Category Archives: United Kingdom

The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine

Making political sense of the world can be tricky unless one understands the role of the state in capitalist societies. The state is not primarily there to represent voters or uphold democratic rights and values; it is a vehicle for facilitating and legitimating the concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands.

In a recent post, I wrote about “externalities” – the ability of companies to offset the true costs inherent in the production process. The burden of these costs are covertly shifted on to wider society: that is, on to you and me. Or on to those far from view, in foreign lands. Or on to future generations. Externalising costs means that profits can be maximised for the wealth elite in the here and now.

Our own societies must deal with the externalised costs of industries ranging from tobacco and alcohol to chemicals and vehicles. Societies abroad must deal with the costs of the bombs dropped by our “defence” industries. And future generations will have to deal with the lethal costs incurred by corporations that for decades have been allowed to pump out their waste products into every corner of the globe.

Divine right to rule

In the past, the job of the corporate media was to shield those externalities from public view. More recently, as the costs have become impossible to ignore, especially with the climate crisis looming, the media’s role has changed. Its central task now is to obscure corporate responsibility for these externalities. That is hardly surprising. After all, the corporate media’s profits depend on externalising costs too, as well as hiding the externalised costs of their parent companies, their billionaire owners and their advertisers.

Once, monarchs rewarded the clerical class for persuading, through the doctrine of divine right, their subjects to passively submit to exploitation. Today, “mainstream” media are there to persuade us that capitalism, the profit motive, the accumulation of ever greater wealth by elites, and externalities destroying the planet are the natural order of things, that this is the best economic system imaginable.

Most of us are now so propagandised by the media that we can barely imagine a functioning world without capitalism. Our minds are primed to imagine, in the absence of capitalism, an immediate lurch back to Soviet-style bread queues or an evolutionary reversal to cave-dwelling. Those thoughts paralyse us, making us unable to contemplate what might be wrong or inherently unsustainable about how we live right now, or to imagine the suicidal future we are hurtling towards.

Lifeblood of empire

There is a reason that, as we rush lemming-like towards the cliff-edge, urged on by a capitalism that cannot operate at the level of sustainability or even of sanity, the push towards intensified war grows. Wars are the life blood of the corporate empire headquartered in the United States.

US imperialism is no different from earlier imperialisms in its aims or methods. But in late-stage capitalism, wealth and power are hugely concentrated. Technologies have reached a pinnacle of advancement. Disinformation and propaganda are sophisticated to an unprecedented degree. Surveillance is intrusive and aggressive, if well concealed. Capitalism’s destructive potential is unlimited. But even so, war’s appeal is not diminished.

As ever, wars allow for the capture and control of resources. Fossil fuels promise future growth, even if of the short-term, unsustainable kind.

Wars require the state to invest its money in the horrendously expensive and destructive products of the “defence” industries, from fighter planes to bombs, justifying the transfer of yet more public resources into private hands.

The lobbies associated with these “defence” industries have every incentive to push for aggressive foreign (and domestic) policies to justify more investment, greater expansion of “defensive” capabilities, and the use of weapons on the battlefield so that they need replenishing.

Whether public or covert, wars provide an opportunity to remake poorly defended, resistant societies – such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria – in ways that allow for resources to be seized, markets to be expanded and the reach of the corporate elite to be extended.

War is the ultimate growth industry, limited only by our ability to be persuaded of new enemies and new threats.

Fog of war

For the political class, the benefits of war are not simply economic. In a time of environmental collapse, war offers a temporary “Get out of jail” card. During wars, the public is encouraged to assent to new, ever greater sacrifices that allow public wealth to be transferred to the elite. War is the corporate world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme.

The “fog of war” does not just describe the difficulty of knowing what is happening in the immediate heat of battle. It is also the fear, generated by claims of an existential threat, that sets aside normal thinking, normal caution, normal scepticism. It is the invoking of a phantasmagorical enemy towards which public resentments can be directed, shielding from view the real culprits – the corporations and their political cronies at home.

The “fog of war” engineers the disruption of established systems of control and protocol to cope with the national emergency, shrouding and rationalising the accumulation by corporations of more wealth and power and the further capture of organs of the state. It is the licence provided for “exceptional” changes to the rules that quickly become normalised. It is the disinformation that passes for national responsibility and patriotism.

Permanent austerity

All of which explains why Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, has just pledged an extra £16.5 billion in “defence” spending at a time when the UK is struggling to control a pandemic and when, faced by disease, Brexit and a new round of winter floods, the British economy is facing “systemic crisis”, according to a new Cabinet Office report. Figures released this week show the biggest economic contraction in the UK in three centuries.

If the British public is to stomach yet more cuts, to surrender to permanent austerity as the economy tanks, Johnson, ever the populist, knows he needs a good cover story. And that will involve further embellishment of existing, fearmongering narratives about Russia, Iran and China.

To make those narratives plausible, Johnson has to act as if the threats are real, which means massive spending on “defence”. Such expenditure, wholly counter-productive when the current challenge is sustainability, will line the pockets of the very corporations that help Johnson and his pals stay in power, not least by cheerleading him via their media arms.

New salesman needed

The cynical way this works was underscored in a classified 2010 CIA memorandum, known as “Red Cell”, leaked to Wikileaks, as the journalist Glenn Greenwald reminded us this week. The CIA memo addressed the fear in Washington that European publics were demonstrating little appetite for the US-led “war on terror” that followed 9/11. That, in turn, risked limiting the ability of European allies to support the US as it exercised its divine right to wage war.

The memo notes that European support for US wars after 9/11 had chiefly relied on “public apathy” – the fact that Europeans were kept largely ignorant by their own media of what those wars entailed. But with a rising tide of anti-war sentiment, the concern was that this might change. There was an urgent need to further manipulate public opinion more decisively in favour of war.

The US intelligence agency decided its wars needed a facelift. George W Bush, with his Texan, cowboy swagger, had proved a poor salesman. So the CIA turned to identity politics and faux “humanitarianism”, which they believed would play better with European publics.

Part of the solution was to accentuate the suffering of Afghan women to justify war. But the other part was to use President Barack Obama as the face of a new, “caring” approach to war. He had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – even though he had done nothing for peace, and would go on to expand US wars – very possibly as part of this same effort to reinvent the “war on terror”. Polls showed support for existing wars increased markedly among Europeans when they were reminded that Obama backed these wars.

As Greenwald observes:

Obama’s most important value was in prettifying, marketing and prolonging wars, not ending them. They saw him for what U.S. Presidents really are: instruments to create a brand and image about the U.S. role in the world that can be effectively peddled to both the domestic population in the US and then on the global stage, and specifically to pretend that endless barbaric US wars are really humanitarian projects benevolently designed to help people — the pretext used to justify every war by every country in history.

Obama-style facelift

Once the state is understood as a vehicle for entrenching elite power – and war its most trusted tool for concentrating power – the world becomes far more intelligible. Western economies never stopped being colonial economies, but they were given an Obama-style facelift. War and plunder – even when they masquerade as “defence” or peace – are still the core western mission.

That is why Britons, believing days of empire are long behind them, may have been shocked to learn this week that the UK still operates 145 military bases in 42 countries around the globe, meaning it runs the second largest network of such bases after the US.

Such information is not made available in the UK “mainstream” media, of course. It has to be provided by an “alternative” investigative site, Declassified UK. In that way the vast majority of the British public are left clueless about how their taxes are being used at a time when they are told further belt-tightening is essential.

The UK’s network of bases, many of them in the Middle East, close to the world’s largest oil reserves, are what the much-vaunted “special relationship” with the US amounts to. Those bases are the reason the UK – whoever is prime minister – is never going to say “no” to a demand that Britain join Washington in waging war, as it did in attacking Iraq in 2003, or in aiding attacks on Libya, Syria and Yemen. The UK is not only a satellite of the US empire, it is a lynchpin of the western imperial war economy.

Ideological alchemy

Once that point is appreciated, the need for external enemies – for our own Eurasias and Eastasias – becomes clearer.

Some of those enemies, the minor ones, come and go, as demand dictates. Iraq dominated western attention for two decades. Now it has served its purpose, its killing fields and “terrorist” recruiting grounds have reverted to a mere footnote in the daily news. Likewise, the Libyan bogeyman Muammar Gaddafi was constantly paraded across news pages until he was bayonetted to death. Now the horror story that is today’s chaotic Libya, a corridor for arms-running and people-trafficking, can be safely ignored. For a decade, the entirely unexceptional Arab dictator Bashar Assad, of Syria, has been elevated to the status of a new Hitler, and he will continue to serve in that role for as long as it suits the needs of the western war economy.

Notably, Israel, another lynchpin of the US empire and one that serves as a kind of offshored weapons testing laboratory for the military-industrial complex, has played a vital role in rationalising these wars. Just as saving Afghan women from Middle Eastern patriarchy makes killing Afghans – men, women and children – more palatable to Europeans, so destroying Arab states can be presented as a humanitarian gesture if at the same time it crushes Israel’s enemies, and by extension, through a strange, implied ideological alchemy, the enemies of all Jews.

Quite how opportunistic – and divorced from reality – the western discourse about Israel and the Middle East has become is obvious the moment the relentless concerns about Syria’s Assad are weighed against the casual indifference towards the head-chopping rulers of Saudi Arabia, who for decades have been financing terror groups across the Middle East, including the jihadists in Syria.

During that time, Israel has covertly allied with oil-rich Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, because all of them are safely ensconced within the US war machine. Now, with the Palestinians completely sidelined diplomatically, and with all international solidarity with Palestinians browbeaten into silence by antisemitism smears, Israel and the Saudis are gradually going public with their alliance, like a pair of shy lovers. That included the convenient leak this week of a secret meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

The west also needs bigger, more menacing and more permanent enemies than Iraq or Syria. Helpfully one kind – nebulous “terrorism” – is the inevitable reaction to western war-making. The more brown people we kill, the more brown people we can justify killing because they carry out, or support, “terrorism” against us. Their hatred for our bombs is an irrationality, a primitivism we must keep stamping out with more bombs.

