antisemitism cases and then drag out their resolution to create the impression that the party under Corbyn was not taking the issue seriously.

These officials also loosened the definition of antisemitism to pursue cases against Corbyn’s supporters who, like him, were vocal in defending Palestinian rights or critical of Israeli policies.

This led to the preposterous situation where Labour was suspending and expelling anti-Zionist Jews who supported Corbyn on the grounds that they were supposedly antisemites, while action was delayed on dealing with a Holocaust denier.

The narrative against Corbyn being crafted by his own officials was eagerly picked up and amplified by the strong contingent of Blairites among Labour legislators in the parliament, as well as by the corporate media and by Israel lobbyists both inside and outside Labour.

Effort to bury report

The parties responsible for leaking the report in April did so because Labour, now led by Starmer, had no intention of publicizing it.

In fact, the report had been originally compiled as part of Labour’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, effectively giving Corbyn’s side of the story against his opponents.

But once Corbyn stepped down, the party bureaucracy under Starmer preferred to shelve it. That decision meant there would be no case for the defense, and Corbyn’s opponents’ claims would go unchallenged.

Once leaked, Starmer stuck to his position. Rather than use the report as an opportunity to expose the ugly campaign against Corbyn and thereby question the antisemitism narrative, Starmer did his level best to bury it from sight.

He vowed to investigate “the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain”. That sounded ominously like a threat to hound those who had tried to bring to light the party’s betrayal of its previous leader.

Rather than accept the evidence presented in the leaked report of internal corruption and the misuse of party funds, Starmer set up an inquiry under QC Martin Forde to investigate the earlier investigation.

The Forde inquiry looked like Starmer’s effort to kick the damaging revelations into the long grass.

The British media gave the leaked report – despite its earth-shattering revelations of Labour officials sabotaging an election campaign – little more than perfunctory coverage.

Labour ‘whistleblowers’

A second, related chance to challenge the Corbyn-antisemitism narrative reached its conclusion last week. And again, Starmer threw in Labour’s hand.

In July last year – long before the report had been leaked – the BBC’s prestige news investigation show Panorama set out to answer a question it posed in the episode’s title: “Is Labour Antisemitic?

John Ware, a reporter openly hostile to Corbyn and well-known for supporting Israel and his antipathy towards Muslims, was chosen to front the investigation.

The program presented eight former staff as “whistleblowers”, their testimonies supposedly exposing Corbyn’s indulgence of antisemitism. They included those who would soon be revealed in the leaked report as intractable ideological enemies of the Corbyn project and others who oversaw the dysfunctional complaints process that dragged its heels on resolving antisemitism cases.

The Panorama program was dismal even by the low standards of political reporting set by the BBC in the Corbyn era.

The show made much of the testimony of pro-Israel lobbyists inside the Labour party belonging to a group called the Jewish Labour Movement. They were not identified – either by name or by affiliation – despite being given the freedom to make anecdotal and unspecified claims of antisemitism against Corbyn and his supporters.

The BBC’s decision not to name these participants had nothing to do with protecting their identities, even though that was doubtless the impression conveyed to the audience.

Most were already known as Israel partisans because they had been exposed in a 2017 four-part al-Jazeera undercover documentary called The Lobby. They were filmed colluding with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to bring down Corbyn. The BBC did not identify these pro-Israel activists presumably because they had zero credibility as witnesses.

One-sided coverage

Nonetheless, a seemingly stronger case – at least, at the time – was made by the eight former Labour staff. Their testimonies to the BBC suggested they had been hampered and bullied by Corbyn’s team as they tried to stamp out antisemitism.

Panorama allowed these claims to go unchallenged, even though with a little digging it could have tapped sources inside Labour who were already compiling what would become the leaked report, presenting a very different view of these self-styled “whistleblowers”.

The BBC also failed to talk to Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Labour party members supportive of Corbyn who challenged the way the Jewish Labour Movement had manipulated the definition of antisemitism in the party to harm Palestinian solidarity activists.

And the BBC did not call as counter-witnesses any of the anti-Zionist Jews who were among the earliest victims of the purge of supposed antisemites by Labour’s apparent “whistleblowers”.

Instead, it selectively quoted from an email by Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief adviser, to suggest that he had interfered in the disciplinary process to help antisemites avoid suspension.

Proper context from the BBC would have revealed that Milne had simply expressed concern at how the rule book was being interpreted when several Jews had been suspended for antisemitism – and that he had proffered his view only because a staff member now claiming to be a whistleblower had asked for it.

This section of the Panorama show looked suspiciously like entrapment of Milne by Labour staff, followed by collusion from the BBC in promoting their false narrative.

Flawed reporting

Despite these and many other serious flaws in the Panorama episode, it set the tone for subsequent discussion of the “antisemitism problem” in Labour.

The program aired a few months before a general election, last December, that Corbyn lost to Boris Johnson and the ruling Conservative party.

One of the key damaging, “gotcha” moments of the campaign was an interview with the veteran BBC interviewer Andrew Neil in which he repeatedly asked Corbyn to apologize for antisemitism in the party, as had been supposedly exposed by Panorama. Corbyn’s refusal to respond directly to the question left him looking evasive and guilty.

With the rest of the media amplifying the Panorama claims rather than testing them, it has become the accepted benchmark for judging the Corbyn era. The show has even been nominated for a Bafta award, the British equivalent to an Oscar.

Shortly after the program aired, Corbyn’s team disputed the Panorama narrative, saying it had contained “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”. They also described the “whistleblowers” as disaffected former staff with “political axes to grind”.

Ware and seven of the former staff members who appeared in the program launched a defamation action against the Labour party.

After the internal report was leaked in April, the legal scales tipped decisively in Labour’s favor. Starmer was reportedly advised by lawyers that the party would be well-positioned to defeat the legal action and clear Corbyn and the party’s name.

But again Starmer preferred to fold. Before the case could be tested in court, Starmer issued an apology last week to the ex-staff members and Ware, and paid them a six-figure sum in damages.

Admitting that “antisemitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years”, the statement accepted the claims of the ex-staff to be “whistleblowers”, even capitalizing the word to aggrandize their status.

It said: “We acknowledge the many years of dedicated and committed service that the Whistleblowers have given to the Labour Party … We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying.”

Threat of bankruptcy

With typical understatement, Corbyn said he was “disappointed” at the settlement, calling it a “political decision, not a legal one”. He added that it “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour party in recent years.”

Starmer’s decision also preempted – and effectively nullified – the Forde inquiry, which was due to submit its own findings on antisemitism in Labour later in the year.

Many in the party were infuriated that their membership dues had been used to pay off a group of ex-staff who, according to the leaked report, had undermined the party’s elected leader and helped to throw a general election.

But in what looked disturbingly like a move to silence Corbyn, Ware said he was consulting lawyers once again about launching a legal battle, personally against the former Labour leader, over his criticism of the settlement.

Mark Lewis, the solicitor acting for Ware and the whistleblowers, has said he is also preparing an action for damages against Labour on behalf of 32 individuals named in the leaked report. Among them is Lord Iain McNichol, who served as the party’s general secretary at the time.

