Category Archives: Boris Johnson

9/11 Collapsed Towers… And Empire

AFP 2021 / Seth McAllister

The United States’ 245-year history as a political entity has been one long trail of wars and more wars. It is estimated that nearly 95 percent of that historical span has seen the nation involved in either all-out wars, proxy conflicts, or other military subterfuges.

But since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, the US has gone into hyper-war mode. Twenty years ago, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan ushered in multiple other American wars and covert operations from Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to the Americas.

At one point, the former Obama administration was bombing seven countries simultaneously all in the name of “fighting terrorism”. Hundreds of US bombs rain down somewhere on the planet every day.

What is rather sickening is how the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 event this weekend is marked with solemn speeches by US president Joe Biden and his British counterpart Boris Johnson – the two countries that spearheaded the “War on Terror” era.

Biden claims that 9/11 demonstrates the “unity and resilience” of the American people, while Johnson blusters with platitudes about 9/11 showing that “terrorists did not defeat Western democracy and freedoms”. This self-indulgent piffle is contemptible and nauseating.

Two decades after the US and Britain launched their criminal blitzkrieg on Afghanistan and the rest of the world, those two nations are more financially broke than ever. Internally, they are more bitterly divided than ever. More evidently, their so-called democracies are in reality oligarchies where a tiny rich elite rule over a mass of impoverished people who are spied on and treated like serfs by unaccountable secret agencies and a mass media in hock with oligarchic masters.

If there was a genuine commemoration of 9/11 it would entail a mass uprising by the people to overthrow the war-mongering class system that Biden and Johnson serve as frontmen.

Just this week – of all weeks – the American and British states are in effect admitting that their societies are collapsing from vast economic inequality and crumbling infrastructure. The Biden administration is trying to release a budget of up to $4.5 trillion to alleviate poverty and repair decrepit roads, bridges, buildings and other public utilities.

The Johnson regime in Britain is forced to admit that the National Health Service is overwhelmed by a chronic lack of funding. Taxes are being hiked that will hit low-income workers in order to pay for the £12 billion ($16bn) needed to prop up the enfeebled health service.

All of the cost for trying to repair the US and Britain to make these countries a modicum of decency for its citizens to live in could have been covered by the expenditure on wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that the US and Britain have directly or indirectly been involved in.

A new estimate of the cost for the “war on terror” by the United States alone is put at $8 trillion. This is roughly double the infrastructure bill that Biden is trying to get passed by Congress. American politicians are objecting to the extravagance of that “rescue budget”, yet they had no qualms about spending $8 trillion on wars. It is also estimated that for Britain its military adventurism in Afghanistan alone cost a total of $30 billion. Again, just imagine how British society might be better off if that money had been spent instead on attending to the health needs of its citizens.

But 9/11 also ushered in wanton warmongering regimes in Washington and London that have bled the American and British public of finances and democratic rights. In 2001, the US national debt was about $6 trillion. This year that debt burden on future American generations has escalated to $28 trillion – a crushing, unsustainable burden largely driven by criminal wars.

The healthcare costs for American military veterans wounded and maimed from the wars on terror are projected at $2 trillion. Over 30,000 US service members and veterans are reckoned to have committed suicide over the past 20 years. That’s 10 times the number of American people who died on the day of 9/11.

Untold millions of innocent civilians were killed by the wars that the US and British launched after 9/11. Such suffering and destruction all for nothing except for the enrichment of war-profiteering corporations and the oligarchic elite.

fThe United States and Britain have been so deformed by criminal wars they have become dysfunctional and dystopian. They have inflicted failed states around the world, but none more so than on their own people. The towers that fell on 9/11 were a premonition of much bigger collapse.

The post 9/11 Collapsed Towers… And Empire first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Terror Attacks in Kabul Suspiciously on Cue… Who Gains?

Could an atrocity have been arranged by some of Baradar’s men at the request of the CIA?

Three days before the bloody carnage at Kabul airport, CIA director William Burns held a secret meeting with a top Taliban commander in the Afghan capital. That is only one of several suspicious events this week in the countdown to the dramatic U.S. evacuation.

At least 13 U.S. troops guarding an entrance to Kabul airport were killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack. Dozens of Afghans waiting in line for evacuation by military cargo planes were also killed. A second blast hit a nearby hotel used by British officials to process immigration documents.

It was not the main ranks of the Taliban who carried out the atrocities. The militant group which swept into power on August 15 after taking over Kabul has ring-fenced the capital with checkpoints. The explosions occurred in airport districts under the control of the U.S. and British military.

A little-known terror group, Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K), claimed responsibility for the bombings. IS-K was barely reported before until this week when the U.S. and British intelligence services issued high-profile warnings of imminent terror attacks by this group at Kabul airport. Those warnings came only hours before the actual attacks. President Joe Biden even mentioned this new terror organization earlier this week and pointedly claimed they were “sworn enemies” of the Taliban.

How is an obscure terror outfit supposed to infiltrate a highly secure area – past “sworn enemy” Taliban checkpoints – and then breach U.S. and British military cordons?

How is it that U.S. and British intelligence had such precise information on imminent threats when these same intelligence agencies were caught completely flat-footed by the historic takeover of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15? When the Taliban swept into the capital it marked the collapse of a regime that the Americans and British had propped for nearly 20 years during their military occupation of Afghanistan. Could their intelligence agencies miss foreseeing such a momentous event and yet less than two weeks later we are expected to believe these same agencies were able to pinpoint an imminent atrocity requiring complex planning?

What is the political fallout from the airport bombings? President Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are adamant that the evacuation from Kabul will be completed by the deadline on August 31. Biden said the atrocity underscores the urgency to get out of Afghanistan, although he threw in the token vow that “we will hunt down” the perpetrators.