But concrete, identifiable enemies are needed too. Russia, Iran and China give superficial credence to the war machine’s presentation of itself as a “defence” industry. The UK’s bases around the globe and Boris Johnson’s £16 billion rise in spending on the UK’s war industries only make sense if Britain is under a constant, existential threat. Not just someone with a suspicious backpack on the London Tube, but a sophisticated, fiendish enemy that threatens to invade our lands, to steal resources to which we claim exclusive rights, to destroy our way of life through its masterful manipulation of the internet.

Crushed or tamed

Anyone of significance who questions these narratives that rationalise and perpetuate war is the enemy too. Current political and legal dramas in the US and UK reflect the perceived threat such actors pose to the war machine. They must either be crushed or tamed into subservience.

Trump was initially just such a figure that needed breaking in. The CIA and other intelligence agencies assisted in the organised opposition to Trump – helping to fuel the evidence-free Russiagate “scandal” – not because he was an awful human being or had authoritarian tendencies, but for two more specific reasons.

First, Trump’s political impulses, expressed in the early stages of his presidential campaign, were to withdraw from the very wars the US empire depends on. Despite open disdain for him from most of the media, he was criticised more often for failing to prosecute wars enthusiastically enough rather than for being too hawkish. And second, even as his isolationist impulses were largely subdued after the 2016 election by the permanent bureaucracy and his own officials, Trump proved to be an even more disastrous salesman for war than George W Bush. Trump made war look and sound exactly as it is, rather than packaging it as “intervention” intended to help women and people of colour.

But Trump’s amateurish isolationism paled in comparison to two far bigger threats to the war machine that emerged over the past decade. One was the danger – in our newly interconnected, digital world – of information leaks that risked stripping away the mask of US democracy, of the “shining city on the hill”, to reveal the tawdry reality underneath.

Julian Assange and his Wikileaks project proved just such a danger. The most memorable leak – at least as far as the general public was concerned – occurred in 2010, with publication of a classified video, titled Collateral Murder, showing a US air crew joking and celebrating as they murdered civilians far below in the streets of Baghdad. It gave a small taste of why western “humanitarianism” might prove so unpopular with those to whom we were busy supposedly bringing “democracy”.

The threat posed by Assange’s new transparency project was recognised instantly by US officials.

Exhibiting a carefully honed naivety, the political and media establishments have sought to uncouple the fact that Assange has spent most of the last decade in various forms of detention, and is currently locked up in a London high-security prison awaiting extradition to the US, from his success in exposing the war machine. Nonetheless, to ensure his incarceration till death in one of its super-max jails, the US empire has had to conflate the accepted definitions of “journalism” and “espionage”, and radically overhaul traditional understandings of the rights enshrined in the First Amendment.

Dress rehearsal for a coup

An equally grave threat to the war machine was posed by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of Britain’s Labour party. Corbyn presented as exceptional a problem as Assange.

Before Corbyn, Labour had never seriously challenged the UK’s dominant military-industrial complex, even if its support for war back in the 1960s and 1970s was often tempered by its then-social democratic politics. It was in this period, at the height of the Cold War, that Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was suspected by British elites of failing to share their anti-Communist and anti-Soviet paranoia, and was therefore viewed as a potential threat to their entrenched privileges.

As a BBC documentary from 2006 notes, Wilson faced the very real prospect of enforced “regime change”, coordinated by the military, the intelligence services and members of the royal family. It culminated in a show of force by the military as they briefly took over Heathrow airport without warning or coordination with Wilson’s government. Marcia Williams, his secretary, called it a “dress rehearsal” for a coup. Wilson resigned unexpectedly soon afterwards, apparently as the pressure started to take its toll.

‘Mutiny’ by the army

Subsequent Labour leaders, most notably Tony Blair, learnt the Wilson lesson: never, ever take on the “defence” establishment. The chief role of the UK is to serve as the US war machine’s attack dog. Defying that allotted role would be political suicide.

By contrast to Wilson, who posed a threat to the British establishment only in its overheated imagination, Corbyn was indeed a real danger to the militaristic status quo.

He was one of the founders of the Stop the War coalition that emerged specifically to challenge the premises of the “war on terror”. He explicitly demanded an end to Israel’s role as a forward base of the imperial war industries. In the face of massive opposition from his own party – and claims he was undermining “national security” – Corbyn urged a public debate about the deterrence claimed by the “defence” establishment for the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine programme, effectively under US control. It was also clear that Corbyn’s socialist agenda, were he ever to reach power, would require redirecting the many billions spent in maintaining the UK’s 145 military bases around the globe back into domestic social programmes.

In an age when the primacy of capitalism goes entirely unquestioned, Corbyn attracted even more immediate hostility from the power establishment than Wilson had. As soon as he was elected Labour leader, Corbyn’s own MPs – still loyal to Blairism – sought to oust him with a failed leadership challenge. If there was any doubt about how the power elite responded to Corbyn becoming head of the opposition, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times newspaper soon offered a platform to an unnamed army general to make clear its concerns.

Weeks after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, the general warned that the army would take “direct action” using “whatever means possible, fair or foul” to prevent Corbyn exercising power. There would be “mutiny”, he said. “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it.”

Such views about Corbyn were, of course, shared on the other side of the Atlantic. In a leaked recording of a conversation with American-Jewish organisations last year, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state and a former CIA director, spoke of how Corbyn had been made to “run the gauntlet” as a way to ensure he would not be elected prime minister. The military metaphor was telling.

In relation to the danger of Corbyn winning the 2019 election, Pompeo added: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

This was from the man who said of his time heading the CIA: “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

Smears and Brexit

After a 2017 election that Labour only narrowly lost, the Corbyn threat was decisively neutralised in the follow-up election two years later, after the Labour leader was floored by a mix of antisemitism slurs and a largely jingoistic Brexit campaign to leave Europe.

Claims that this prominent anti-racism campaigner had overseen a surge of antisemitism in Labour were unsupported by evidence, but the smears – amplified in the media – quickly gained a life of their own. The allegations often bled into broader – and more transparently weaponised – suggestions that Corbyn’s socialist platform and criticisms of capitalism were also antisemitic. (See here, here and here.) But the smears were nevertheless dramatically effective in removing the sheen of idealism that had propelled Corbyn on to the national stage.

By happy coincidence for the power establishment, Brexit also posed a deep political challenge to Corbyn. He was naturally antagonistic to keeping the UK trapped inside a neoliberal European project that, as a semi-detached ally of the US empire, would always eschew socialism. But Corbyn never had control over how the Brexit debate was framed. Helped by the corporate media, Dominic Cummings and Johnson centred that debate on simplistic claims that severing ties with Europe would liberate the UK socially, economically and culturally. But their concealed agenda was very different. An exit from Europe was not intended to liberate Britain but to incorporate it more fully into the US imperial war machine.

Which is one reason that Johnson’s cash-strapped Britain is now promising an extra £16bn on “defence”. The Tory government’s  priorities are to prove both its special usefulness to the imperial project and its ability to continue using war – as well as the unique circumstances of the pandemic – to channel billions from public coffers into the pockets of the establishment.

A Biden makeover

After four years of Trump, the war machine once again desperately needs a makeover. The once-confident, youthful Wikileaks is now less able to peek behind the curtain and listen in to the power establishment’s plans for a new administration under Joe Biden.

We can be sure nonetheless that its priorities are no different from those set out in the CIA memo of 2010. Biden’s cabinet, the media has been excitedly trumpeting, is the most “diverse” ever, with women especially prominent in the incoming foreign policy establishment.

There has been a huge investment by Pentagon officials and Congressional war hawks in pushing for Michèle Flournoy to be appointed as the first female defence secretary. Flournoy, like Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, has played a central role in prosecuting every US war dating back to the Bill Clinton administration.

The other main contender for the spot is Jeh Johnson, who would become the first black defence secretary. As Biden dithers, his advisers’ assessment will focus on who will be best positioned to sell yet more war to a war-weary public.

The role of the imperial project is to use violence as a tool to capture and funnel ever greater wealth – whether it be resources seized in foreign lands or the communal wealth of domestic western populations – into the pockets of the power establishment, and to exercise that power covertly enough, or at a great enough distance, that no meaningful resistance is provoked.

A strong dose of identity politics may buy a little more time. But the war economy is as unsustainable as everything else our societies are currently founded on. Sooner or later the war machine is going to run out of fuel.

The post The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Pompeo Spells Out the New Normal: All Criticism of Israel is “antisemitic”

It is tempting to dismiss last week’s statements by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and suggesting the global movement to boycott Israel is driven by hatred of Jews, as the last gasp of a dying administration. But that would be foolhardy.

Pompeo’s decision to label all but the most tepid criticism of Israel as antisemitism is fully in line with the current redrawing of the limits of western political debate about Israel.

To underscore his message, Pompeo issued his statement as he headed to an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank – the first such official visit by a US secretary of state. New guidelines announced that in future the US would mark settlement goods as “Made in Israel”, concealing the fact that they are produced in the occupied Palestinian territories.

For good measure, Pompeo described the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), widely supported by Palestinians, as a “cancer”. “We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as antisemitic,” he added. The state department would identify any individual or group opposed to “doing business in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel” – that is, in the settlements – “and withdraw US government support”.

‘Made in Israel’

The settlement visit was doubtless intended as affirmation by the departing Trump administration of its recognition of Israel’s right to annex swaths of the West Bank seized by settlers. That position was cemented into a so-called “peace plan” earlier in the year.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, warned that Pompeo’s declarations would be hard for the new Democratic administration under Joe Biden to reverse, either rhetorically or substantively, when it takes office in January. “Such malicious measures are intended to corner the incoming US administration with layers of legal and administrative measures that maintain the destructive Trump legacy beyond his disruptive term,” she said.

To change course, Biden will have to declare the settlements illegal and come to the defence of the BDS movement – incurring the wrath of Israel’s lobbyists in Washington and opposition from the overwhelming majority of his own lawmakers in Congress.

It is fanciful to imagine he will do either.

The reality is that Israel’s endless facts on the ground, all ultimately pushing towards annexation, will continue as before, whether Biden or Trump is in charge. More significantly still, however, Pompeo’s statement marks the logical endpoint of a new foreign policy consensus on Israel that has rapidly taken shape in the US and Europe.