Lewis reportedly intends to focus on staff privacy breaches under the Data Protection Act, disclosure of private information and alleged violations of employment law.

Conversely, Mark Howell, a Labour party member, has initiated an action against Labour and McNichol seeking damages for “breach of contract”. He demands that those named in the leaked report be expelled from the party.

He is also reported to be considering referring named staff members to the Crown Prosecution Service under the 2006 Fraud Act for their failure to uphold the interests of party members who paid staff salaries.

This spate of cases threatens to hemorrhage money from the party. There have been warnings that financial settlements, as well as members deserting the party in droves, could ultimately bankrupt Labour.

Corbyn to be expelled?

Within days of the apology, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than £280,000 for Corbyn to clear his name in any future legal actions.

Given his own self-serving strategy, Starmer would doubtless be embarrassed by such a move. There are already rumors that he is considering withdrawing the party whip from Corbyn – a form of exile from the party.

Pressure on him to do so is mounting. At the weekend it was reported that ex-staff might drop the threatened case over the embarrassing revelations contained in the leaked report should Starmer expel Corbyn.

Quoting someone it described as a “well-placed source”, the Mail on Sunday newspaper set out the new stakes. “Labour says they have zero tolerance to anti-Semitism. Zero tolerance means no Corbyn and no Corbynistas,” the source said.

There are already reports of what amounts to a purge of left-wing members from Labour.

Starmer has committed to upholding “10 Pledges” produced by the Board of Deputies – a conservative Jewish leadership organization hostile to Corbyn and the left – that places it and the pro-Israel lobbyists of the Jewish Labour Movement in charge of deciding what constitutes antisemitism in the party.

Selective concern

Starmer’s decision about who can serve in his shadow cabinet is a reminder that the storm over Corbyn was never about real antisemitism – the kind that targets Jews for being Jews. It was a pretext to be rid of the Corbyn project and democratic socialism.

Starmer quickly pushed out the last two prominent Corbynites in his shadow cabinet – both on matters related to criticism of Israel.

By contrast, he has happily indulged the kind of antisemitism that harms Jews as long as it comes from members of his shadow cabinet who are not associated with Corbyn.

Starmer picked Rachel Reeves for his team, even though earlier this year she tweeted a tribute to Nancy Astor, a supporter of Hitler and notorious antisemite. Reeves has refused to delete the tweet.

And Steve Reed is still the shadow communities secretary, even though this month he referred to a Jewish newspaper tycoon, Richard Desmond, as a “puppet master” – the very definition of an antisemitic trope.

Starmer’s “zero tolerance” appears to be highly selective – more concerned about harsh criticism of a state, Israel, than the othering of Jews. Tellingly, Starmer has been under no serious pressure from the Jewish Labour Movement, or from the media or from Jewish leadership organizations such as the Board of Deputies to take any action against either Reeves or Reed.

He has moved swiftly against leftists in his party who criticize Israel but has shrugged his shoulders at supposed “moderates” who, it could be argued, have encouraged or glorified hatred and suspicion of Jews.

But then the antisemitism furor was never about safeguarding Jews. It was about creating a cover story as the establishment protected itself from democratic socialism.

Israel’s New UK Ambassador will Expose Delusions of Britain’s Jewish Leaders

After years of successfully drawing attention away from Israel’s intensifying crimes against the Palestinian people by citing a supposedly growing “antisemitism crisisin Britain’s Labour Party, Jewish community leaders in the UK are exasperated to find themselves unexpectedly on the defensive.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled the rug out from under leading British Jewish organisations by appointing Tzipi Hotovely as Israel’s next ambassador to the UK. She is expected to take up her position in the summer.

Recently made Israel’s first settlements minister, Hotovely does not appear to have a diplomatic bone in her body. She is a rising star in Netanyahu’s Likud Party – and at the heart of the Israeli far-right’s ascendancy over the past decade.

‘This land is ours’

She is openly Islamophobic, denying the history of the Palestinian people. She supports hardline racial purity groups, such as Lehava, that try to stop relationships between Jews and non-Jews. And she flaunts a religious Jewish supremacism that claims title to all of historic Palestine.

In a 2015 speech on her appointment as deputy foreign minister, she rejected a two-state solution, saying: “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

She was given responsibility as settlements minister for overseeing what is widely feared will be the imminent annexation of up to a third of the West Bank promised by Netanyahu, destroying any last hope of a Palestinian state.

But she goes further. She favours full West Bank annexation, implying support either for Israel’s explicit and direct apartheid rule over millions of Palestinians or renewed mass ethnic cleansing operations to remove Palestinians from their homes.

Hotovely also supports Israel’s takeover of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the most important Islamic sites in the world. Such a move could set the Middle East on fire.

Embassy interference

Hotovely is an undoubted rupture from recent ambassadors.

From 2007 until 2016, the post was held successively by career diplomats Ron Prosor and Daniel Taub. They followed the traditional embassy playbook: rhetorical efforts to take the spotlight off Israel and its systematic oppression of Palestinians.

They focused instead on a two-state solution that no one in the Israeli government was actually interested in, and blamed the lack of progress on supposed Palestinian intransigence and Hamas “terrorism”.

In early 2016, another diplomat, Mark Regev, was appointed, though in a more politicised capacity. He had previously served as Netanyahu’s most trusted spokesman.

Regev’s arrival coincided with a much more aggressive – if covert – role for the London embassy in interfering directly in British politics. He had to deal with the recently elected leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who was seen as a major threat to Israel because of his outspoken support for Palestinians.

An undercover investigation aired by Al Jazeera in early 2017 revealed that an Israeli embassy official was secretly coordinating with Jewish organisations to undermine Corbyn. One such group, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), had been recently revived inside the Labour Party to oppose Corbyn.

Evidence emerged to suggest that the embassy’s efforts to damage Corbyn were being directed from Israel, by the strategic affairs ministry. The ministry’s main mission has been to discredit overseas solidarity with Palestinians, especially the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

Zionism and antisemitism

As the documentary underscored, one of the main weapons in Israel’s arsenal has been to tar Palestinian solidarity activists as antisemites.

This has been achieved by muddying the differences between antisemitism and opposition to Zionism, an extreme political ideology that – even in its secular varieties – assumes that Jews have a biblically inspired right to dispossess the native Palestinian population.

Corbyn found himself increasingly under attack from the JLM and the UK’s main Jewish leadership organisation, the Board of Deputies, for supposedly unleashing a “plague” of antisemitism in Labour. While antisemitism in the UK has been rising overall in recent years, statistics revealed this accusation against the Labour Party in particular to be entirely groundless.

Eventually, the party was forced to accept a new definition of antisemitism – devised by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that classified serious criticism of Israel, as well as support for Palestinian rights, as racist.

Keir Starmer, Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader, gives every impression of having learned from Corbyn’s devastating run-in with the Israel lobby. He has declared himself a Zionist and signed up to “10 Pledges” from the Board of Deputies that take meaningful criticism of Israel off the table.