To be sure, the president is coming under intense political fire for capitulating against the Taliban and terrorists and for betraying Afghan allies. Some Republicans are demanding his resignation due to his overseeing a disaster and national disgrace. It is estimated that up to 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. military occupation will be left behind and in danger of reprisal attacks.

There seems a negligible chance that the deaths of 13 U.S. troops – the largest single-day killing of Americans in Afghanistan since a Chinook helicopter was shot down in August 2011 with 38 onboard – will provoke an extension of the Pentagon’s mission in the country. Even after the bombings this week, the Pentagon advised Biden to stick to the August 31 deadline. The Taliban have also stated that all U.S. and NATO troops must be out of the country by that date.

Polls were showing that most Americans agreed with Biden’s pullout from Afghanistan – the longest war by the U.S. was seen as futile and unwinnable. The sickening bomb attacks this week will only underscore the public sense of war-weariness. Hawkish calls for returning large-scale forces to Afghanistan have little political resonance.

This brings us back to the secret meeting earlier this week between the CIA’s William Burns and Taliban commander Abdul Ghani Baradar. The Washington Post reported that Biden sent Burns to meet with Baradar in Kabul. It was the most senior contact between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the latter’s takeover of Afghanistan on August 15. The details of the discussion were not disclosed and some reports indicated other Taliban figures were not aware of the meeting.

Baradar is one of the founding members of the Taliban. He was captured by Pakistan intelligence and the CIA in 2010. But at the request of the United States, Baradar was released from prison in 2018. Thereafter he led the Taliban in negotiations with the U.S. on finding an end to the conflict. Those talks culminated in a deal in February 2020 with the Trump administration agreeing to troop withdrawal this year. Biden has stuck to the pullout plan.

From his career path, there is good reason to believe that Baradar is the CIA’s man inside the Taliban. Let’s say at least that he has the agency’s ear.

Why else would CIA chief Burns meet Baradar at such a crucial time in the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan? To get Taliban assurances of security measures safeguarding American troops as they exit? That obviously didn’t happen.

What else, then? Could an atrocity have been arranged by some of Baradar’s men at the request of the CIA? The objective being to shift focus from a shambolic, shameful retreat to one of necessity due to terror threats. It seems uncanny that U.S. and British intelligence services were warning of an event only hours before it happened in a way that was precisely predicted. The other consequence of benefit is that the droves of desperate Afghans queueing near Kabul airport are dispersed out of fear of more bloodshed. The beneficial optic is that U.S. and British military planes will take off on August 31 without the harrowing, pitiful scenes of Afghans running down the runway after them. Hence, the empire wraps up its bloody criminal war, with a little less shame than otherwise.

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Global Britain Slashes International Aid

Decisions on aid are eroding trust and eroding relationships between the UK and developing countries.

— Abby Baldoumas, Financial Times, July 15, 2021

Politics is not merely the art of the possible but the pursuit of concerted hypocrisy.  When it comes to that matter of funding good causes – foreign aid, for instance – wealthy states are often happy to claim they open their wallets willingly.  As good international citizens, they fork out money for such causes as education, healthcare, sanitation.  The goals are always seen as bigger than the cash, a measure of self-enlightened interest.

The United Kingdom is certainly such a case. For years, governments of different stripes praised the political importance of the aid programme.  “Development has never just been about aid or money, but I am proud that Britain is a country that keeps its promises to the poorest in the world,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told the United Nations General Assembly in a 2012 speech.

This all started changing in 2020.  The merging of the Department of International Development with the Foreign Office was a signal that pennies would be in shorter supply.  On November 25, 2020, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that the government would not spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance in 2022.  The allocation would fall to 0.5% of GNI – £10 billion in monetary terms.  Relative to the 2019 budget, this would amount to an effective cut of around £4 to 5 billion.  Aid had very much become a matter of money.

The 0.7% allocation has been part of British policy since 2013.  Two years after that, it became part of legislation.  Up till September 2020, it was even assumed that it would also be part of Tory policy, given its mention in the Conservative Party manifesto.

Sunak did not shy away from populist justification in delivering his spending review for the 2021-22 financial year.  “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people.”

The Chancellor tried assuring his fellow parliamentarians that he had “listened with great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target, but at a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices.”  Such a tough choice seemed to put Sunak in breach of the law, not something alien to members of the Johnson government, including the prime minister himself.  But do not expect legal writs or the constabulary to be pursuing the matter: all that’s seemingly required is a statement to Parliament explaining why the aim was not achieved.

On July 13, Parliament passed a motion confirming the reduction in the aid budget, with 333 votes cast in favour of it.  298 opposed it.  Despite being billed as a compromise, the former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell was wiser.  “There is an unpleasant odour leaking from my party’s front door,” he ruefully admitted.  The motion had been “a fiscal trap for the unwary.”

The consequences of these slashing initiatives have laid waste to the charity and humanitarian landscape.  The list of casualties mentioned by Devex is grim and extensive.  A few unfortunates are worth mentioning.  On July 7, South Sudan country director of Christian Aid reflected upon the closure of peace-building efforts led by various churches in South Sudan given the 59% cut in UK aid.  “These cuts risk having a lethal effect on the chances of a lasting peace here,” James Wani lamented.

On June 14, support was cancelled for the Strategic Partnership Arrangement with Bangladesh.  In the view of the NGO BRAC, this would see a halt to educating 360,000 girls, stop the funding of 725,000 school places, and cut nutritional support for 12 million infants, not to mention access to family planning services for 14.6 million women and girls.