By this stage, only concerted action from western states to penalise Israel can alter the cost-benefit calculus that has so far made expanding the settlement enterprise pain-free. But trenchant criticism of Israel – of the kind so urgently necessary – is now increasingly off-limits. Instead western states are actually defaming and outlawing even the most limited forms of grassroots, non-violent action against Israel, like the BDS movement.

Topsy-turvy view

Pompeo’s statement, in fact, marks a complete inversion of the United Nations’ decision in 1975 to declare Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. At the time, supporters of Resolution 3379 made a self-evident case: any state is structurally racist if its founding ideology, as with Zionism, accords superior rights to citizens based on their ethnicity or religion.

An international convention further makes clear that such a political arrangement amounts to apartheid.

While in the 1970s Israel made efforts to obscure its ideological character, it has long since abandoned such pretence. In 2018 Israel passed the Nation-State Law making its apartheid explicit. The law affirmed superior legal rights for Jewish citizens over a large minority of Palestinian citizens.

In late 1991, however, the UN was browbeaten into revoking the “Zionism is racism” resolution after the Soviet Union fell and the US, Israel’s patron, emerged as the sole global superpower. We have now reached the point where, as Pompeo’s statement underscores, it is criticism of Israel and Zionism that is viewed as racism.

In this topsy-turvy worldview, nuclear-armed Israel is the victim, not the Palestinians who have been dispossessed and ethnically cleansed by Israel for decades. This derangement is so entrenched that last year the House of Representatives passed a near-unanimous resolution – pushed by the Israel lobby group AIPAC – denouncing any boycott of Israel as antisemitic.

Some 32 US states have passed legislation uniquely denying First Amendment rights to those who support a boycott of Israel in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians. Other states have similar legislation in the pipeline.

Criminal offence

The absurdity extends beyond the US.

The German parliament passed a resolution last year that declared boycotting Israel – a state occupying Palestinians for more than five decades – comparable to the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews”. Bonn has the power to deny public funds to any group that supports, however tangentially, such a boycott.

Last month, Israeli Jewish academics in Berlin became the latest group targeted. Their art school removed their web page and cut funding for a series of workshops critical of Zionism after an outcry from German anti-racism groups and the media.

A similar inversion of reality is taking place in the UK, where the government has ruled that local authorities are not allowed to divest pension funds from Israel. These investments, some in illegal Jewish settlements, are assessed at nearly £3.5bn ($4.7bn), meaning ordinary Britons heavily subsidise Israel’s occupation.

The decision by Boris Johnson’s government was struck down by Britain’s highest court in April, but the government has vowed to bring in new anti-BDS legislation that would nullify that ruling.

In France, meanwhile, support for boycotting Israel has long been treated as a criminal offence under anti-discrimination legislation. A group of 12 Palestinian solidarity activists lost a series of court battles in France after they were convicted a decade ago of calling for a boycott outside a supermarket. The activists received a reprieve in June only after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that their convictions violated Europe’s human rights convention.

Growing chasm

That judgment serves only to highlight the growing chasm between, on one side, the political and legal environments being shaped by lobbyists in individual western states and, on the other, the principles of international law and human rights established in the wake of the Second World War.

Pompeo’s claim that opposition to Zionism – the ideology oppressing Palestinians – is antisemitic has taken widespread root because pro-Israel activists have managed to advance an entirely novel definition of antisemitism. In 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a highly contentious and politicised “working definition” of antisemitism – one promoted by Israel. The definition is illustrated with 11 examples, seven of which refer to various criticisms of Israel, including that it is a “racist endeavour”.

A conclusion reached by the UN 45 years ago – that it is racist for a state to promote rights based not on our shared humanity but on ethnic or religious difference – is now defined as antisemitic. Donald Trump used an executive order to incorporate this weaponised definition into the Civil Rights Act last year, thereby chilling speech about Israel, especially on US campuses.

The IHRA definition is now widely accepted in the West, making it all but impossible to mount a defence against the malicious characterisation of support for Palestinian rights as equivalent to hatred of Jews. Pompeo is simply echoing a discourse that has rapidly become entrenched.

This became obvious when the British Labour party found itself plunged into a manufactured controversy in early 2016 that, overnight, it had become uniquely and institutionally antisemitic. The campaign began shortly after the membership elected as leader Jeremy Corbyn, one of a handful of socialist MPs in Labour and a vocal advocate of Palestinian rights.

Fear of backlash

The degree to which Israel has become untouchable – even when criticisms accord with international law – was highlighted when the United Nations compiled a list of businesses colluding with Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Publication of the database was repeatedly delayed for fear of the backlash the UN would receive for offending Israel and its lobbyists. The list finally saw daylight last February.

But the firms identified in the list have not come under any significant pressure to pull out of the settlements. In fact, what pressure they have faced has been for them to stay put, or otherwise face accusations of unfairly discriminating against Israel.

Countervailing pressure on them could come through the actions of popular, grassroots groups calling for a boycott. But western states now characterise the BDS movement that organises such boycotts as antisemitic too.

Quiescence and inaction are the only options allowed, if one wishes to avoid being labelled antisemitic.

Human rights ‘racist’?

Pompeo’s remarks in support of the settlements last week were foreshadowed by reports last month that the State Department is considering a mechanism for labelling the world’s most prominent human rights groups as antisemitic. The US would then urge other states not to deal with organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam.

Pompeo’s approach – ridiculous as it might have seemed a decade ago – does not stray far from the current logic in western capitals. Their officials have ridden roughshod over international law for some time – especially with their “interventions” in Arab states such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.

As the Palestinian cause is progressively sidelined by both western states and Arab states, groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have found themselves solitary critical voices on Israel. They are almost alone in continuing to articulate concerns about Israel’s egregious violations of international law, especially in relation to the settlements.

As a result, Pompeo’s moves to silence them may face much less resistance than many observers might assume.

Might makes right

Sadly, there is a self-fulfilling logic to these moves by the Trump administration. From Corbyn to Amnesty International and the BDS movement, those trying to uphold human rights and international law are being forced on to the defensive.

They have been strong-armed into the dock and must prove to their accusers the impossible: their innocence, measured not in concrete, public positions but in what supposedly lies behind them, in the form of private and unprovable motives.

This is safe ground for right-wing politicians and lobby groups.

Antisemitism is the insidious charge that sticks to anything it touches. The stain is all but impossible to remove. Which is why those standing up for human rights – and against racism and oppression – are going to find themselves ever more aggressively condemned as antisemitic.

This is a path not towards peace and reconciliation but towards greater tribalism, confrontation and violence. It strips out the tools of argument and persuasion, as well as non-violent forms of pressure like boycotts, and ensures a world ruled by “might makes right”.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Pompeo Spells Out the New Normal: All Criticism of Israel is "antisemitic" first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Keeping the Empire Running: Britain’s Global Military Footprint

A few nostalgic types still believe that the Union Jack continues to flutter to sighs and reverence over outposts of the world, from the tropics to the desert.  They would be right, if only to a point.  Britain, it turns out, has a rather expansive global reach when it comes to bases, military installations and testing sites.  While not having the obese heft and lumbering brawn of the United States, it makes a good go of it.  Globally, the UK military has a presence in 145 sites in 42 countries.  Such figures tally with Ian Cobain’s prickly observation in The History Thieves: that the British were the only people “perpetually at war.”

Phil Miller’s rich overview of Britain’s military footprint for Declassified UK shows it to be heavy.  “The size of the global military presence is far larger than previously thought and is likely to mean that the UK has the second largest military network in the world, after the United States.”  The UK military, for instance, has a presence in five countries in the Asia-Pacific: naval facilities in Singapore; garrisons in Brunei, drone testing facilities in Australia; three facilities in Nepal; a quick reaction force in Afghanistan.  Cyprus remains a favourite with 17 military installations.  In Africa, British personnel can be found in Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mali.  Then come the ever dubious ties to Arab monarchies.

The nature of having such bases is to be kind to your host, despite him being theocratic, barking mad, or an old fashioned despot with fetishes. Despite the often silly pronouncements by British policy makers that they take issue with authoritarians, exceptions numerous in number abound.  The UK has never had a problem with authoritarians it can work with or despots it can coddle.  A closer look at such relations usually reveal the same ingredients: capital, commerce, perceptions of military necessity.  The approach to Oman, a state marked by absolute rule, is a case in point.

Since 1798, Britain has had a hand in ensuring the success, and the survivability, of the House of Al Said.  On September 12, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that a further £23.8 million would go to enhancing the British Joint Logistics Support Base at Duqm port, thereby tripling “the size of the existing UK base and help facilitate Royal Navy deployments to the Indian Ocean”.  The Ministry of Defence also went so far as to describe a “renewal” of a “hugely valuable relationship,” despite the signing of a new Joint Defence Agreement in February 2019.

The agreement had been one of the swan song acts of the ailing Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose passing this year was genuinely mourned in British political circles.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him “an exceptionally wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously.”  Papers of record wrote in praise of a reformer and a developer.  “The longest serving Arab ruler,” observed a sycophantic column in The Guardian, “Qaboos was an absolute monarch, albeit a relatively benevolent and popular one.”

The same Sultan, it should be said, had little fondness for freedom of expression, assembly and association, encouraged the arrests and harassment of government critics and condoned sex discrimination. But he was of the “one of us” labels: trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, an unwavering Anglophile, installed on the throne by Britain in the 1970 palace coup during the all but forgotten Dhofar Rebellion.  “Strategically,” Cobain reminds us, “the Dhofar war was one of the most important conflicts of the 20th century, as the victors could expect to control the Strait of Hormuz and the flow of oil.”  The British made sure their man won.

Public mention of greater British military involvement in foreign theatres can be found, though they rarely make front page acts.  The business of projecting such power, especially in the Britannic model, should be careful, considered, even gnomic.  Britain, for instance, is rallying to the US-led call to contain the Yellow Peril in the Asia Pacific, a nice reminder to Beijing that old imperial misdeeds should never be a bar to repetition.  The head of the British Army, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, spoke in September about there being “a market for a more persistent presence from the British Army (in Asia).  It’s an area that saw a much more consistent Army presence in the Eighties, but with 9/11 we naturally receded from it.”  The time had come “to redress that imbalance”.