Late last month he sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet for supposedly indulging an antisemitic “conspiracy theory” after she retweeted an article that criticised Israel’s well-documented involvement in training US police forces.

Empty threats

Netanyahu now appears confident that the political threat to Israel from the UK has been neutralised, and that neither of Britain’s two main parties will pay more than lip service to Palestinian rights.

That has been underscored by the fact that Hotovely’s appointment coincides with the expected move by Netanyahu to annex swaths of the West Bank over the coming weeks under licence from US President Donald Trump’s recent “peace” plan.

Last month, some 50 United Nations human rights experts described Israel’s proposed annexation as the harbinger of “21st century apartheid”.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has voiced opposition to annexation, as has Starmer. But neither has indicated that he would take any meaningful retaliatory action.

The fact that Hotovely, a champion of maximalist annexation, will represent Israeli government policy in the UK suggests that Netanyahu understands that British party leaders will offer no more than empty threats.

Palestinians erased

But while Netanyahu may be happy to have Hotovely selling West Bank annexation to the British public and defending Israel’s ever-greater abuses of Palestinians, prominent Jewish figures in the UK are up in arms.

They have spent the past five years changing the optics in the UK. Zionism – Israel’s settler-colonial ideology – has been repackaged as innocuous, even wholesome: a benevolent political movement that simply empowers Jews, liberating them from antisemitism.

But this illusion has depended on erasing Palestinians – and their oppression – from view.

So successful has the campaign been that those who try to remind Britons of the circumstances of Israel’s establishment and its subsequent history have been decried as antisemites.

The creation of Israel, sponsored by British governments starting more than a century ago, depended on the ethnic cleansing of some 80 percent of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and the continuing exclusion of millions of their descendants. Israel still subjects millions more to a belligerent occupation.

Hotovely threatens to disrupt all of these achievements, and expose the pro-Israel lobby – as well as some of the biggest names in Britain’s Jewish community – as charlatans.

Passionate about Israel

Jewish leaders in the UK were already panicking over Netanyahu’s promises to annex parts of the West Bank. That would bring into sharp focus a decades-long Zionist programme of Palestinian dispossession they have quietly supported.

Early last month, before Hotovely’s appointment had been announced, around 40 of Britain’s most prominent Jews, including historians Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore, philanthropist Vivien Duffield and former Conservative cabinet minister Malcolm Rifkind, wrote to Regev urging the Israeli government to rethink annexation.

They observed that, as “committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel”, they had worked hard to “nurture a more sympathetic environment for Israel” in the UK. But annexation, they warned, would tear apart the country’s Jewish community and “pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain”.

It was notable that key figures in the campaign to oust Corbyn over his support for Palestinian rights signed the letter, including former Labour MP Luciana Berger; Trevor Chinn, a major donor to Starmer’s campaign; Daniel Finkelstein, associate editor at the Times newspaper; Julia Neuberger, a prominent rabbi; and Anthony Julius, a celebrated lawyer.

Annexation is not new

But annexation is not a new policy, as these Jewish notables suggest. Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, in violation of international law, condemning more than 370,000 Palestinian residents to permanent Israeli apartheid rule. Israel did the same to the Syrian Golan Heights a year later.

And is annexation really worse than the mass ethnic cleansing operations Israel carried out not only in 1948, but again in 1967? Ever since, Israel has pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing by stealth in the occupied territories – the flip 0side of its “creeping annexation” policy – as it has taken over more Palestinian land to settle it with Jews.

Did these war crimes not lead Jewish community leaders in Britain to rethink their “passionate commitment” to Israel?

And why is it only this latest phase of annexation that makes them question “Israel’s status as a liberal democracy” – not the legal structures codified in dozens of laws that privilege the citizenship rights of Jews over Israel’s 1.8 million-strong Palestinian minority, a fifth of its population?

Formal annexation is simply the logical conclusion of more than a century of Zionist colonisation of Palestine, one that was always premised on the replacement of the native population with Jews. Getting the jitters at this late stage in Israel’s settler-colonial mission, as though some imaginary red line has suddenly been crossed, is self-delusion of the highest order.

Sparing allies’ blushes

But if annexation poses a severe blow to the image these “passionate Zionists” have of themselves as fair-minded, sensitive liberals, Hotovely’s appointment as ambassador may yet sound the death knell.

Earlier Israeli governments were aware of the need to put a rhetorical gloss on their oppression of Palestinians to spare the blushes of supporters in western states. That was one of the tasks of Israel’s foreign ministry and its diplomatic corps. It was also the aim of the Israeli hasbara industry – state propaganda masquerading as neutral “information”.

Successive Netanyahu governments have found propping up such deceptions increasingly untenable in an era in which Palestinians have phone cameras that can document their abuse. The resulting videos are all over YouTube.

Many British Jews have averted their eyes, claiming instead that strenuous criticism of Israel is demonisation motivated by antisemitism. But the self-deceptions so beloved by many in overseas Jewish communities are increasingly unpalatable to the Israeli right’s Jewish supremacist instincts. Hotovely is simply the latest choice of envoy who cares little for indulging the cognitive dissonance of local Jewish allies.

Back in 2015, before the ultra-nationalist Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil’s president, Netanyahu tried to foist a settler leader, Dani Dayan, on Brasilia. Notably, Hotovely, who was then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, was outspokenin defending Dayan’s appointment, even threatening to downgrade relations with Brazil.

After a diplomatic row, Dayan was eventually reassigned as Israel’s consul general in New York.

Losing friends

Some in the UK’s Jewish community appear to believe they can enjoy similar success. Many hundreds of British Jews have signed a petition launched by an anti-occupation group, Na’amod, urging the UK to reject Hotovely as ambassador. Others appear to be contemplating a boycott if she is accredited.

Liberal Jewish community leaders have joined them in opposition. Labour peer Lord Beecham told the Jewish Chronicle that Hotovely’s appointment would “do nothing to win friends in the UK – or indeed any other reasonable country”.

Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi of the Reform Movement, echoed him: “[Hotovely’s] political views on Palestinians, annexation and religious pluralism clash with our core values.”

Except that all the recent evidence suggests Janner-Klausner is wrong. Yes, Hotovely’s unadorned “values” are ugly and openly racist. She does not veil her Jewish supremacist worldview; she wears it proudly.

But her policies in support of Jewish settlement on Palestinian land have been the bedrock policy of every Israeli government since 1967, when the occupation began. And the logical endpoint of the ever-expanding settlements was always annexation, either by legal fiat or by creating a mass of facts on the ground.

The majority of Britain’s Jewish community, as its leaders keep reminding us, are fervent Zionists. Jewish publications described Na’amod, which launched the petition against Hotovely, as a “fringe” group because it “campaigns against the occupation and [is] in favour of Palestinian rights”.

Living a lie

For many years, some in the British Jewish community have served as cheerleaders for the settlements. One such group, the Jewish National Fund UK, welcomed Hotovely’s appointment, noting what they called her “many positive attributes and achievements”.