Whole initiatives will cease outright, such as the Malawi Violence Against Women and Girls Prevention and Response Programme or the Green Economic Growth for Papua programme, which focuses on preventing deforestation.  In some cases, existing budget allocations have been reduced by staggering amounts.  The UN Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency (UNFPA), for example, has seen its funding allotment from the UK for its family planning programme reduced by 85% – from £154 million to £23 million.

With all this devastation taking place, Prime Minister Boris Johnson could still breezily announce at the G7 summit that his government would be providing an extra £430 million of extra funding from UK coffers for girls’ education in 90 developing countries.  The timing of this was exquisite: only some weeks prior, cuts had been made amounting to over £200 million for the same cause, down from the £600 million offered in 2019.

In April 2021, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sounded every bit the stingy economic rationalist.  “Throughout the business planning process, we strived to ensure that every penny of the FCDO’s (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s) ODA (Official Development Assistance) spent brings maximum strategic coherence, impact and value for taxpayers’ money.”

At the Global Education Summit this July, the bleak and razored approach Johnson had taken to aid was concealed by a mask of colourful praise for his own moneyed initiatives.  He called the Global Partnership for Education “the universal cure”, “the Swiss Army knife, complete with Allen key and screwdriver and everything else that can solve virtually every problem that afflicts humanity.”

Without blushing at any point, he spoke about educating the world properly and fairly to “end a great natural injustice.”  In giving “every girl in the world the same education as every boy, 12 years of quality education, then you perform the most fantastic benefits for humanity – you lift life expectancy, you lift per capita GDP, you deal with infant mortality”.

The aid cuts have not only aggrieved those in the charity and development sector.  Baroness Liz Sugg resigned as minister for overseas territories and sustainable development in response to the cuts.  “Cutting UK aid risks,” she wrote to the prime minister last November, “risks undermining your efforts to promote a Global Britain and will diminish your power to influence and other nations to do what is right.”

From the levels of local government, Shropshire councillor Andy Boddington also expressed his dismay.  “Our local MPs and Boris Johnson should bow their heads in shame and recognise how this unnecessary cut has diminished Britain on the world stage just as we prepare to host the international climate summit COP26.”  The good councillor would surely be aware that the allocation of shame, for Johnson, is much like Britain’s current aid budget: diminished in supply.

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Progress or War: On Islamophobia and Europe’s Demographic Shifts

Europe’s identity crisis is not confined to the ceaseless squabbles by Europeans over the EU, Brexit or football. It goes much deeper, reaching sensitive and dangerous territory, including that of culture and religion. Once more, Muslims stand at the heart of the continent’s identity debate.

Of course, anti-Muslim sentiments are rarely framed to appear anti-Muslim. While Europe’s right-wing parties remain committed to the ridiculous notion that Muslims, immigrants and refugees pose a threat to Europe’s overall security and unique secular identities, the left is not entirely immune from such chauvinistic notions.

The right’s political discourse is familiar and is often condemned for its repugnantly ultra-nationalistic, if not outright racist, tone and rhetoric. The left, on the other hand, is a different story. The European left, notably in countries like France and Belgium, frame their ‘problem’ with Islam as fundamental to their supposed dedication to the secular values of the State.

“A problem arises when, in the name of religion, some want to separate themselves from the Republic and therefore not respect its laws,” Macron said during a speech in October 2020.

Leftist politicians and intellectuals were just as eager as the right to prevent Ihsane Haouach, a Belgian government representative, from serving as a commissioner at the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEFH). Again, both sides joined forces, although without an official declaration of unity, to ensure Haouach had no place in the country’s democratic process.

It was a repeat of a similar scenario in France last May when Sara Zemmahi was removed from the ruling party’s candidates list for seemingly violating France’s valeurs de la République – the values of the Republic.

These are but mere examples, and are hardly restricted to French-speaking countries. There are many such disquieting events pointing to a deep-seated problem that remains unresolved. In Britain, Rakhia Ismail, who was celebrated as the country’s first hijab-wearing mayor in May 2019, resigned from her post less than a year and a half later, citing racism and marginalization.

While the Belgian, French, and British media elaborated on these stories as if unique to each specific country, in truth, they are all related. Indeed, they are all the outcome of an overriding phenomenon of anti-Muslim prejudice, coupled with a wave of racism that has plagued Europe for many years, especially in the last decade.

Though Europe’s official institutions, mainstream media, sports clubs and so on, continue to pay lip service to the need for diversity and inclusion, the reality on the ground is entirely different. A recent example was the horrific outcome of England’s defeat in the EURO2020 final against Italy. Gangs of white English, mostly males, attacked people of color, especially black people, whether on the street or online. The extent of cyber-bullying, in particular, targeting dark-skinned athletes is almost unprecedented in the country’s recent history.

Various British officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, condemned the widespread racism. Interestingly, many of these officials have said or done very little to combat anti-Muslim hate and violence in the past, which often targeted Muslim women for their head or face covering.

Strikingly, Johnson, purportedly now leading the anti-racist charge, was one of the most disparaging officials who spoke demeaningly of Muslim women in the past. “Muslim women wearing burka look like letter boxes,” he said, according to the BBC.

Of course, Islamophobia must be seen within the larger context of the toxic anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments, now defining factors in shaping modern European politics. It is this hate and racism that served as the fuel for rising political parties like Le Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, The Freedom Party in Austria and the Lega in Italy. In fact, there is a whole intellectual discourse, complete with brand new theories that are used to channel yet more hate, violence and racism against immigrants.

And where is the left in all of this? With a few exceptions, much of the left is still trapped in its own intellectual hubris, adding yet more fuel to the fire while veiling their criticism of Islam as if genuine concern for secularism.