The UK Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, prefers to be more enigmatic about the “future of Global Britain.”  To deal with an “ever more complex and dynamic strategic context,” he suggests the “Integrated Operating Concept”.  Britain had to “compete below the threshold of war in order to deter war, and to prevent one’s adversaries from achieving their objectives in fait accompli strategies.”

Gone are the old thuggeries of imperial snatch and grab; evident are matters of flexibility in terms of competition. “Competing involves a campaign posture that includes continuous operating on our terms and in places of our choosing.”  This entails a thought process involving “several dimensions to escalate and deescalate up and down multiple ladders – as if it were a spider’s web.”  The general attempts to illustrate this gibberish with the following example:  “One might actively constrain in the cyber domain to protect critical national infrastructure in the maritime Domain.”

In 2017, there were already more than just murmurings from Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, that a greater British presence in the Asia-Pacific was warranted.  Fallon was keen to stress the reasons for deeper involvement, listing them to a group of Australian journalists. “The tensions have been rising in the region, not just from the tests by North Korea but also escalating tension in the South China Sea with the building program that’s gone there on the islands and the need to keep those routes open.”

With such chatter about the China threat you could be forgiven for believing that British presence in the Asia-Pacific was minimal.  But that would ignore, for instance, the naval logistics base at Singapore’s Sembawang Wharf, permanently staffed by eight British military personnel with an eye on the busy Malacca Strait.  A more substantial presence can also be found in the Sultanate of Brunei, comprising an infantry battalion of Gurkhas and an Army Air Corps Flight of Bell 212 helicopters.  The MOD is particularly keen on the surroundings, as they offer “tropical climate and terrain … well suited to jungle training”.

Over the next four years, the UK military can expect to get an extra £16.5 billion – a 10% increase in funding and a fond salute to militarists.  “I have decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and ends now,” declared Johnson.  “Our plans will safeguard hundreds of thousands of jobs in the defence industry, protecting livelihoods across the UK and keeping the British people safe.”

The prime minister was hoping to make that announcement accompanied by the “Integrated Defence and Security Review” long championed by his now departed chief special adviser, Dominic Cummings.  Cummings might have been ejected from the gladiatorial arena of Downing Street politics, but the ideas in the Review are unlikely to buck old imperial trends.  At the very least, there will be a promise of more military bases to reflect a posture General Carter describes rather obscurely as “engaged and forward deployed”.

The post Keeping the Empire Running: Britain’s Global Military Footprint first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Dead And Those About To Die: Climate Protests And The Corporate Media

The Roman poet Horace famously declared:

Dulce et decorum est pro patrie mori.

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. Wilfred Owen, the great English poet of the First World War, described this phrase as ‘the old Lie’ in his famous war poem, ‘Dulce et decorum est’. Patriotism so often means ‘honouring’ those who ‘fell in service to this country’, grand ceremonies at war memorials, feasts of royal pageantry. And then sending yet more generations of men and women to fight in yet more wars.

On Remembrance Day (11 November) last week, much of the ‘mainstream’ media queued up to condemn two Extinction Rebellion climate protesters who had ‘hijacked’ the Cenotaph, the famous war memorial in Whitehall, London. At 8am that day, after undertaking a two-minute silence, former soldier Donald Bell (64) and NHS nurse Anne White (53) hung a wreath on the Cenotaph with the inscription, ‘Climate change means war: Act now’. Together with two other unnamed climate protesters, they also unveiled a large black and white banner saying:

Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War

Within half an hour, the Metropolitan Police had cleared away the protest.

The Daily Mail’s headline screamed, ‘Fury at climate fanatics’ hijacking of Cenotaph’ 1, while its columnist Robert Hardman declared that the climate action was ‘a monumentally inappropriate protest’. The Mail, Sun and other papers gave prominence to Boris Johnson’s condemnation of the ‘profoundly disrespectful’ protesters.

The Daily Express declared that the action was ‘a disgrace to the fallen’ 2 The editorial fulminated that the:

activists who staged a demonstration at the Cenotaph yesterday craved publicity but disgusted the country. Only extremists devoid of a scintilla of sensitivity would consider staging such a stunt on Armistice Day… The Cenotaph must be protected from the antics of cranks and those who would want to inflict damage at this sacred site.

Express columnist Paul Baldwin, likewise in full splenetic mode, opined that the Cenotaph had been ‘desecrated’ and ‘those virtue-signalling gutless wonders at Extinction Rebellion’ had ‘no shame’.

The Daily Star asserted in an editorial titled, ‘Eco demo a disgrace’ 3 :

These moronic crusties have continually shown a complete lack of respect for the general public. Whether it’s interfering with everyday lives or generally being a nuisance, they are not making their point in the right way. But these hippy-dippy, airy-fairy prats have really crossed a line now.

The editorial continued:

They marred yesterday’s Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph with some shameful antics. Eco-warriors – including a disgracefully disrespectful veteran – trampled over poppy wreaths.

In fact, footage published by newspapers themselves shows that former soldier Donald Bell carefully avoided stepping on wreaths.

The Daily Star continued:

Their behaviour was disgustingly beyond the pale. This vital annual moment of solemnness and reflection must never be disrupted to make political points. And it will only set them back in achieving their aims. Nothing should ever get in the way of honouring our fallen heroes.

For the Sun, the protest was ‘a new low’ and:

Extinction Rebellion should hang their heads in shame and disband after abusing the Cenotaph.

The i newspaper ran with the headline:

Climate protest at Cenotaph condemned for “bad taste”

and its report led with:

Climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion drew condemnation from across the political spectrum yesterday after it staged a demonstration at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day. 4

Note the emphasis throughout press coverage on ‘condemnation’. Was there no support to quote from anywhere ‘across the political spectrum’, or did the national press just ignore it? Either way, consider what that means about a supposed broad range of views in what passes for political debate in the British media.

The response from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer indicated, once again, that he is no threat to the established order:

No one can doubt how serious the climate emergency is, but the protests at the Cenotaph are wrong. They are in bad taste. We do not support them.

As one astute observer noted via Twitter:

Starmer wouldn’t have supported the Tolpuddle Martyrs, suffragette movement, the bus boycott & Stonewall et al except retrospectively when sanitised by history & his overleaping ambitions

BBC News gave a brief mention to the Extinction Rebellion protest towards the bottom of its online report on Remembrance Day commemorations. The Guardian went one step further by relegating its account of the protest to a single line, buried deep in its coverage of Remembrance Day.

More was to come. True to form, the Daily Mail followed up its initial coverage by dredging up dirt on former soldier Donald Bell. Its headline shouted:

EXCLUSIVE – Revealed: Ex-soldier who sparked fury with Cenotaph Extinction Rebellion protest is DRUG DEALER jailed for selling heroin – and was accused of abusing his disabled wife.

The article boasted:

MailOnline can reveal he was jailed for four years in 2007 after being caught pushing his wheelchair-bound wife around the streets of Cambridge – while peddling heroin at the same time.

Buried at the bottom of the Mail’s gutter ‘journalism’, was a short extract from a statement by Extinction Rebellion:

Donald Bell left the army with serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a time when the illness was still not fully recognised.

Donald was one of those people who, like so many, made mistakes and then worked hard to turn his life around.

Extinction Rebellion stands by him and his right to speak out about the Government’s complicity in knowingly taking us into future wars and a 4 degree world.

In its full statement published on its website, Extinction Rebellion noted:

Right now, what we’re seeing is papers like the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Express encouraging vitriol and abuse towards a veteran, a man who served his country, when PTSD, homelessness, addiction and alcoholism are the reality for thousands of people who have left the armed forces.

If national newspapers were truly motivated to ‘honour the fallen’, they would be challenging the government repeatedly to uphold its supposed moral commitments to look after former armed forces personnel, many of whom suffer from physical injuries and mental health issues.

Indeed, if the major news media were the responsible fourth estate they claim to be, they would scrutinise government foreign policy, not least statements of benign intent about ‘defending’ freedom and democracy around the world. The media would hold politicians to account for the mass deaths of civilians in the wars and ‘humanitarian interventions’ in which the UK has participated. This would be a fitting memorial to peace, rather than the endless succession of annual ceremonies that politicians and media purport as ‘honouring’ the dead.

As Mail on Sunday journalist, Peter Hitchens, whose courageous work in exposing the official narrative on a supposed chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, commented recently:

In recent years a very strange thing has happened to my trade. More and more journalists seem happy to be the mouthpieces of government, or of political parties. Worse, they attack other journalists for refusing to fall into step with the official line.

Hitchens added:

If such ideas had been around in the days of Watergate, Richard Nixon would have served two full terms as President and retired with honour.

If it had been so in 2003, you wouldn’t know, even now, that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction.

Moreover, a truly ‘mainstream’ media – pursuing genuine public-interest journalism – would be exposing the utter failure of successive governments to seriously address climate breakdown. The media would hail as heroes those climate activists who are protesting peacefully to draw attention to the very real risk of climate catastrophe, global mass loss of species and of human extinction itself.

Instead, the level of media debate is often shockingly poor. On ITV’s ‘This Morning’ last Thursday, the right-winger Andrew Neil, until recently masquerading as an ‘impartial’ BBC politics presenter, lambasted Extinction Rebellion, dismissing the warning that climate change will lead to wars. ‘There’s no evidence of that’, he declared.

This was an outrageous untruth. In fact, as Extinction Rebellion (XR) correctly point out, the UK Ministry of Defence itself warned in a June 2020 report of the:

growing recognition that climate change may aggravate existing threats to international peace and security’ and that society should prepare for between 2.3 – 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. As XR said, this would bring ‘unimaginable suffering’.

In other words, the MoD has provided powerful evidence precisely justifying the kind of protest, the kind of expression of free speech, that is absolutely vital if we are to save millions, perhaps billions of lives. Is not the best way of honouring the dead to honour and protect the living, to do whatever we can to avoid yet more unnecessary war deaths in future?