Others have cynically turned a blind eye to developments in the occupied territories over more than half a century. The Board of Deputies – the nearest the UK’s Jewish community has to an establishment – has said it will work with Hotovely. Concerning annexation, it has said: “We don’t take sides in Israeli politics.”

Others have paid lip service to opposition to the settlements, while living a lie they concealed even from themselves. The more Israel moved to the right and the more it expanded settlements to displace Palestinians, the more these “liberals” entrenched their support for Israel, and the more they refused to countenance dissent.

Blind support for Israel became a measure of whether they would back a political party, as Ed Miliband, himself Jewish and Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader, found to his cost.

An ultra-nationalist id

The Labour Party was lost to the majority of Britain’s Jewish community long ago – long before Corbyn. Anything but uncritical support for Israel – even as Israel moved ever further into an ultra-nationalism bordering on what Israeli experts have described as fascism – was denounced as proof of left-wing “antisemitism”.

“Antisemitism” became a way to avoid thinking about Israel and what it stood for. It became a way to reject Israel’s critics without addressing their arguments. It served as a comfort blanket, reassuring many British Jews that their politics were defensive, rather than ideologically extreme and offensive.

Now, Hotovely will serve as the Israeli ultra-nationalist id to their liberal egos. With Corbyn the bogeyman gone, liberal British Jews will finally have to face truths about Israel they have deeply buried.

It is a moment of reckoning – and one long overdue.

• First published in Middle East Eye

While the Shark Still Swims: Boris Johnson, Super Saturday and Super Responsibilities

By most accounts, the response of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the coronavirus pandemic has been abysmal.  When the architect of the response himself catches the virus, he is either a more informed person for his sin or a buffoon in need of serious chastising.

In June, the prime minister claimed pride in announcing a new commitment for the majority – and a thumping one at that – of COVID-19 tests to be processed within 24 hours.  Marvellous news to behold, except that Johnson had also revealed how he was getting a meaty grip on cabinet committees, thereby taking “control” of the pandemic response.  The response from Labour’s Keir Starmer was one of quizzical disdain.  “So an obvious question for the prime minister: who’s been in direct control up till now?”

A hail of dissimulation followed by way of reply.  “I take full responsibility for everything this government has been doing in tackling coronavirus, and I’m very proud of our record.  If you look at what we have achieved so far, it is considerable.  We have protected the NHS, we have driven down the death rate.  We are now seeing far fewer hospital admissions.”

When he is caught out, either by means of offending a person, race or country, his approach is one of the half-hearted apology, often served with a good backhand.  “By mumbling vague apologies and failing to individuate his words,” suggests Arianne Shahvisi in the London Review of Books, “Johnson creates an aura of harmless stupidity that makes him seem like a friendly, slovenly underdog to a nation with a soft spot for incompetence.”

There is certainly much to apologise for in terms of how Britain has handled the spread of COVID-19.  We will never know the full extent of what the death toll might have been had the lockdown been introduced say, a week earlier, but estimates abound.  James Annan, a scientist who admittedly earns his crust in the field of climate prediction, claimed in May that a lockdown that had come into force one week earlier “would have saved 30,000 lives in the current wave (based on official numbers, which are themselves a substantial underestimate).  It would also have made for a shorter, cheaper, less damaging lockdown in economic terms.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, Johnson’s former adviser on dealing with the virus, had his own calculation to mess the stable of policy. “Had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier,” argued Ferguson before a committee of MPs, “we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”  (Ferguson, it should also be said, breached the very lockdown measures he had advocated, necessitating his resignation.)  He singled out the disaster that befell care homes.  “We made the rather optimistic assumption that somehow the elderly would be shielded.”  While the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies had “anticipated in theory” the risk, “extensive testing to make sure it doesn’t get in” did not take place.

The entire picture, from governance to coordination between the UK’s various health entities, as public health specialist Martin McKee and colleagues point out in the BMJ, has been a bungle of grand proportions.  Parliament has not been able to scrutinise the actions of ministers.  Local government leaders found themselves left out of discussions on a national, coordinated approach.  The procurement of goods and services by a civil service dogged by outsourcing was catastrophic.  Ethnic minorities were left particularly vulnerable and, just to round up this little list of horrors, international collaboration was poor.  “The UK’s engagement with its European neighbours,” conclude McKee, et al., “was chaotic with unconvincing excuses invoking overlooking emails.”

Over the weekend, England faces its promised “Super Saturday”, the sort of government advertising criticised for its incentive to cut loose and run just a tad riot.  “I am worried that by opening on a Saturday, rather than letting things bed in over a week there is a likely threat of serious disorder,” warned West Midlands’ police and crime commissioner David Jamieson in a statement.

Bars, cafes, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will open (some already have), subject to a slew of regulations.  Two households will be able to convene in any setting, subject to social distancing measures.  An enforceable 30-person limit will apply, with one-metre-plus social distancing rules and time limits being placed on patrons and diners.  The buzz of re-opening will not be enough to arrest the rot that had already settled into the British pub scene, marred as it is by the phenomenon of the pub company.  Beer-tie agreements binding the tenant to pay rent and purchase supplies from such “pubcos” were already killing off a good number of pubs before the coronavirus struck.

A spokesman for the prime minister has also informed the press of continued closures.  “The regulations also keep in place a list of premises that must remain closed and that includes nightclubs, nail bars, salons, indoor play areas, gyms, conference centres and exhibition halls.”

Johnson, as he had done from the start of his prime ministership, is talking up the sensible Briton, capable of good behaviour in preventing another surge of infections.   The success of the reopening, “and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly.”  He acknowledged that “the government will not hesitate in putting on the brakes and reimposing restrictions.”  Words of wisdom were given: “follow the rules” and “don’t overdo it.”  The shark, he warned was “still out there in the water.”

The prime minister is seeking a halfway house.  He is urging for the creation of a more responsible, sober Briton, capable of enjoying pints at a social distance while remaining sharp on boundaries and infection.  He is playing the nanny who casts an approving eye of liberation and dispensation, and the father who promises disciplinary retribution for transgressions.  Apologies will duly follow.

Keir Starmer’s “Antisemitism” Sacking is a Signal that Israel is Safe in his Hands

The sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the UK shadow cabinet – on the grounds that she retweeted an article containing a supposedly “antisemitic” conspiracy theory – managed to kill three birds with one stone for new Labour leader Keir Starmer.

First, it offered a pretext to rid himself of the last of the Labour heavyweights associated with the party’s left and its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Long-Bailey was runner-up to Starmer in the leadership elections earlier in the year and he had little choice but to include her on his front bench.

Starmer will doubtless sigh with relief if the outpouring of threats on social media from left-wing members to quit over Long-Bailey’s sacking actually materialises.

Second, the move served as a signal from Starmer that he is a safe pair of hands for the party’s right, which worked so hard to destroy Corbyn from within, as a recently leaked internal review revealed in excruciating detail. Despite the report showing that the Labour right sabotaged the 2017 general election campaign to prevent Corbyn from becoming prime minister, Starmer appears to have buried its contents – as have the British media.