Oddly, in Europe, as in much of the West, crosses and Stars of David as necklaces, or the Catholic nuns’ head covering, velo delle suore, let alone the kippahs, the religious tattoos and many other such symbols are all part of Europe’s everyday culture. Why do we never hear of such controversy of a Jewish man being tossed out of a public building because of his kippah or a white French woman being expelled from university for wearing a cross? The matter has less to do with religious symbols, in general, than of the religious symbols of races and peoples who are simply unwanted in Europe.

Also, limiting the discussion to refugees and immigrants may give the impression that the debate is mostly concerned with the non-European ‘others’ who are ‘invading’ Europe’s shores, determined to ‘replace’ Europe’s original, white, Christian inhabitants. This is hardly the case, since a sizable percentage of Belgians and French, for example, are themselves Muslims, estimated at 6 percent and 5% respectively. Namely, these Muslims are European citizens.

Haouach, Zemmahi and Ismail actually wanted to be a part of – not break apart from – these societies by honoring their country’s most cherished political traditions, yet without erasing their own cultural heritage and religious identities in the process. Alas, they were all vehemently rejected, as if Europe has made a collective decision to ensure that Muslims subsist in the margins forever. And when Muslim communities try to fight back, using Europe’s own judicial systems as their supposed saviors, they are, once again, rejected. The latest of such spurns was in June, when Belgium’s constitutional court resolved that prohibiting the wearing of hijab does not constitute a violation of freedom of religion or the right to education.

It is time for European countries to understand that their demographics are fundamentally changing, and that such change can, in fact, be beneficial to the health of these nations. Without true diversity and meaningful inclusion, there can be no real progress in any society, anywhere.

But while demographic shifts can offer an opportunity for growth, it can also inspire fear, racism and, predictably, violence as well.

Europe, which has fought two horrendous wars in the last century, should know better.

The post Progress or War: On Islamophobia and Europe’s Demographic Shifts first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Infectious Follies: Britain’s Freedom Day

He can scant resist a slogan, but UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence on describing Britain’s exit from lockdown as Freedom Day came with its usual kitschy quality.  All would be splendid as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in the “move to step 4.”  Social contact rules would be scrapped, along with mask mandates in various public spaces.  Nightclubs could reopen; capacity limits for events and venues would be removed.  There would be a return to social responsibility or what Johnson calls protection through informed choice.

According to the government, the decision to lift most restrictions on July 19 was reached because four tests had been satisfied.  Ongoing vaccine deployment was proving a success, having “broken the link between infection and mortality.”  (Step 4 had been delayed by a month to enable more adults to be vaccinated.)  Gathered evidence showed that “vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.”  Infection rates did not pose a risk to a surge in hospitalisations that would place intolerable pressure upon the National Health System (NHS).  The emergence of new COVID-19 variants did not pose a threat.

In his July 15 speech, Johnson accepted that hospitalisations and deaths would endure.  A calculus of risk was at play.  The days and weeks ahead would be “difficult” with “more hospitalisations and … more deaths but with every day that goes by we build higher the wall of vaccine acquired immunity, a wall that is now higher and stronger in this country than almost anywhere else in the world”.

The promise of Freedom Day had the effect of setting a good number of health professionals on edge.  Arthur Hosie, a Staffordshire University microbiologist, took the view that the government was essentially disarming the populace from non-pharmacological protections.  “This is a new virus to which we have had no exposure over previous years.  Mask wearing and social distancing are important – to remove them is to remove the tools we need to live with the virus.”

Authors of a July piece for The Lancet, many members of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, excoriated a strategy that still tolerated “natural infection for others (predominantly the young)” alongside a partially vaccinated population.  “The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness.”

The authors offered a range of grave scenarios.  Unvaccinated children and young people risked being disproportionately affected.  Schools faced high rates of transmission that would cause education disruption and endanger “clinically and socially vulnerable children.”  Preliminary modelling data suggested that the opening up strategy “provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants.”  The strategy would also deplete the country’s already exhausted health services and staff.  Finally, and as has always been the case, deprived communities would continue to be disproportionately affected.

With these loud warnings come a rather troubling set of statistics.  According to the Office of National Statistics one in 95 people in England has COVID.  In Scotland, the number is one in 90.  More than half a million people find themselves in isolation and infection levels lie at over 50,000 a day.

The Delta variant is also posing challenges to the wall of immunity Johnson has been promoting.  Certainly, it does not promise to be impervious, though the figures are nonetheless impressive in preventing serious illness and hospitalisations.  While the Pfizer vaccine does pack a punch in being 88% effective in stopping symptomatic disease arising from the Indian-origin strain, AstraZeneca’s offering comes in at 60%.  Public Health England has put this down to an issue of timing, as the effectiveness of the latter vaccine requires a longer interval between first and second doses.

The country’s third COVID-19 wave is causing jolts of dysfunction, largely due to the test and trace system that continues to operate.  Marks & Spencer is considering reducing opening hours to cope with staff shortages arising from infections and self-isolation directions.  A number of factories and work sites face the prospect of shutting for similar reasons.  Parts of the London Underground were closed because of the number of staff made to self-isolate after being notified via the NHS COVID-19 app.  The Rail, Maritime and Transport union secretary Mick Lynch had predicted the previous week that the capital would face “a surge in workers pinged with self-isolation instruction next week.”  A pingdemic is upon the population.

When Freedom Day came, it did not exactly arrive with a celebratory canter.  It had a very Johnsonian air of ramshackle contradiction jammed with misrepresentation, confusion and even a sense of terror.  Physician Gabriel Scally could recall no other “episode in history where a government has willingly aided and abetted the spread of a dangerous infectious disease among its own population.”