And it’s not just the MoD pointing to the link between global warming and war. The US Pentagon has warned of this for at least two decades. As news agency Bloomberg noted in January 2019, the most comprehensive study to investigate the link between climate change, war and refugee flows concluded:

Pentagon Fears Confirmed: Climate Change Leads to More Wars and Refugees

Later the same year, a report prepared by officials from the US Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other agencies, warned of a more dangerous world under global warming. The effects would include increased electricity blackouts, starvation, thirst, disease and war over the next two decades. The US military itself may even be at risk of collapse within two decades.

Michael Klare, author of a new book titled All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, summed up in a recent interview:

What happens when you have states collapsing, multiple wars happening in the Middle East and Africa and South America, and many hurricanes and disasters in the United States all at the same time? The US military doesn’t have enough troops or resources to both defend the United States and to address all of these foreign catastrophes. That’s what I call an all-hell-breaking-loose scenario, and the Pentagon knows very well that US forces aren’t prepared or capable to deal with it.

Of course, from the selfish vantage point of imperial power, the US armed forces and the political and security establishment, are primarily motivated to maintain US hegemony in a warming world in which many of their military bases around the globe are threatened by rising sea levels and increased incidence and severity of storms; as well as the ‘threats’ that other countries or ‘terrorist’ groups may pose in trying to take advantage of climate change.

Indeed, the Pentagon has long viewed climate change as a ‘destabilising force‘ and a ‘threat multiplier‘ – increasing the risk of war in the Middle East, Africa and around the globe as food, water and other resources diminish. As long ago as 2004, a previously secret Pentagon report prepared by strategic planners warned of climate wars being waged around the world. There could even be conflict in new areas, notably in the melting Arctic with oil resources and trade routes being fought over in the region.

For Andrew Neil, a high-profile commentator who for 25 years has enjoyed a privileged BBC platform, to dismiss serious concerns about climate wars is yet another symptom of the abysmal state of climate debate in UK national media.

Climate Agreements Are ‘Greenwash’, ‘Fake’, ‘Fraud’

In previous media alerts on climate, we have elucidated the severe threats to climate stability, civilisation and even human existence posed by the madness of corporate-driven globalisation and the imperialistic grasping at diminishing resources. Rather than once again reprising a list of these threats, and the underlying destructive nature of capitalism that is fuelling these threats, consider a recent pledge demonstrating what should be the obvious, honest responsibility of scientists.

‘Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth’, is a core statement in a recently published ‘science oath for climate’. Climate scientists Chris Rapley, Sarah Bracking, Bill McGuire, Simon Lewis and Jonathan Bamber have invited others in the scientific community to join their initiative to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. Among their stated pledges is a commitment not to be hindered or intimidated by any sense of:

what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5C and 2C commitments, specified in the Paris climate agreement. And to speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them.

This is especially relevant right now when the ‘MSM’ is selling the idea of President-elect Joe Biden as a harbinger of hope for the climate. The Guardian wrote approvingly of his supposed ‘climate bet’, namely: ‘putting jobs first will bring historic change’. Biden has pledged:

to clean up electricity by 2035 and spend $2tn on clean energy as quickly as possible within four years.

While conceding a cautious note about Biden’s reluctance ‘to be tougher on the fossil fuel industry’, the Guardian declared that his plan was ‘significant and historic’ and it ‘would be just the beginning of a brutal slog to transform the way the nation operates’.

The paper even published a 16-page ‘souvenir supplement’, heralding Biden’s presidency as a ‘new start‘; in much the same way as the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media welcomed Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House in 2008. Obama, of course, then went on to bomb seven Muslim-majority countries, paid lip service to the reduction of nuclear weapons (after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009), shared complicity in Saudia Arabia’s terror campaign against Yemen, as well as in Israel’s crushing of Palestinian human rights, and continued to subsidise the planet-wrecking fossil fuel sector.

We were told back then that Obama would ‘wipe the slate clean’. A ‘new dawn’ was declared. We would ‘learn to love America’ again. In reality, it was all about relaunching ‘Brand America’, so that US imperialism could continue unimpeded. Why should it be any different today, given the way the US system selects for corporate-friendly candidates?

It certainly won’t be. As Kevin Gosztola explained in an article for The Grayzone website:

An eye-popping array of corporate consultants, war profiteers, and national security hawks have been appointed by President-elect Joe Biden to agency review teams that will set the agenda for his administration. A substantial percentage of them worked in the United States government when Barack Obama was president. The appointments should provide a rude awakening to anyone who believed a Biden administration could be pressured to move in a progressive direction…

Of the two presidential ‘choices’ delivered by a corrupt, corporate-financed US electoral system of ‘democracy’, Biden was the lesser evil compared to Trump, the latter described by Noam Chomsky as ‘the worst criminal in human history’ for the threat he represented to climate stability:

There is nothing like this in history. It’s not breaking with the American tradition. Can you think of anyone in human history who has dedicated his efforts to undermining the prospects for survival of organized human life on earth?

But be under no illusion that Biden, representing and backed by powerful corporate and financial elites, and with a sordid record of supporting US crimes around the world, represents any kind of significant departure from business-as-usual for US power.

This grim reality has been ignored or overlooked in the overwhelmingly meek, hopelessly Panglossian reactions of the ‘policy experts’ and climate scientists canvassed by website Carbon Brief in the wake of the US election. Understandable to some extent, there was widespread welcoming of the prospect of the US rejoining the Paris climate agreement which Trump had infamously rejected.

Dr Rachel Cleetus, of the US-based Union for Concerned Scientists, told Carbon Brief:

President-elect Joe Biden and vice-president elect Kamala Harris’ victory marks a new day in the fight for bold, just and equitable climate policy in the US.

Dr Maisa Rojas Corradi, Director of the Centre for Climate and Resilience Research, University of Chile, said:

Biden’s victory will give a tremendous momentum to climate action, a momentum that was building up after the giant Asian countries announced carbon-neutrality compromises recently. This means that in this crucial decade we will be able to tackle the climate crisis seriously.

Dr Niklas Höhne and Dr Bill Hare, who run the Climate Action Tracker initiative, declared:

If president-elect Joe Biden goes ahead with his net-zero emissions pledge by 2050 for the US, this could shave 0.1C off global warming by 2100.

The madness of having to be grateful for the feeble hope of ‘shaving off’ 0.1C of catastrophic heating needs no comment.

One climate expert conspicuously missing from the list of over twenty experts consulted was Dr James Hansen, the pioneering climate scientist who famously warned the US Congress in 1988 of the dangers of global warming. Hansen’s honesty about the politics of climate is legendary. In 2009, we asked him how much had been achieved in the decades since he and others scientists had raised the climate alarm. In particular, we asked him to estimate the percentage of required action to address the climate crisis had actually been implemented by governments. His blunt answer? Precisely zero per cent.5  Since then, carbon emissions, consumption and temperatures have continued to soar.

In 2015, Hansen was scathing about the Paris climate agreement:

It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.

In 2017, during the climate talks in Bonn, Hansen described the supposed political ambition of world leaders on climate as a ‘hoax’. He said:

As yet, these politicians are working more for the fossil fuel industry than they are for the public, in my opinion.

These are the kind of direct, honest and accurate statements that climate scientists should be making. Politicians need to be confronted with their chronic lack of action to tackle today’s – not tomorrow’s – climate emergency. Scientists should be explicit in declaring that the fossil fuel era needs to end.

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg is right to call political leaders ‘hypocrites’ and to denounce them for delivering no more than empty words and greenwash at international climate summits. She said that leaders were happy to set targets for carbon emissions decades into the future. But when immediate cuts were demanded, they flinched. When asked if there was any politician anywhere promising the climate action required, she said, ‘If only’.

She added:

As long as we don’t treat the climate crisis like a crisis, we can have as many conferences as we want, but it will just be negotiations, empty words, loopholes and greenwash.

Pledges by the UK, China, Japan and other nations – including the US under Biden – to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or 2060 are largely meaningless, she believes:

They mean something symbolically, but if you look at what they actually include, or more importantly exclude, there are so many loopholes. We shouldn’t be focusing on dates 10, 20 or even 30 years in the future. If we don’t reduce our emissions now, then those distant targets won’t mean anything because our carbon budgets will be long gone.

Thunberg says that there is not a single political leader on the world stage who ‘gets it’ on climate. When asked about what she has learned from meeting people in power, she has some interesting and astute observations:

I’ve spoken to many world leaders, and sometimes I wish I had a hidden camera. People wouldn’t believe what they say. It’s very funny. They say: “I can’t do anything because I don’t have the support. You need to help me.” They become desperate. It’s like they are begging for me to help them persuade the public that we need climate action. What that tells me is people are underestimating their power and the power of democracy and of putting pressure on people in power.

There is hope in that message. We, the public, have strength in numbers. Politicians are not necessarily forced to do the bidding of corporate, financial and military elites. They can be made to do the will of the people. Or, if not, they need to be replaced by politicians who do represent public interests and public power. When it comes to human civilisation – human survival even – it is imperative that we exert that power.

  1. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 13.
  2. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 11.
  3. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 6.
  4. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 5.
  5. Email, Hansen to Media Lens, June 18, 2009.

The post The Dead And Those About To Die: Climate Protests And The Corporate Media first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Crisis, What Crisis? Hypocrisy and Public Health in the UK

On 12 March 2020, British PM Boris Johnson, referring to COVID-19, informed the public:

We’ve all got to be clear; this is the worst public health crisis for a generation.

Since that time, we have seen lockdowns, an ongoing government-backed fear campaign, fundamental rights being stripped away, dissent censored, inflated COVID-19 death numbers and the use of a flawed PCR test to label perfectly healthy individuals as COVID-19 ‘cases’ in order to fit the narrative of a ‘second wave’.

But, just for a moment, consider an alternative scenario.

The government is extremely worried about a substance that could be contributing to a spiralling public health crisis that has been decades in the making. It has been detected in food and in urine. The government has therefore decided to carry out mass urine testing. It has found millions of ‘cases’. The more it tests, the more ‘cases’ it finds. The government and the media promote the message we are all at risk and should get tested. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent to allow for the testing of the entire population.