He is keen to demonstrate that he will now steer Labour back to being a reliable party of government for the neoliberal establishment. He intends to demonstrate that he is the Labour party’s Joe Biden, not its Bernie Sanders. Starmerism is likely to look a lot like Blairism.

A peace pipe

And third, Long-Bailey’s sacking provided the perfect opportunity for Starmer to publicly light a peace pipe with the Israel lobby after its long battle to tar Corbyn, his predecessor, as an antisemite.

The offending article shared by Long-Bailey referred to Israel’s documented and controversial role in training and helping to militarise US police forces. It did not mention Jews. By straining the meaning of antisemitism well past its breaking point, Starmer showed that his promised “zero tolerance” for antisemitism actually means zero tolerance of anyone in Labour who might antagonise the Israel lobby – and by extension, of course, the Israeli government.

By contrast, back in February Rachel Reeves, an MP on the party’s right, celebrated Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in the UK parliament and a well-known Jew hater who supported the appeasement of Hitler. None of that appeared to bother the Israel lobby, nor did it dissuade Starmer from welcoming Reeves into his shadow cabinet weeks later.

Feeble handwringing

Doubtless, the move against Long-Bailey felt particularly pressing given that this week the door will open to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu annexing swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank in violation of international law, as sanctioned by Donald Trump’s “peace” plan.

Corbyn joined more than 140 other MPs last month in sending a letter to the British prime minister urging “severe consequences including sanctions” on Israel should it carry out annexation.

Starmer, by contrast, has voiced only “concerns”. Sidelining the gross violation of international law annexation constitutes, or the effects on Palestinians, he has weakly opined: “I don’t agree with annexation and I don’t think it’s good for security in the region.”

It looks like Starmer has no intention of doing anything more than feeble handwringing – especially when he knows that the Israel lobby, including advocacy groups inside his own party like the Jewish Labour Movement, would move swiftly against him, as they did against Corbyn, should he do otherwise.

Sacking Long-Bailey has offered the Israel lobby a sacrificial victim. But it has also removed a potential loose cannon from his front bench on Israel and annexation-related matters. It has sent an exceptionally clear warning to other shadow cabinet ministers to watch and closely follow his lead. He has made it evident that no one will be allowed to step out of line.

A smooth ride

All three audiences – Starmer’s own MPs and party officials, the billionaire-owned media, and the Israel lobby that claims to represent Britain’s Jewish community – can now be relied on to give him a smooth ride.

His only remaining challenge will be to keep the membership in check.

Starmer understands only too well the common policy priorities of the various audiences he is seeking to placate. In fact, the article Long-Bailey retweeted – and which led to her ousting – was highlighting the very interconnectedness of the problems these establishment groups hope to ringfence from examination.

The article published in the Independent was an interview with Maxine Peake, a left-wing actor and Palestinian solidarity activist. As Long-Bailey shared the article, she called Peake, one of her constituents, “an absolute diamond”.

Peake had used the interview to warn: “We’re being ruled by capitalist, fascist dictators.” Establishment structures to protect capitalism, “keeping poor people in their place”, were so entrenched, she wondered how we might ever “dig out” of them.

Those who rejected Corbyn in the 2019 general election because he was seen as too left-wing, she observed, had no place complaining now about an incompetent Conservative government there to serve the establishment rather than the public.

Her brief, offending comment about Israel – the one that has been widely mischaracterised as antisemitic – was immediately prefaced by Peake’s concern that racism and police brutality had become globalised industries, with states learning repressive techniques from each other.

She told the interviewer: “Systemic racism is a global issue. The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

The Palestinian lab

Starmer and the Israel lobby both wish to deflect attention away from the wider point Peake was making. She was referring to Israel’s well-known role in helping to train and militarise other countries’ police forces with so-called “counter-terrorism measures”. Israel has been doing so since the early 1990s.

As Israeli journalists and scholars have noted, Israel has effectively turned the occupied Palestinian territories into laboratories in which it can refine oppressive systems of control that other states desire for use against sections of their own populations.

But Starmer and the lobby chose to hoist Long-Bailey – via Peake’s interview – onto the hook of a single unprovable assertion: that Israel specifically taught Minneapolis police the knee on the neck chokehold that one of their police officers, Derek Chauvin, used for nine minutes on George Floyd last month, leading to his death.

Peake was right that Israeli security services regularly use that type of chokehold on Palestinians, and also that Israeli experts had held a training session with Minneapolis police in 2012.  All that can be proved.

The specific claim that this particular chokehold was taught on that occasion, however, may be wrong – and we are unlikely ever to know, given the lack of transparency regarding Israel’s influence on other police forces’ strategies and methods.

Such opaqueness and a lack of accountability in police practices is the norm in Israel, where the security services treat Palestinians as an enemy – both in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where there is a large minority with degraded Israeli citizenship. US police forces, on the other hand, profess, often unconvincingly, to be driven by a “protect and serve” ethos.

‘Global pacification’

In taking action against Long-Bailey, Starmer, a former lawyer known for his forensic skills, made a telling, false allegation. He told the BBC that the Peake interview had indulged in antisemitic “conspiracy theories” – in the plural. But only one Israel-related claim, about the knee on the neck chokehold, was made or cited.

Further, Peake’s claim, whether correct or not, is patently not antisemitic. Israel is neither a Jew nor the representative of the Jewish people collectively – except in the imaginations of antisemites and the hardcore Zionists who people the Israel lobby.

More significantly still, in condemning Peake, Starmer wilfully ignored the wood as he pointed out a single tree.

Israeli scholar Jeff Halper, a veteran peace activist, has documented in great detail in his book War Against the People how Israel has intentionally positioned itself at the heart of a growing “global pacification industry”. The thousands of training sessions held by Israeli police in the US and around the world are based on their “expertise” in repressive, militarised policing.

Tiny Israel has influence in this field way out of proportion to its size, in the same way that it is one of the top 10 states – all the others far larger – that profit from the arms trade and cyber warfare. Every year since 2007, the Global Militarisation Index has crowned Israel the most militarised nation on the planet.

A senior analyst at the liberal Israeli Haaretz newspaper has described Israel as “securityland” – the go-to state for others to improve their techniques for surveilling, controlling and oppressing restive populations within their territory. It is this expertise in “securocratic warfare” that, according to Halper, has allowed tiny Israel to hit way above its weight in international politics and earned it a place “at the table with NATO countries”.

Western bad faith

It is on this last point that the Labour left, including many of the party’s half a million members, and the Labour right decisively part company. A gulf in worldviews opens up.

Along with the climate emergency, Israel symbolises for the Labour left some of the most visible hypocrisies and excesses of a neoliberal global agenda that treats the planet with slash-and-burn indifference, views international law with contempt, and regards populations as little more than pawns on an updated colonial chessboard.