This was also freedom of a different sort.  Hundreds of thousands of people are in mandated isolation; the Prime Minister is himself isolating after his health secretary, Sajid Javid, had tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.  “For these people,” wrote a bleak Ross Clark for The Spectator, “it is no freedom day – it is a return to the darkest hour of lockdown.”  In fact, suggested Clark, this was worse.  “At least during lockdown we were all allowed to go to the shops, or for exercise.”

For those wishing to travel, there were also disappointments.  Travellers to so-called amber designated countries can avoid the ten day isolation requirement upon their return but must pay for testing and get a test within 72 hours of their return.   The onus is on packaged tour operators to foot that bill, should they wish to.  Independent travellers will simply have to lump it.

Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the Commons health select committee, dreads the coming autumn.  “The warning light on the NHS dashboard is not flashing amber,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, “it is flashing red.”  As William Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston observed with sharp disapproval, “The decision [to open up], and the way it has been presented, repeats a pattern of foolishly promising an outcome when dealing with a highly infectious agent.”

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Clinching in the Breach: Matt Hancock Resigns

From his secure fortress of contented spite, Dominic Cummings, exiled from the power he once wielded at Number 10 as one of the chosen, must have felt a sense of satisfaction.  Biliously, the former top aide to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had scorned the now former UK Health Secretary in a performance before MPs lasting hours.  Matt Hancock, Cummings explained last month, could have been sacked for any number of things he did in responding to the pandemic.

With history moving from its tragic gear into a farcical one, Hancock has resigned.  It had all the makings of a tabloid fix: the minister’s name (Hancock), an aide, kissing, a leaking mole and CCTV.  But the departure was not for mendacity or want of competence so much as an ill-considered moment in breach of COVID-19 regulations.  With the country still continuing a lockdown that was meant to dramatically ease on June 21, a camera recording the Health Secretary snogging his aide, Gina Coladangelo, was leaked.  The camera footage of the office incident was recorded on May 6.

Johnson was never going to sack his minister on grounds of incompetence.  The leader has set the precedent others must follow.  According to the vengeful Cummings, it took a hail of 89 texts from Johnson’s wife Carrie to lessen the support.  It was left to Hancock to fall upon his sword, which he took some time to do.

In his resignation letter, priorities are reversed.  “The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis.”  The actual reason comes afterwards.  “I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance, and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this.”  People who had “sacrificed so much in this pandemic” were owed a sense of honesty “when we have let them down as I have done by breaching this guidance.”  The Times tersely opined that such conduct suggested that “the government tolerates breaches of lockdown rules for themselves, while insisting the public adhere to higher standards.”

With the bigger picture of Hancock’s conduct miniaturised (the breach of social distancing rules, various questionable staff appointments – the list is long), Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary, could now focus on the important matters: finding out how CCTV footage found its way into the pages of that undyingly malicious paper of poor record, The Sun.  The culprit is said to be lurking in the corridors of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

British press outlets suggested that the leaker had made contact via Instagram to an unnamed anti-lockdown activist.  “I have some very damning CCTV footage of someone that has been classed as completely f***ing hopeless. If you would like some more information please contact me.”  The same paper supplied readers with all the details, leaving little to the imagination.  Included was a crude outlay of Hancock’s office, including the positioning of the Union Jack, painting of the Queen, bookshelf, coat rack and, it transpires, the “kiss door”.

On Sky News, Lewis made the government’s priorities clear.  “I have seen some of the reports this morning outlining how different journalists think the tape might have got out there.  That is certainly a matter I know the Department of Health will be looking into to understand exactly how that was recorded, how it got out of the system.  It’s something we need to get to the bottom of.”

In comments that can only induce smirks of derision, Lewis preferred to focus on the principle that what took place in “government departments can be sensitive, important and people need to have confidence that what is happening in a government department is something that allows the government to be focused on these core issues, and the sensitivity sometimes in the security sense of those issues.”

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was also busy directing attention to the things that counted – at least from a government perspective.  By leaking footage of Hancock’s intimate moment, the leaker may well have sailed close to breaching the Official Secrets Act.  Paying lip service to the “open society” and protections “for whistleblowers who find things out and release them in the public interest”, Hunt told the Andrew Marr Show what really bothered him.  “[W]e need to understand how this happened, and to make sure that ministers are secure in their offices, to be able to have conversations that they know aren’t going to be leaked to hostile powers.”

A fevered panic swept through Johnson’s cabinet, with ministers fearing they might be the next one to be Hancocked.  Justice Minister Robert Buckland revealed that sweeps were being organised to identify any filming or listening devices that had escaped detection.  “I think there is an important principle here about need for ministers and civil servants who often are handling very sensitive material and information to have a safe space within which to work.”

The calls for investigation did not stop at the issue of a breach of ministerial confidence.  The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wished to guide the debate back to the breach of those very regulations government ministers had insisted Britons follow. “What’s important now is for there to be proper investigations into which rules were broken in relation to use of private email, in relation to the appointment of senior staff and also in relation to the social distancing rules.”

Hancock had certainly built himself a fortress of impropriety during the course of the pandemic.  The Sunday Times, having seen minutes of various meetings, noted that the minister had been using a private email address from March 2020 to conduct departmental correspondence, making accountability for decisions regarding the novel coronavirus slippery at best.

The deflectors were also tapping away.  Those sympathising with Hancock within the government were aghast at the very existence of a camera in the office.  Had he been the victim of an orchestrated sting by enemies in Number 10?  Or did some meddlesome power such as China wish to cause ripples by installing a clinch catching “love bug”?