All cafes, pubs, restaurants and food stores are locked down, aside from those designated to sell only food that is regarded as ‘safe’ by the government. All weddings, parties and get-togethers are banned because contaminated food might be passed around.

Severe restrictions are put in place because this ‘stuff’ is in the air, water, plants, animals, grains, vegetables and meats. And it is in beer and wine, children’s breakfast cereal and snack bars and even in our vaccines. Everyone is under virtual house arrest until this public health crisis is addressed.

Daily government briefings are held on TV with the PM and health officials in attendance. The PM tells everyone that this thing is linked to various conditions, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts.

Imagine that scenario. But the substance being referred to is very real. It is heavily associated with all the conditions mentioned and is present in our urine and food. But the government does nothing. It does not just do nothing but actively facilitates the marketing of this substance and collude with its manufacturers.

And the name of this ‘stuff’? Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. The main culprit — Monsanto’s Roundup. But it is not just glyphosate. It is the cocktail of agricultural chemicals that have been in use for decades.

The real public health crisis

Earlier this year, in a 29-page open letter to Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason spent 11 pages documenting the spiralling rates of disease that she says (supported by numerous research studies cited) are largely the result of exposure to health-damaging agrochemicals, including glyphosate-based herbicides.

The amount of glyphosate-based herbicide sprayed by UK farmers on crops has gone from 226,762 kg in 1990 to 2,240,408 kg in 2016, a 10-fold increase. In her letter, Mason discussed links between multiple pesticide residues (including glyphosate) in food and steady increases in the number of cancers both in the UK as well as allergic diseases, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity and many other conditions.

Agrochemicals are a major contributory factor for the spikes in these diseases and conditions. This is the real public health crisis affecting the UK. Each year, there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with treatments not making any difference to the numbers.

While there is much talk of the coronavirus placing immense strain on an underfunded NHS, the health service is already creaking. And people’s immune systems are already strongly compromised due to what Mason outlines. But do we see a ‘lockdown’ on the activities of the global agrochemical conglomerates? Not at all.

We see governments and public health bodies working hand in glove with the agrochemicals manufacturers to ensure ‘business as usual’.

It might seem strange to many that the UK government is seemingly going out of its way (by stripping people of their freedoms) under the guise of a public health crisis but is all too willing to oversee a massive, ongoing one caused by the chemical pollution of our bodies.

Unlike COVID-19, this is a ‘silent’ crisis that actually does affect all sections of the population and causes immense widespread suffering. It is silent because the mainstream media and various official reports in the UK have consistently ignored or downplayed the role of pesticides in fueling this situation.

Hundreds of lawsuits are pending against Bayer in the US, filed by people alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks (Roundup is linked to cancers of the bone, colon, kidney, liver, melanoma, pancreas and thyroid).

The WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has declared glyphosate as a 2A carcinogen. In 2017, in a public hearing in Brussels, Dr Christopher Portier and Dr Kate Guyton defended IARC’s position. Portier drew attention to the significance of statistically significant tumour findings that had not been discussed in any of the existing reviews on glyphosate.

Portier concluded that as the regulatory bodies, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency’s analyses were scientifically flawed. These organisations had also used industry studies that were not in the public domain for ‘reasons of commercial confidentiality’ to support their case that glyphosate was not carcinogenic.

Mason has written numerous open letters to officials citing reams of statistical data to support the contention that agrochemicals, especially Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup, have devastated the natural environment and have also led to spiraling rates of illness and disease, not least among children.

Regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and the effects of dosing whole regions with chemicals have been largely ignored.

A report delivered to the UN Human Rights Council says that pesticides have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole.

Authored by Hilal Elver, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, and Baskut Tuncak, UN special rapporteur on toxics, the report states:

Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.

The authors argue:

While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.

Elver says:

The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies.

Tuncak states:

Paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability. Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals.

According to Tuncak, increasing evidence shows that even at “low” doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result. But most victims cannot prove the cause of their disability or disease, limiting our ability to hold those responsible to account.

He concludes:

The overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

The authors were severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

Way back in 1962, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring raised the red flag about the use of harmful synthetic pesticides; yet, despite the warnings, the agrochemical giants have ever since been poisoning humans and the planet, raking in enormous profits.

Michael McCarthy, writer and naturalist, says that three generations of industrialised farming with a vast tide of poisons pouring over the land year after year after year since the end of the Second World War is the true price of pesticide-based agriculture, which society has for so long blithely accepted.

Power is now increasingly concentrated in the hands of a handful of transnational agribusiness corporations which put profit and market control ahead of food security, health and nutrition and biodiversity. Due to their political influence and financial clout, these companies are waging a chemical warfare on nature and people, while seeking to convince us that their model of agriculture — based on proprietary seeds and chemicals — is essential for feeding a burgeoning global population.

Consider that none of the more than 400 pesticides that have been authorised in the UK have been tested for long-term actions on the brain: in the foetus, in children or in adults.

Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s showed that endocrine disrupters (EDCs) were changing humans and the environment, but this research was ignored by officials. Glyphosate is an EDC and a nervous system disrupting chemical.

In the book published in 1996 Our Stolen Future: How Man-made Chemicals are Threatening our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival Colborn and colleagues revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs. There was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of these chemicals can disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence and the functioning of the immune system.

In addition to glyphosate, EDCs include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine and dacthal.

In 2007, 25 experts in environmental health from 11 countries (including from the UK) met on the Faroes and contributed to this statement:

The periods of embryonic, foetal and infant development are remarkably susceptible to environmental hazards. Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in infants, children and across the entire span of human life.

The Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) has residues of 123 different pesticides that impact the gut microbiome. Obesity is associated with low diversity of bacteria in the microbiome and glyphosate adversely affects or destroys much of the beneficial bacteria. Roundup (and other biocides) is linked to gross obesity, neuropsychiatric disorders and other chronic diseases, which are all on the rise and adversely impact brain development in children and adolescents.

Moreover, type 2 diabetes is associated with being very overweight. According to NHS data, almost four in five of 715 children suffering from it were also obese.

Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health at Queen Mary University of London who is also the chair of the campaign group Action on Sugar, says:

Type 2 diabetes is a disaster for the child and their family and for the NHS. If a child gets type 2 diabetes, it’s condemning them to a lot of complications of that condition, such as blindness, amputations and kidney disease.

He went on to explain that we are in a crisis and that the government does not seem to be taking action. UK obesity levels now exceed those of the US.

The human microbiome is of vital importance to human health yet it is under chemical attack. Glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway within these gut bacteria and is a strong chelator of essential minerals.

Many key neurotransmitters are located in the gut. Aside from affecting the functioning of major organs, these transmitters affect our moods and thinking. There is strong evidence that gut bacteria can have a direct physical impact on the brain.

Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London has found that Roundup herbicide and its active ingredient glyphosate cause a dramatic increase in the levels of two substances, shikimic acid and 3-dehydroshikimic acid, in the gut, which are a direct indication that the EPSPS enzyme of the shikimic acid pathway has been severely inhibited. Roundup and glyphosate affected the microbiome at all dose levels tested, causing shifts in bacterial populations.

A quarter of all food and over a third of fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK contain pesticide cocktails, with some items containing traces of up to 14 different pesticides. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides.

Ian Boyd, the former Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, says pesticides, once they have been authorised, are never reviewed.

Glyphosate is distributed to every organ of the body and has multiple actions: it is an herbicide, an antibiotic, a fungicide, an antiprotozoal, an organic phosphonate, a growth regulator, a toxicant, a virulence enhancer and is persistent in the soil. It chelates (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.

In a paper published in King’s Law Journal –  ‘The Chemical Anthropocene: Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures’ – the authors Alessandra Arcuri and Yogi Hale Hendlin state:

As the science against glyphosate safety mounts and lawsuits threaten its chemical manufacture’s profits, the next generation of GMO crops are being keyed to the pesticide dicamba, sold commercially as XtendiMax® – and poised to be the next glyphosate. Regulatory agencies have historically been quick to approve products but slow to reconsider regulations after the decades of accumulated harms become apparent.

They add that the entrenched asymmetries between public and ecological health and fast-to-market new chemicals is exacerbated by the seeming lack of institutionalised precautionary policies.

Britain and the US are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis. These countries are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. People are needlessly dying early.

Research by US-based EWG found glyphosate residues on popular oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars. Almost 75% of the 45 samples tested had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety. Disturbing levels of such residues have been detected in the UK too.

There are shockingly high levels of weed killer in UK breakfast cereals. After testing these cereals at the Health Research Institute in Iowa, Dr Fagan, director of the centre, said:

These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).

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

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

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

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

A study published in February 2019 found glyphosate increased the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by as much as 41%. A Washington State University study published in December 2019 found state residents living close to areas subject to treatments with the herbicide are one-third more likely to die an early death from Parkinson’s disease.

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

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

And yet, as Mason has described in her work, the UK government had colluded with Monsanto for many years.

Boris Johnson, in his first speech to parliament as PM, said:

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

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

So much for protecting public health.

Government collusion

David Cameron appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta and former Chairman of CropLife International, to the board of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in 2010. He became Chairman in 2011. At one time or another, CropLife International´s member list has included BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC Corp, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. Many of these make their own formulated glyphosate.

Syngenta is a member of the European Glyphosate Task Force, which sought to renew (and succeeded in renewing) European glyphosate registration. Not surprisingly, the CRUK website denies that there is any link between pesticides and cancer.

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

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

That statement was merely for public consumption and the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides.

But such is the British government’s willingness to protect pesticide companies that it is handing agrochemical giants BASF and Bayer enormous pay-outs of Covid-19 support cash. The announcement came just weeks after Bayer shareholders voted to pay £2.75 billion in dividends. The fact that Bayer then went on to receive £600 million from the government speaks volumes of where the government’s priorities lie.

In Mason’s report, ‘Why Does Bayer Crop Science Control Chemicals in Brexit Britain’, she states that Bayer is having secret meetings with the British government to determine which agrochemicals are to be used after Brexit once Britain is ‘free’ of EU restrictions and becomes as deregulated as the US.

Such collusion comes as little surprise as the government’s ‘strategy for UK life sciences’ is already dependent on funding from pharmaceutical corporations and the pesticides industry.