Israel’s recent history of dispossessing the Palestinians; its unabashed promotion of Jim Crow-style ethnic privileges for Jews, epitomised in the nation-state law; its continuing utter disregard for the rights of Palestinians; its hyper-militarised culture; its decades-long occupation; its refusal to make peace with its neighbours; its deep integration into the West’s war industries; its influence on the ideologies of the “war on terror” and a worldwide “clash of civilisations”; and its disdain for international humanitarian law are all anathema to the left.

Worse still, Israel has been doing all of this in full view of the international community for decades. Nonetheless, its crimes are richly subsidised by the United States and Europe, as well as obscured by a sympathetic western media that is financially and ideologically embedded in the neoliberal establishment.

For the Labour left – for Peake, Long-Bailey and Corbyn – Israel is such an obvious example of western bad faith, such a glaring Achilles’ heel in the deceptions spread on behalf of the neoliberal order, that it presents an opportunity. Criticism of Israel can serve to awaken others, helping them to understand how a bogus western “civilisation” is destroying the planet through economic pillage, wars and environmental destruction.

It offers an entry into the left’s structural, more abstract critiques of capitalism and western colonialism that it is otherwise difficult to convey in soundbites to a uniformly hostile media.

Antisemitism redefined

The problem is that the stakes regarding Israel are understood by the Labour right in much the same way. Their commitment to a global neoliberal order – one they characterise in terms of a superior western civilisation – stands starkly exposed in the case of Israel.

If the idea of Israel is made vulnerable to challenge, so might their other self-delusions and deceptions about western superiority.

For each side, Israel has become a battleground on which the truthfulness of their worldview is tested.

The Labour right has no desire to engage with the left’s arguments, particularly at a time when the climate emergency and the rise of populism make their political claims sound increasingly hollow. Rather than debate the merits of democratic socialism, the Labour right has preferred to simply tar the Labour left as antisemites.

With Corbyn’s unexpected rise to lead Labour in 2015, that crisis for the Labour right became existential. The backlash was swift and systematic.

The party’s right-wing scrapped the accepted definition of antisemitism and imposed a new one on Labour, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), to ensnare the left. It focused on criticism of Israel rather than hatred or fear of Jews.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel group, was revived in late 2015 to undermine Corbyn from within the party. It was all but sanctified, even as it refused to campaign for Labour candidates and referred the party to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for a highly politicised investigation.

The Labour right openly conflated not only the left’s anti-Zionism with antisemitism but even their socialist critiques of capitalism. It was argued that any references to bankers or a global financial elite were code words for “Jews”.

After this lengthy campaign helped to destroy Corbyn, the candidates to succeed him, including Long-Bailey, opted to declare themselves Zionists and to sign up to “10 Pledges” from the Board of Deputies, the UK’s main Jewish leadership organisation. Those demands put the board and the Jewish Labour Movement in charge of determining what antisemitism was, despite their highly partisan politics on Israel and their opposition to democratic socialism.

Political charlatans

The problem for the Labour right and Israel’s lobbyists, and therefore for Starmer too, is that Israel, egged on by Trump, is working overtime to blow up the carefully constructed claim – supported by the IHRA definition of antisemitism – that Israel is just another normal western-style state and that therefore it should not be “singled out” for criticism.

Israel is on a collision course with the most fundamental precepts of international law by preparing to annex large areas of the West Bank. This is not a break with Israeli policy; it is the culmination of many decades of settlement activity and resource theft from Palestinians.

This is a potential moment of crisis for those on the Labour right, who could quickly find themselves exposed as political charlatans – the charlatans they always have been – by Israel’s actions over the coming weeks and months.

Starmer has indicated he is determined to tightly delimit the room for criticism of Israel within Labour as the annexation issue unfolds. That will leave him and the party free to issue their own carefully crafted, official condemnations – similar to Johnson’s.

Like Johnson, Starmer will play his allotted role in this political game of charades – one long understood and tolerated by Israel and its UK lobbyists. He will offer some sound and fury, the pretence of condemnation, but of the kind intended to signify nothing.

This has been at the heart of UK foreign policy towards a Jewish state built on the theft of Palestinian land for more than a century. Starmer has shown that he intends to return to business as usual as quickly as possible.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Emily Maitlis is No Media Hero: She Simply Forgot What She and the BBC Are There To Do

The wrong conclusions are being drawn about Emily Maitlis’s comments on Dominic Cummings on the BBC flagship Newsnight show this week. Her remarks are not evidence of her courage, or that journalists are being gagged, or that the BBC is suddenly capitulating to the government.

The problem is caused by our desire to focus on whether Maitlis was right or wrong about Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, breaking the lockdown rules. But it is actually a distraction to fixate on the issue of whether Maitlis should or should not have been allowed to express the widely shared view – supported by a police investigation – that Cummings broke his own government’s rules by driving around the UK when he suspected he and his family were infected with Covid-19.

Even narrowly concentrating on the matter of whether the BBC was justified in hurriedly reprimanding Maitlis for criticising Cummings’ behaviour – and then seemingly forcing her off air the next night as punishment – limits our understanding of what the incident signifies, what it means.

Glitch in the machine

The BBC, the rest of the media, even Maitlis herself, would all prefer that we restrict ourselves to debating the rights and wrongs of this particular row – and that we continue to see it chiefly as a “row”, with two sides arguing over what was the right thing to do in the circumstances.

But viewing the incident in this way is to personalise the “row” into a question simply of  whether Maitlis is a good journalist or a bad one, or whether BBC bosses were too submissive towards the government on this occasion or are really trying to uphold standards of “impartiality”. Neither “debate” gets us very far.

Maitlis is a senior BBC journalist who got where she is today by doing with flair what the BBC is supposed to do – and consistently does. This week something went wrong. There was a very brief glitch in the BBC’s well-oiled machine. Studying that glitch in isolation really won’t clarify things. The glitch must be seen in relation to the well-oiled machine – in that way we can throw light on what the BBC does so effortlessly the rest of the time.

The usefulness of the Maitlis “row” is not in weighing whether she was impartial or partial on this occasion, or conversely whether her BBC bosses were enforcing impartiality rules or being partial. Rather, it helps to shed light on whether the BBC and its journalists ever actually aspire to be impartial, and whether impartiality is even possible.

Mocked and berated

The almost-immediate reprimand issued by the BBC, chastising Maitlis for failing to uphold the corporation’s supposedly strict standards of impartiality, helps in this regard because it is so clearly nonsense that Maitlis usually prioritises impartiality, or that BBC bosses usually hurry to issue reprimands when such standards are broken.

Here to remind us that Maitlis has no qualms about being partial – and the BBC no qualms about letting her be partial – is another short clip of her in action, from a broadcast 14 months ago. On this occasion she interrupted, berated and ridiculed Barry Gardiner, then the shadow secretary for international trade, as he tried to explain Labour’s Brexit policy:

Notice the differences in that segment compared to her comments this week. Her criticisms of Cummings were delivered in sombre tones, as if in disappointment, as though Cummings had fallen below the high standards normally set by the government. Her comments were carefully ascribed to the national mood. And she restricted herself to critiquing Cummings’ behaviour (criticisms echoed by the police investigation) and Johnson’s commitment to standing by him. She did not stray into wider territory that risked targeting the government’s political policies or its priorities.