The smug Mail on Sunday poured water on suggestions of foul play. “In fact, pictures taken in September 2017, just before Hancock moved in, show that the camera which caught the clinch is clearly visible on the ceiling of his office.”  But the Tories were also searching for another alibi that would, if not exonerate Hancock then at least provide a distraction from his conduct.

To that end, suspicion started growing legs with commentary on the camera’s make.  While rented from a Singaporean firm, it stems from Chinese manufacturer Hikvision, a company under contract to supply surveillance equipment to the authorities in China’s Xinjiang region.  Despite being blacklisted by Washington in October 2019 for its role in conducting surveillance of Uighurs in the region’s network of “re-education camps”, US cities, counties and schools have made good use of them during the pandemic.  In Britain, city councils employ them in public spaces.

The China Research Group, run by Tory MPs keen to drum up fears about China, fastened on Hikvision’s role in the Hancock affair in a statement.  “There are questions over whether [Hikvision cameras] are currently used in Portcullis House (where MPs have their offices) and the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Lords and the House of Commons is located).”  The group feared “the potential for Chinese intelligence agencies to tap into camera feeds in sensitive locations”.

The nature and scope of the forthcoming inquiry is uncertain.  A full-blooded investigation, no holds barred, might well reveal a bit more than the Department of Health might want to reveal.  Investigators run the risk of lionising a potential whistleblower while uncovering a good deal of rot at the centre of the Johnson government.  And few civil servants, and certainly no government politician, would like to see that.

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Laying the Bear Trap: Orbán visits No 10 Downing Street

His comments would not have fallen on deaf ears.  While metropolitan London would have been aghast at his pedigree and remarks, a Brexit-audience in the rustbelts and areas of deprivation, would have felt a twang of appreciation.  For them, migration has not been a boon and glory.  For Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, it has been an opportunity to make valuable enemies and court new friends.

The meeting between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Orbán on May 28 did more than raise eyebrows and prompt head scratching.  The statement released by No 10 was anodyne enough, filling space and not much else.  “The leaders discussed the importance of the UK and Hungary working together bilaterally to increase security and prosperity in our countries and to address global challenges such as climate change.”

Johnson is also said to have “raised his significant concerns about human rights in Hungary, including gender equality, LGBT rights and media freedom.”  In terms of foreign policy, Johnson saw his Hungarian counterpart as a man of influence.  “The Prime Minister encouraged Hungary to use their influence to promote democracy and stability.”

The critics, notably those drenched in the juice of Britannic values, were bemused and baffled.  Labour MP Alex Sobel outlined Orbán’s resume ahead of the visit: “a renowned anti-Semite, fuelled violence against the Romany, clamps down on the LGBT and Muslim communities.”  He had also “suppressed democratic norms and press freedom”.  Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy took issue with the visit given Orbán’s record on attacking “press freedom and democracy”, refugees as “Muslim invaders” and was “a cheerleader for Putin and Lukashenko.”

Nandy then turned on that resource so commonly drawn upon when faced with discomforting leaders. Orbán, being one of Europe’s “most regressive leaders” was effectively undermining “the values the UK government says it wants to defend”.

The government of Boris Johnson may well spout the values argument, but Brexit has meant courting and entertaining widely.  The world is less its opportune oyster than a pressing necessity.  Friends need to be won over, agreements inked and secured.  As a No 10 spokesman put it, “As president of the Visegrád group of Central European nations later this year, cooperation with Hungary is vital to the UK’s prosperity and security.”  UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was even more explicit: the UK had to, at times, speak to the unsavoury and approach the unlikeable. “I think Viktor Orbán’s views on migrants are things I would not endorse in any way.”

Kwarteng distils the amoral British position with accuracy, though it also says much about what Timothy Garton Ash described as “the dilemma of self-inflicted weakness” that burdens post-Brexit Britain.  Arms contracts with Saudi Arabia while a theocracy maims and molests remain a matter of course.  The relationship with China privileges the business imperative, despite claims about holding a liberal international order together.  Deals are to be made, even with authoritarian regimes and those with a sketchy record on human rights.

Orbán, by comparison to some of the UK’s trading partners, is almost civil.  And more to the point, he never disappoints as one of the great critics of the EU, even as he remains in its tent.  The abundant admiration for Brexit, described as the opening of a “fantastic door, a fantastic opportunity”, has not gone unnoticed.

Then there is that niggling issue that Johnson and his party members might not be entirely at odds with the Hungarian PM.  While the official statement on the No 10 meeting mentions a concern for rights and liberties, Johnson could hardly have disagreed with some of his counterpart’s views, notably on Islam.  The recent Singh report into claims of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party found degrees of discrimination from the Prime Minister to grass roots organisations, though it rejected claims of “institutional racism” made by such prominent Tory members as Baroness Warsi.  The Prime Minister’s previous remarks, mocking those wearing burqas as “looking like letterboxes” were also picked up in the report.  “I am obviously sorry for any offence taken,” Johnson said in response, though he also added a rounding qualifier: “My writings are often parodic, satirical”.

Orbán’s views on immigration and Islam are far from satirical, though they do not resist unintentional parody and farce.  Reprising himself as a nationalist warrior fending off a modern Ottoman surge, the grave Hungarian leader wears the habitual costume of a defender of European civilisation.

And what of anti-Semitism? Specifically referring to his troubled relationship with George Soros, the billionaire was described as “a talented Hungarian businessman… he is very much in favour of migration, financing and helping the NGOs who are doing that.  We don’t like it but it has nothing to do with ethnic identity.”