Syngenta’s parent company was in 2010 AstraZeneca. At that time, Syngenta and AstraZeneca were represented on the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Foods, Consumer Products and the Environment. The founder of Syngenta, Michael Pragnell, was the Chairman of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) from 2011-2017. CRUK started by giving money (£450 million a year) to the Government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences and AstraZeneca provided 22 compounds to academic research to develop medicines. AstraZeneca manufactured six different anti-cancer drugs mainly aimed at breast and prostate cancer.

It seems like a highly profitable and cosy relationship between the agrochemical and pharmaceuticals sectors and the government at the expense of public health.

In finishing, let us take a brief look at the Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Its members have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels. It is, however, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity.

The ILSI describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”. But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence peddling.

ILSI Vice-President, Prof Alan Boobis, is currently the Chairman of the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (CoT).

He was directly responsible for authorising chemicals such as glyphosate, chlorothalonil, clothianidin and chlorpyrifos that are impacting human health and creating a crisis in biodiversity. His group and others have authorised glyphosate repeatedly. He and David Coggon, the previous Chairman of CoT (2008-2015), were appointed as experts on Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), a group allied with the agrochemical industry and is fighting for higher pesticide exposure.

The reality of the agrochemical industry is masked by well-funded public relations machinery. The industry subverts official agencies and regulatory bodies and supports prolific lobby organisations and (‘public scientists’) which masquerade as neutral institutions.

And for the record, it is possible to farm productively and profitably without the use of synthetic agrochemicals – and to achieve food security. For instance, see the article ‘A Skeptical Farmer’s Monster Message on Profitability’ based on one US farmer’s journey from chemical-dependent farming to organic on his 8,000-acre farm (discussed on the AgWeb site) or ‘The Untold Success Story of Agroecology in Africa’ in the journal Development (2015). From the Tigray region of Ethiopia to various high-level (UN) reports that have recommended agroecology there are many examples, too many to discuss here.

The UK government says it cares so much about the nation’s health (the infection mortality rate for COVID-19 appears to be similar to those of a bad seasonal flu) but has presided over and facilitated a genuine public health crisis for years. And it is now pumping billions of pounds of public money into a track, trace and test regime when it could have used it to boost overall NHS capacity; remember when the government stated that the initial lockdown was implemented to protect the NHS?

In fact, the government is spending the equivalent of 77% of the NHS annual revenue budget on an “unevaluated, underdesigned national programme leading to an insufficiently supported intervention – in many cases for the wrong people” says a recent editorial in the BMJ.

In the meantime, it is investing heavily in a (possibly mandatory) vaccine that based on the design of the trials – according to a recent article in the same journal – may have no discernible impact on saving lives or preventing serious outcomes or the transmission spread of infection.

Readers can access all Rosemary Mason’s reports on the academia.edu site

The post Crisis, What Crisis? Hypocrisy and Public Health in the UK first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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.

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Class Consciousness in the Age of COVID

Prior to the appearance of COVID-related restrictions and lockdowns, neoliberal capitalism had turned to various mechanisms in the face of economic stagnation and massive inequalities: the raiding of public budgets, the expansion of credit to consumers and governments to sustain spending and consumption, financial speculation and militarism.

Part and parcel of this has been a strategy of ‘creative destruction’ that has served to benefit an interlocking directorate of powerful oil, agribusiness, armaments and financial interests, among others. For these parties, what matters is the ability to maximise profit by shifting capital around the world, whether on the back of distorted free trade agreements which open the gates for plunder or through coercion and militarism which merely tear them down.

In the so-called ‘developed’ nations, notably in the US and the UK, along the way millions of jobs have been offshored to cheap labour economies. In effect, societies have become hollowed out. They have increasingly resembled empty boxes whereby the main component lurking inside is a giant mechanical hand of government and media propaganda with the threat of state violence lying in wait. And its only function is to pull the lid shut if anyone ever dares to tear it open and shed light on things. If successful, they will see the immorality, the lies, the hypocrisies.

And they would also be able to identify cynical methods of social control that have assumed a different level in 2020 with constant COVID fear propaganda being pumped out on a daily basis. If we take the UK, the fact is that excess deaths in 2020 are not out of the ordinary when looking back over a 25-year period.

But we continue to see the rolling out of near-endless restrictions and tiered lockdowns across the country based on questionable PCR tests and the designation of healthy, asymptomatic people as ‘cases’. The narrative has shifted from COVID deaths and ‘flattening the curve’ to an obsession with ‘cases’ as the curve became flattened and COVID-related deaths bottomed out. Even at the height of government- and media-driven COVID paranoia, over 90% of ‘COVID deaths’ were most likely due to the serious co-morbidities listed on the death certificates of the mainly over-75s who make up the vast majority of such deaths.

COVID marks a crucial stage of neoliberal capitalism. Under yet another strategy of creative destruction, millions of livelihoods across the world continue to be destroyed and small businesses are on the edge of bankruptcy.

But this is precisely what is supposed to happen when we acknowledge that it is all part of the ‘great reset’ as explained by the recent article ‘Klaus Schwab and his great fascist reset’ which appeared on the OffGuardian website: a transformation of society resulting in permanent restrictions on fundamental liberties and mass surveillance as entire sectors are sacrificed to boost the bottom line of the pharmaceuticals corporations, the high-tech/big data giants, Amazon, Google, major global chains, the digital payments sector, biotech concerns, etc.

In other words, a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which historian Luciana Bohne recently noted on her Facebook page is going to result in a different economy based on new businesses and sectors. In turn, this means older enterprises are to be driven to bankruptcy or absorbed into monopolies. It also entails massive job losses.

Although COVID is being blamed, Bohne notes that the shutting down of the old economy was already happening as there was insufficient growth, well below the minimum tolerable 3% level to maintain the viability of capitalism.

Bohne quotes the World Bank to underline her point:

In order to reverse this serious setback [COVID] to development progress and poverty reduction, countries will need to prepare for a different economy post-COVID, by allowing capital, labor, skills, and innovation to move into new businesses and sectors. 1

Economies are being ‘restructured’ and ‘downsized’ and COVID restrictions and lockdowns are being used as a battering ram to implement this agenda.

It is very revealing that Matt Hancock, British minister for health, gave a speech to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution in October 2017. Klaus Schwab was also in attendance.

Hancock stated:

And I’m delighted to speak alongside so many impressive colleagues who really understand this, and alongside Professor Klaus Schwab who literally ‘wrote the book’ on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Your work, bringing together as you do all the best minds on the planet, has informed what we are doing, and I’m delighted to work with you.

If readers take time to read the aforementioned piece, they may well be disturbed by many of the beliefs Schwab holds for the future. And now, three years on from Hancock’s presentation, we are seeing him play an active role in implementing the type of scenario Schwab has set out in his various books and speeches by rolling out further restrictions and phased lockdowns, mass surveillance measures, vaccination projects, authoritarian government and economic devastation.

Hancock really does seem to be taking his cue from the influential Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

COVID is being used to inject neoliberal capitalism with new life by destroying livelihoods and implementing a social and economic tectonic shift. If people in the richer countries are perplexed by the destruction of livelihoods under the pretext of COVID, they need look no further than India to appreciate why governments wage financial and social war on their own people and the type of brutality they are capable of and whose interests they ultimately serve.

There is a plan for the future of that country and most of its current farmers do not have a role in it. India remains an agrarian-based society with over 60% of the population still relying on agriculture either directly or indirectly for their livelihood.

Successive administrations have been making farming financially unviable with the aim of moving farmers out of agriculture and into the cities to work in construction, manufacturing or the service sector, despite these sectors not creating anything like the number of jobs required. By uprooting the agrarian base, we are seeing a fundamental attack on Indian society.

The aim is to displace the existing labour-intensive system of food and agriculture with one dominated by a few transnational corporate agribusiness concerns which will then control the sector. Agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods, while feeding the urban masses.

As is currently happening in the West, small independent concerns (in this case, smallholder farmers) are being driven to bankruptcy. So why would anyone set out to deliberately run down what is effectively a productive system of agriculture that feeds people, sustains livelihoods and produces sufficient buffer stocks? Similarly, why in 2020 are governments facilitating economic destruction?

Politicians are effectively facilitating the needs of global capital and all it entails: a system based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out, create or expand into new, untapped markets to maintain profitability.

India’s agrarian base is being destroyed at the behest of predatory commercial interests (via the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, World Bank directives and WTO policies) and the peasantry is being dealt a knock-out blow so global agribusiness and retail concerns can capture financially lucrative markets and further incorporate the agri-food sector into their global supply chains.

Looking at the Industrial Revolution in England, historian Michael Perelman has detailed the processes that whipped the English peasantry into a workforce coerced into factory wage labour. Peasants left their land to work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of industrial capitalists. Perelman describes the policies through which peasants were forced out of agriculture, not least by the barring of access to common land. A largely self-reliant population was starved of its productive means.

It was brutal, just like ongoing developments in India. And what we are now seeing are vested interests forcing through a Fourth Industrial Revolution across the world. This too is brutal and is also having dire consequences in places like India as I have previously outlined in the article ‘Coronavirus Capitalism: Entrenching Dispossession and Dependency’.

The encouragement of identity politics, narcissism, apathy and consumerism’s irretrievable materialism, among other things, have undermined ordinary people’s capacity for action. Not so the billionaire class pushing through the ‘great reset’ which is acutely aware of its own interests.

A lack of class consciousness among ordinary people debilitates their ability to unite and recognise that their interests and those of the government and the people they really serve are diametrically opposed. Free from the shackles of mainstream propaganda, ordinary people would be better placed to resist current restrictions and challenge the prevailing narrative on COVID.

Unfortunately, those who might be expected to be pivotal in this – prominent figures and media outlets which claim to be of the ‘left’ – have failed to lead by example and have capitulated to the agenda of those who are driving the COVID narrative, the restrictions, the fear, the rolling out of draconian surveillance and rushed-through vaccines and the economic devastation leading to millions of job losses.

What must be regarded as the ‘establishment left’ has done little more than cheer-lead restrictions and lockdowns.