The Gardiner interview is something else entirely. She rolls her eyes at the camera, she mocks him with barely concealed disdain, she laughs at him, and her body language is openly hostile. She explicitly ridicules the Labour party’s policy on Brexit while a representative for the government sits grinning next to Gardiner in pleased disbelief at her outburst – all remember at a time when the Conservative party, then led by Theresa May, was in a complete shambles, tearing itself apart over a Brexit mess it had created and ensuring near-complete political paralysis.

Analyse those two videos of Maitlis and then decide in which one she appears more partial. Were you a visitor from Mars watching those two clips, which one might you expect the BBC to have hurriedly apologised over for breaking its supposed impartiality rules?

And yet I can find no indication that the BBC ever issued a reprimand to Maitlis over the Gardiner interview, either at the time or later.

In fact, the interview was in many ways so normal by the BBC’s standards – especially in the days when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader – that I have yet to see anyone on my very active social media feeds about the Maitlis incident refer to it. Unlike the Cummings comment, Maitlis’s public bullying of, and contempt for, Gardiner went critically unremarked outside of the usual leftist circles. Instead, the interview was generally celebrated. On its Youtube page, the “liberal” Guardian even implicitly lauds her “exasperation” at Gardiner as capturing the “national mood”, again as if Labour was more responsible for the chaos of Brexit than the government whose policy it was.

A matter of power

Just to underline the point, here is another image of Maitlis on Newsnight, this time being politically “impartial” about Corbyn himself. The photomontage backdrop two years ago was meant to suggest that the Labour leader was a Kremlin stooge, at a time when Russia hysteria was at its height.

 (In a laughable effort to defend this montage, a Channel 4 “fact-check” argued that it could not have been politically motivated because the same backdrop had earlier been used for the then defence secretary Gavin Williamson. That ignored the glaringly obvious point that in Williamson’s case the backdrop was used to contrast him with the “Russian menace” and indicate the dangers the UK government faced. This was even emphasised by accentuating the blue hues in Williamson’s cut-out image. In Corbyn’s case the montage was clearly meant to imply a sympathy between the Labour leader and the Kremlin, including the addition of a red hue to Corbyn’s face and the manipulation of his peaked cap to make it look like a Brezhnev-style pie hat.)

The difference in the BBC’s treatment of the Cummings comments and the Gardiner interview relates not to the question of partiality but to the matter of power. Cummings is at the very heart of power, at the centre of a government unabashedly representing the interests of the establishment. He is the indispensable “brain” – the Svengali – behind the dull-witted, vacuous but amiable prime minister. Without Cummings, the government would be rudderless, which is exactly why Johnson is determined to try to keep Cummings, despite the damage it is causing him and the party. It is why Johnson was so incensed, and frightened, by Maitlis’s comments. And it is why the BBC realised that in the circumstances the stakes were far too high to back their star journalist.

The mistake made by Maitlis and the Newsnight team was not appreciating just how important Cummings is to the government. He is not just an adviser. In many senses, he is the government.

‘Free press’ for billionaires

One of the mistakes people outside journalism often make is to imagine that journalists are primarily seeking to hold power to account. Most journalism, in fact, do the very opposite. Journalists crave their own little slice of reflected power – exclusives, inside scoops, the story behind the story – and that depends on access to those who really wield power. Access journalism dominates in politics, business, crime, showbiz, royal reporting, sport – in fact, in every part of the media.

If that were not bad enough, the main task of senior newspaper journalists is to understand very precisely the interests and worldview of their proprietors – and of similarly minded corporations that advertise in those papers. The journalist’s job is then to reflect that worldview back to the owners and advertisers. Which is why newspaper journalists share the concerns of billionaires over those of ordinary people.

For a shocking and amusing example of quite how tightly scripted journalists’ performance can be in promoting corporate interests, watch this short clip showing reporters for 11 different US television stations recite word for word the same “news” about how wonderful Amazon has supposedly been during the pandemic:

The room for ideological manoeuvre enjoyed by newspaper journalists is a narrow window on issues either that the billionaires and advertisers do not care strongly about or that they disagree among themselves about. This is what journalists are typically referring to when they speak of “freedom of the press”.

Two parties of capital

The job of a senior journalist like Maitlis in a state-funded broadcaster like the BBC is similar: it is chiefly to reflect back to the political establishment its interests and worldview. Nowadays newspaper proprietors and the state broadcaster are driven by almost identical agendas, given that government parties are funded by the billionaires and corporations that own newspapers and advertise in them and that corporate money and the corporate media’s support largely determine the outcome of elections.

Once the editorial room for manoeuvre at the BBC was a degree wider than it is today. Back in the 1970s, for example, when workers could place some limitations on establishment power through organised trade unions, and Labour governments sought to represent that power, the BBC had to balance these competing demands, between the political elite and the labour movement.

Those balances have largely gone. After Tony Blair created New Labour as a second party of capital, remaking Britain’s system in the image of the US one, the counter-pressures on the BBC largely evaporated. Blair and New Labour came to enjoy the same craven support as the Conservatives from the BBC’s star reporters – remember Andrew Marr’s fawning panegyric to Blair’s war crimes in Iraq back in 2003?

The BBC only found its journalistic policy of “impartiality” – big rows over marginal issues, non-ideological scandals, celebrity news – disrupted with Corbyn’s shock election to lead the Labour Party by the mass membership in 2015. That was an event to which the media class reacted with instant, utter and sustained horror until Labour managed to restore Blairite normal service this year under a new leader, Keir Starmer.

Real and charade journalism

For some time, the BBC has barely bothered to make even a pretence of even-handedness in the selection of its personnel. Its board is regularly chaired by senior Conservative politicians, including until recently by Lord Patten, and stuffed with people who have worked for major corporations.

BBC editors are nowadays interchangeable with their counterparts at the Daily Mail, Times and the Telegraph, where they have often worked before (James Harding, Sarah Sands). Many have been, or go on to be, advisers to the Conservative party (Thea Rogers, Robbie Gibb, Craig Oliver, Will Walden, Guto Harri). And aside from the fact that many senior BBC journalists were born into a social elite (Laura Kuenssberg), some started their careers as explicit cheerleaders for the Tory party (Nick Robinson, Andrew Neil). These journalists are indisputably an elite media class, part of the establishment, and their journalism is there to defend their privilege.

That is the proper context for understanding Maitlis’s comments. She does not represent some standard of courageous BBC journalism separate from her colleagues. She did not pick a fight with the media establishment. And she was not trying to hold the Johnson government to account. None of those things is true, or indicated by the “row” about her Cummings comment.

Remember that Maitlis’ tepid comments about Cummings were much less forceful than those of the far-right, Boris Johnson-supporting, billionaire-owned Daily Mail. If she is waging a battle for a truly free press or rigorously holding the powerful to account, then so – very  improbably – is the Johnson-adoring Daily Mail.