The shambolic rollout of the EU vaccination program has also gifted much room to Orbán to mock opponents and stifle detractors.  Vacillation in Europe on how best to approach COVID-19 and poor planning has meant the courting of other countries for vaccines.  The EU is not working, he can say, and this is how we respond.  The result is a range of options for Hungarians, sourced from Russia and China.  As he has done so, Orbán has pursued an aggressive campaign against contrarians within his country.  The pro-government media mobbing of political scientist Peter Kreko, who cautioned against the speed the Orbán government was seeking the Sputnik V vaccine, was typically sinister.

In the indignant storm surrounding the visit, a White Hall source may have provided the most accurate summary that reflects the British PM’s approach to policy in general: “Number 10 has walked into a bear trap.”

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The Dominic Cummings Show

The former chief strategist for Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in a stroppy mood before the UK parliamentary Health and Science committee.  For seven hours, Cummings unleashed salvo after salvo against his former boss and the government coronavirus response.

Boiling down some points of the Cummings show: there was a failure on the part of the Johnson government to respond to the pandemic.  Johnson was unfit for office.  The Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked for any number of decisions.  Lockdown measures were imposed too late to prevent the surge of infections.  There was simply no overall master plan to cope with a pandemic.

The political strategist apologised for the various tiers of decision makers and advisers, including himself, for falling calamitously “short of the standards that the public has a right to expect”.  He apologised to those families who “unnecessarily” lost loved ones and confessed that “lots of key people were literally skiing” instead of moving to a “war footing” in January and February last year.

The portrait of Johnson is superbly unsympathetic.  The prime minister’s clownish credentials come blundering through.  The novel coronavirus was dismissed as “the new swine flu”, a mere “scare story”.   He even suggested receiving an injection of the virus live on television “so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of”.  Bodies piled up high was a preferable outcome to imposing a third lockdown in the autumn of 2020.  And as for information, the PM could not take himself away from the Daily Telegraph’s view of events.

The Cummings-Johnson relationship duly atrophied. “The heart of the problem was, fundamentally, I regarded him as unfit for the job.  And I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought would have been bad decisions, and push things through against his wishes.”

Some of the choicest blows are reserved for the Health Secretary, who “should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things”.  Hancock held back the testing regime and interfered in the development of a mass testing system, conduct Cummings found “criminal” and “disgraceful”.  Hancock was mendacious in meetings held in the cabinet room of Downing Street, assuring those in attendance that people “were going to be tested [for COVID-19] before they went back to care homes [from hospitals].”  He also used health experts such as the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Chris Witty as shields for government incompetence.

Cummings delighted the political science fraternity with his display in the Attlee suite in Portcullis House.  He was, Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield, asserted, “at his most magnificent and Machiavellian: a quite beautiful case study in the art of planting seeds and laying traps.”  The Spectator, a magazine once edited by Johnson, was blind to the retributive nature of the testimony.  “His decision to identify the many mistakes made at the start of the pandemic is not about seeking vengeance; it is a vital process to ensure that errors are identified and not repeated.”  How noble.

To a degree, the Cummings account is useful in pointing out administrative failings.  The pandemic blueprint was inadequate, developed to fight influenza rather than respiratory variants in the form of coronavirus.  Dissenting views were not countenanced.  “It was a classic historical example of groupthink in action,” assessed Cummings. “The more people from outside attacked, the more internally said, ‘They don’t understand, they haven’t got access to our information.’”

The response from Johnson to such accounts and depictions is crudely simple: remind voters that Britain’s vaccination effort has been stellar.  The UK is one of the leading countries in the mass vaccination programme.  Specifically regarding Cummings’s testimony, the “commentary”, claimed Johnson, did not “bear relation to reality”.

Hancock’s approach was much the same: stay focused on the vaccination drive.  Forget past crimes and misdemeanours.  He also denied that he lied about patients being sent from hospital to care homes without being tested first.  “My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it.”  The relevant factor was the timing of it; the capacity for testing had to be built up.

And there is the obvious point that Cummings, despite blaming Johnson and seeking his own restoration, remains chipped and damaged.  The display by the senior strategist in the rose garden of No 10 last year featuring an apologia for his infamous trip to County Durham in breach of lockdown laws was a hard one to efface.  He did concede that doing so had “undermined public confidence”.  But he was ready with an explanation.  Moving his family out of London took place after his wife received death threats from people gathered outside the home.  “The whole thing was a complete disaster and the truth is… if I just basically sent my family back out of London and said here’s the truth to the public, I think people would have understood the situation.”

When asked whether the additional trip by Cummings to Barnard Castle from the family home in County Durham was actually for reasons of testing his eyesight, the dark eminence returned to form.  “If you’re going to drive 300 miles to go back to work, popping down the road for 30 miles and back to see how you feel… it didn’t seem crazy.”  It was not, as committee chair Jeremy Hunt suggested, a birthday celebration for his wife.  “If I was going to make up a story I would come up with a better one than that.”

Patrick Diamond of Queen Mary, University of London, identifies the central paradox of British government that proved so detrimental to the pandemic response.  The British state might be highly centralised but “the centre of government lacks capacity.”  Policymaking by the core executive has also been undermined by the altering of relations between the ministerial group and the civil service. Then comes the “growth of territorial conflict with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”  The result of this: a failure of coordination of governments across the UK in responding to COVID-19.  What Cummings did was render such dysfunctions flesh and folly.

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Dominic Cummings is our Machiavelli: with Brexit, lies served him, now the truth does

Remember how Dominic Cummings played a blinder over Brexit, spinning a web of deceptions, funnelled through politicians and the media, to persuade the public that Britain needed to quit the European Union so urgently it should do so on any terms, even ones that would sabotage the country’s interests. Well, he just did a Brexit on Boris Johnson, though this time he didn’t need to use lies. The facts were quite enough.