  1. World Bank, October 2020 Report.

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Begging Outrage: British Journalists for Assange

Even that title strikes an odd note.  It should not.  The Fourth Estate, historically reputed as the chamber of journalists and publishers keeping an eye on elected officials, received a blast of oxygen with the arrival of WikiLeaks.  This was daring, rich stuff: scientific journalism in the trenches, news gathering par excellence.  But what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did was something unpardonable to many who pursue the journalist’s craft: sidestepping the newspaper censors, permitting unadulterated access to original sources.

People could finally scrutinise raw documents – cables, memoranda, briefing notes, diplomatic traffic – without the secondary and tertiary forms of self-censorship that characterise the newspaper imperium.  Editorially imposed measures could be outflanked; the biases and prejudices of newspaper moguls could be ignored.

This has meant that media outlets in the drought affected mainstream can only ever make quiet acknowledgments about the seriousness of the US case against Assange. It is why certain outlets fail, and have failed to cover the extradition proceedings against the publisher with any degree of serious alarm or considered fear.  When they do, irrelevant and inconsequential details feature like tabloid tat: the irate Assange, shouting from his caged stand; the kooky Assange, somewhat unhinged.

A central contention of the prosecution case against Assange is that he is no publisher or journalist being gradually asphyxiated by the apparatus of power for exposing it, but a cold, calculating purloiner of state secrets indifferent to the welfare of informants.  Thieves cannot avail themselves of press freedoms nor summon the solid protections of the US First Amendment, even if they did expose torture, war crimes and illegal renditions.  It is a narrative that has been fed shamelessly by certain members of the media fraternity, rendering them indifferent and, at times, even hostile to the efforts of WikiLeaks.  David Leigh and Luke Harding of The Guardian added kindling to this idea by publishing the full passphrase to the file of un-redacted US State Department cables in their 2011 book. It was foolish and clumsy, and did not shine a good light on the parties involved.

A train was set in motion: the German weekly Der Freitag ran a piece in August that same year pointing an indirect finger to the password revealed by Leigh and Harding; Assange, alarmed, had contacted the editor Jakob Augstein beforehand, telling him he “feared for the safety of informants”.  WikiLeaks then reached out to the US State Department warning that publication of the un-redacted trove was imminent.  This would have given time to US officials to take necessary measures to protect any protected sources.  Cryptome scrambled to publish the documents on September 1, 2011; WikiLeaks followed the next day.  The myth of Assange the indiscreet, incautious figure hostile to concealed identities was born.

It has been left to other courageous reporters to right the record at the trial.  As investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi recalled in her statement read at the extradition proceedings, “I went through the cables as systematically as possible.  I was given an encrypted USB stick, and once I returned to Italy I was given the password that would then allow opening the file.  Everything was done with utmost responsibility and attention.” She also noted how the password published by Leigh and Harding “was not the same password I myself was given at the time.”

Mature, snappy views have also featured from conservative British voices concerned by this grotesque overreach of US power.  In Britain, and elsewhere, these media commenters have been few in number in registering appropriate alarm at the implications of the US Department of Justice’s indictment against Assange.  Peter Oborne, writing last month, issued the call to fellow journalists to take up the case for WikiLeaks.  He starts with a scenario: imagine a political dissident held at London’s Belmarsh Prison charged with espionage offences by the People’s Republic of China.  The real offence?  Exposing atrocities by Chinese troops.  “To put it another way, that his real offence was committing the crime of journalism.”

Add to this the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the dissident in question showed “all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture”, with Beijing pressuring UK authorities to extradite him to a place he could face 175 years in prison.  “The outrage from the British press would be deafening.”  Protests and vigils outside Belmarsh would be unhalting; debates would take place on “prime time news programmes, alongside a rush of questions in parliament.”

Oborne acknowledges the UK-US alliance.  But that should not matter one jot “as far as the British media is concerned.”  The Old Bailey trial marked “a profound moment for British journalists.”  Were Britain to capitulate to the Trump administration on this score, “the right to publish leaked material in the public interest would suffer a devastating blow.”  He noted the concerns of 169 lawyers and academics expressed in a letter to the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel demanding government intervention.  “We call on you to act in accordance with national and international law, human rights and the rule of law by bringing an end to the ongoing extradition proceedings and granting Mr Assange his long overdue freedom.”

The dangers to the Fourth Estate to Oborne are incalculable.  On UK soil, an effort is being made by the US “to prosecute a non-US citizen, not living in the US, not publishing in the US, under US laws that deny the right to a public interest defence.”  Yet a myopic British press remains more interested in Assange’s character, one attacked for breaching the Bail Act in avoiding extradition to Sweden to face sexual misconduct suspicions, and the distracting point as to whether he really is a journalist.

Peter Hitchens, brother of the late Christopher and long departed from the barricades of Trotskyite fervour, is also very much on Oborne’s page.  Admirably, he starts his reflection on Assange by putting to rest notions of compromising fandom.  Assange “is not my world, and his people are not my people.”  But he was “wholly, furiously against the attempt by the United States government to extradite Assange from this country”.

Hitchens can seem a touch reactionary at times, his views heavily wrapped in the Union Jack.  A sounding board at The Daily Mail would suggest such tendencies.  But on Assange, he is sharp.   He rightly picks up on the barring of extraditions for political grounds under Article 4(1) of the UK-US Extradition Treaty.  He also notes the servility shown by UK officials to US power, given that the treaty permits Washington to “demand extradition of UK citizens and others for offences committed against US law.  This is so even though the supposed offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living in the UK.”

In Hitchen’s mind, it was inconceivable to envisage a situation where the US would reciprocate: submitting its citizens to the UK for leaking British secret documents.  But allowing Assange to face trial in the US would mean that “any British journalist who comes into possession of classified material from the US, though he has committed no crime according to our own law, faces the same danger.”  The process undermined national sovereignty and threatened press freedom.  No English court, he argued, “should accept this demand.”  Were the courts to fail, “any self-respecting Home Secretary should overrule them.”

Fittingly, and accurately, Hitchens describes the effort mounted against Assange as “a lawless kidnap” against an individual who exposed “inconvenient” truths of US power.  It would be heartening to see more journalists, notably British ones, turning their mind to this awful reality, instead of falling for yellow press, click-bait distractions.

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“The Guardian’s Silence has let the UK trample on Assange’s Rights in Effective Darkness”

WISE Up, a solidarity group for Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, is due to stage a demonstration outside the Guardian offices on October 22 to protest the paper’s failure to support Assange as the US seeks his extradition in an unprecedented assault on press freedom.

The date chosen for the protest marks the tenth anniversary of the Guardian’s publication of the Iraq war logs, leaked by Manning to Assange and which lie at the heart of the US case to reclassify journalism exposing crimes against humanity as “espionage”.

Here is my full statement, part of which is due to be read out, in support of Assange and castigating the Guardian for its craven failure to speak up in solidarity with its former media partner:

Julian Assange has been hounded out of public life and public view by the UK and US governments for the best part of a decade. Now he languishes in a small, airless cell in Belmarsh high-security prison in London – a victim of arbitrary detention, according to a UN working group, and a victim of psychological torture, according to Nils Melzer, the UN’s expert on torture.

If Judge Vanessa Baraitser, presiding in the Central Criminal Court in London, agrees, as she gives every appearance of preparing to do, Assange will be the first journalist to face a terrifying new ordeal – a form of extraordinary rendition to the United States for “espionage” – for having the courage to publish documents that exposed US war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Guardian worked with Assange and Wikileaks on vitally important documents – now at the heart of the US case against Assange – known as the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs. The latter were published exactly a decade ago today. They were a journalistic coup of global significance, and the paper ought to be profoundly proud of its role in bringing them to public attention.

During Assange’s extradition hearing, however, the Guardian treated the logs and its past association with Assange and Wikileaks more like a dirty secret it hoped to keep out of sight. Those scoops furnished by Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning enriched the paper financially, and bolstered its standing internationally. They also helped to pave its path into the lucrative US market.

Unlike Assange and Manning, the Guardian has suffered no consequences for publishing the logs. Unlike Assange and Manning, the paper has faced no retribution. While it profited, Assange continues to be made an example of – to deter other journalists from contemplating following in his footsteps.

The Guardian owes Assange.

  • It owes him a huge debt for allowing it to share in the journalistic glory of Wikileaks’ revelations.
  • It owes him a duty of care as its partner in publishing the logs.
  • It owes him its voice loudly denouncing the abuse of a fellow journalist for doing the essence of journalism – holding the powerful to account.
  • It owes him and its own staff, and the young journalists who will one day take their place, its muscle in vigorously defending the principle of a strong and free press.
  • It owes him, and the rest of us, a clear profession of its outrage as the US conducts an unprecedented assault on free speech, the foundation of a democratic society.

And yet the Guardian has barely raised its voice above a whisper as the noose has tightened around Assange’s – and by extension, our – neck. It has barely bothered to cover the dramatic and deeply disturbing developments of last month’s extradition hearing, or the blatant abuses of legal process overseen by Baraitser.

The Guardian has failed to raise its editorial voice in condemnation either of the patently dishonest US case for extradition or of the undisguised mistreatment of Assange by Britain’s legal and judicial authorities.

The paper’s many columnists ignored the proceedings too, except for those who contributed yet more snide and personal attacks of the kind that have typified the Guardian’s coverage of Assange for many years.

It is not too late for the paper to act in defence of Assange and journalism. Assange’s rights are being trampled under foot close by the Guardian’s offices in London because the British establishment knows that these abuses are taking place effectively in darkness. It has nothing to fear as long as the media abdicates its responsibility to scrutinise what amounts to the biggest attack on journalism in living memory.

Were the Guardian to shine a light on Assange’s case – as it is morally obligated to do – the pressure would build on other media organisations, not least the BBC, to do their job properly too. The British establishment would finally face a countervailing pressure to the one being exerted so forcefully by the US.

The Guardian should have stood up for Assange long ago, when the threats he and investigative journalism faced became unmistakable. It missed that opportunity. But the threats to Assange – and the causes of transparency and accountability he champions – have not gone away. They have only intensified. Assange needs the Guardian’s support more urgently, more desperately than ever before.

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