Maitlis’s mistake was to use the BBC – whose job is to do the very minimum to look credible journalistically to itself and its audience as it avoids challenging the political establishment – as a platform to vent her own, and a widely shared, anger at Cummings’ decision to abandon his own lockdown rules when they didn’t suit him.

The Mail did it – because the billionaire proprietors and advertisers don’t especially care about Cummings, and because they know their readers are riled by Cummings’ behaviour – so Maitlis and Newsnight assumed they could do it too. Maitlis didn’t properly understand that a BBC journalist is even more tied to defending the establishment worldview than the redtops.

Like her colleagues, family and friends, Maitlis felt personally angry. She let that anger cloud her normal judgment. Her emotion trumped her astute journalistic instincts to avoid ruffling the features of those who paved her career path to the top of the BBC. She made the mistake – for once – of doing real journalism when what is expected of her is charade-journalism.

On a leash, sitting by the peg

Such moments are rare for most journalists. As Michael Parenti, the US media critic, once famously observed of corporate journalists: “You say what you like, because they like what you say.” He added:

You don’t know you’re wearing a leash if you sit by the peg all day. It’s only if you then begin to wander to a prohibited perimeter that you feel the tug, you see. So you’re free because your ideological perspective is congruent with that of your boss. So you have no sensation of being at odds with your boss.

Most of the time Maitlis sits by the peg. For once, her anger – an anger shared by all normal people outraged by double standards, by privilege and by lies – drove her to forget what her job entails. She momentarily forgot what she has been socialised to do through her education and her class, and further trained to do through her journalistic career: to create the illusion for herself and her viewers that she is holding power to account. For once, she did real rather than charade journalism – and instantly found herself reprimanded for it.

The public rebuking of Maitlis by the BBC is an extreme version of the rewards-and-punishment training all corporate journalists go through. Mostly such admonishments are suffered by staff when they are employed at junior levels, as they “find their feet” and learn from their elders and betters what journalism requires of them. Maitlis’s reprimand served a similar purpose. Its usefulness was not just to remind Maitlis of the tight limits on what her job allows, but to demonstrate to those in the lower ranks that, if this is what can happen to someone like Maitlis, they need to be more careful still.

Thousands of BBC journalists contemplating doing real journalism learnt this week the price of disobedience. This episode tamed them a little more, ensured they understood a little more clearly that they are expected to be subservient to power. As a result, they will move a little closer to the peg.

Next time you wonder why BBC reporters are so timid, so feeble when confronting the establishment; when they so obviously miss stories or angles clear to the rest of us; when blow up small issues into big issues; when they grandstand to no obvious effect or benefit; when they focus on stories about celebrity and trivia; when they choose to hit down rather than up; when they unite to attack and vilify the rare politician who dares to question the verities of today’s neoliberal order; when any of that happens, remember this moment.

Because all the BBC’s journalists, including our future Emily Maitlises, watched her chastisement this week. They learnt their lesson from her error.

One Rule for Me and Another for Everyone Else: The Cummings Coronavirus Factor

Leaving crises to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s management skills will never disappoint those who favour chaos and the attractions of vague direction.  The double standard is to be preferred to the equal one.  With the United Kingdom sundered by death and the effects of COVID-19 (the PM himself having had his battle with the virus), the population was hoping for some clarity.  When, for instance, would the lockdown measures be eased?

On May 10, Johnson delivered an address from his comically staged desk which had the appearance of being trapped in the door during a bungled removal effort.  “We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous,” he tried explaining.  “We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we have.”  Seeds of confusion were sowed with promise.  People would be allowed to do “unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise”, and the “Stay Home” message had changed to “stay alert, control the virus and save lives.”  The broader citizenry were puzzled.

Mixed messaging was not the only problem facing Johnson, whose preferable default during any emergency is the behaviour of the reasonable Briton, characterised by patience and common sense.  Within his own circles, abiding by the rules has been a lax affair.  His chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has been defiant before the lockdown rulebook.

In a statement and press address, Cummings laid out his explanation for his recent bad behaviour.  The heart-tugging element was important.  So was the ignorance that he had done nothing to niggle the ethical.  Johnson had just been found out to have contracted COVID-19.  Arrangements of how to handle the emergency were discussed. Then came the urgent call from Cummings’ wife. “She’d vomited and felt like she might pass out.  And there’ll be nobody to look after our child.  None of our usual childcare options were available.”

What followed that April, with most of the UK in mandated self-isolation, was travel – some 260 miles in all – that involved leaving his London home on a trip to County Durham, accompanied by his wife and child.  The decision had been made to stay in a cottage on the farm of Cummings’ father.  It was there that Cummings fell ill, as did his son, who spent a stint in hospital.  It subsequently surfaced that Johnson’s aide had also repaired to Barnard Castle, a visit reported to Durham police by Robin Lees, a retired chemistry teacher.  That visit raised eyebrows for falling within the category of non-essential travel.

The aide’s conclusion for breaching such rules were self-exculpatory, which cannot excite any surprise from those familiar with those behind the law and policy of the state apparatus.  The higher up the food chain of power, the more likely the powerful will misbehave and change the meals.  Andre Spicer puts it in a dull though accurate manner: “a large body of research […] shows that it is people in positions of power that are most likely to take excessive risks.”  Such risks are minimised, if not ignored altogether. The one who assumes, and presumes to be in a position of power, is likely to cheat, bend and break the order.

Cummings, in his reasoning, might have done unreasonable things in the past, but thought that what had transpired over those 14 days was reasonable.  “The regulations make clear, I believe the risks to the health of small children were an exceptional situation, and I had a way of dealing with this that minimised risk to others.”

Such a statement of behavioural latitude, in times when those in the United Kingdom, for the most part, have complied with the coronavirus lockdown, looks politically indulgent.  Johnson has added to that indulgence, claiming that Cummings merely “followed the instincts of every father and every parent, and I do not mark him down for that.”  The “right kind of childcare” was not available” at that time; both Cummings and his wife “were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus”.

Staying with Cummings is courting a grand risk.  And such risks compound when they are given the Johnson touch.  Professor Stephen Reicher of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) furnishing Downing Street with advice on how the public might best respond to the lockdown measures, seethed on hearing about the prime ministerial defence. “I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson had trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19.”  Honesty had been “trashed”, as had respect for the public, equity, equal treatment, consistency and the message “we are all in this together”.

Even conservative commentary on the subject is wary of the prime minister’s loyalty to Cummings, showing that this is no ordinary row in the halls of Westminster.  Former Johnson adviser Tim Montgomerie expressed embarrassment for having “ever backed Boris Johnson for high office.”  Chair of the Northern Ireland select committee, Simon Hoare, was baffled.  “With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the government’s reputation, he must consider his position.  Lockdown has had its challenges for everyone.”  The prime minister “is a populist who no longer understands the populace,” suggests Nick Cohen in The Spectator. “Dominic Cummings pretends to be an anti-elitist but cannot see how lethal the slogan ‘one rule for me and another for everyone else’ is to him and the elite he serves.”  That about sums it up.