It would be foolish, however, to imagine that in appearing before a House of Commons select committee yesterday Cummings was serving simply as a conduit for the truth about Johnson’s catastrophically inept government – a kind of inversion of the role the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has played serving as a conduit for Cummings and Johnson’s misinformation.

Cummings was once again proving he is the master of cynical power politics. He is the Machiavelli of our times. His self-serving honesty and self-criticism were perfectly calibrated to rehabilitate his image, win over doubters and stick the knife more deeply into Johnson.

It may be too uncharitable to exclude the possibility that Cummings is offering his revelations, in part, to benefit the British public. But his larger purpose is clearer. He is doing his best to damage and destroy the incompetently corrupt, like Johnson and Health Secretary Mike Hancock, so that they can be replaced by the more competently corrupt, like Michael Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Better frontman

Cummings is a brigade commander on the frontlines of a war within the establishment class. He wants a better frontman for his brand of US-inspired, super-predatory capitalism. And for that reason alone, the left should avoid getting so deeply immersed in these intrigues that we start cheerleading one side over the other.

Yes, Johnson made disastrous decisions over Covid that killed many thousands unnecessarily: the “herd immunity” plan, the abandonment of care homes, the delays in procuring PPE, the lax border policy, the extravagant contracts for cronies, and much more. We didn’t need Cummings to tell us that, though his insider account puts more flesh on the bones.

But there were plenty of other reasons why so many died, reasons that long predate Johnson becoming prime minister – not least the calamitous failure to maintain PPE supplies, the dismantlement of the institutions needed to prepare for and deal with a pandemic effectively, and the death by a thousand cuts to the NHS.

None of that would have been different had Sunak or Gove been in Johnson’s shoes, even assuming either would actually have been capable of devising and implementing better policies, from lockdowns to care homes. That is the greater scandal and it is not one Cummings – or Kuenssberg – will talk about.

Grudge match

What Cummings did do yesterday – inadvertently – was draw back a little the curtain designed to conceal the charade that is “representative democracy”. If we can avoid being overly invested in the drama of the Cummings-Johnson grudge match, we have a chance to understand that the whole system is rotten from top to bottom.

It is precisely this corrupted and corrupting system of power – run by, and in the interests of, a tiny political and media elite – that spent five years ensuring Jeremy Corbyn would never reach 10 Downing Street, and is now weighing whether Sir Keir Starmer is a credible “alternative” should the Tories’ fortunes sink.

Johnson has good reason to be obsessed with the media, making U-turns “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”. As with one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, Johnson understands that it is chiefly the Murdoch empire and the BBC that decide his fate.

In the Corbyn era, Johnson faced no threat at all – he knew the BBC and Murdoch press had his back. They would never have supported Corbyn against him, however unsuitable and incompetent Johnson proved to be as prime minister. That was the real problem with Corbyn. It was not his supposed character or political flaws; it was that Britain became even more of a one-party state so long he led the opposition – with the media, the political system, even the Labour party bureaucracy itself determined at all costs to keep in power the leader of the Conservative party, whoever it was.

Cummings’ sudden candour is a sign that the establishment is now in a position to replace Johnson, and willing to groom whoever from its short-list is best placed to win over the British public – be it, Sunak, Gove or Starmer.

BBC on the back foot

It is perhaps not surprising that Cummings sought to embarrass the BBC’s Kuenssberg by singling her out among his media contacts, pretending that he rarely dealt with other reporters. Kuenssberg is probably the single most powerful journalist shaping the public’s perception of this government. And she has done a sterling job of veiling and excusing Johnson’s incompetence at every turn. Without her, Johnson would have been a great deal more vulnerable much earlier.

What Cummings has subtly achieved is to force Kuenssberg on to the back foot. She is now prey to the charge – an entirely accurate one – that she has been riding shotgun for Johnson. She will need to distance herself more from him, to deal with No 10 “sources” more critically, in an attempt to prove Cummings wrong. And the new pressure on her to look less like what she is and what the BBC want her to be – a journalist hungry for access – will mean that, as a result, Johnson is more politically exposed, more vulnerable to challenge, than ever before.

For Cummings, it is a master-stroke.

One-party state

What Cummings revealed – again not entirely intentionally – was that we are ruled by narcissists and charlatans, the “donkeys”: precisely the kind of people who crave power for power’s sake and are least equipped to run government wisely and compassionately.

The policy failings, the lies, the chaos, the inflated personality clashes – the scenes of pandemonium Cummings set out – are inevitable when a country has long been run as a one-party state, even if that party comes in two flavours, red and blue, that sometimes take turns in government.

The pandemic exposed the weaknesses of Britain’s one-party system particularly starkly only because of the scale of the threat and the suddenness of its arrival. The cost of the establishment’s corruption and incompetence was measured this time in tens of thousands of lives – lives that can no more be hidden from view than the Covid “Wall of Hearts”.

But in normal times, donkeys like Johnson, Hancock, Sunak and Gove are ideally equipped to achieve the power elite’s goals, shunting capitalism’s costs out of view: on to the shoulders of the weak and vulnerable, those unheard on the margins of western society; to far-off lands, where the effects will be felt only by irrelevant black and brown people; and into the future, for our children to suffer the consequences.

Crackers by design

Even Cummings’ moments of apparent self-awareness were not quite what they seemed. He told MPs:

It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there [in a senior government position], just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there – and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.

But it isn’t crackers at all. It is by design. It is the way the system has evolved to keep a tiny wealth-elite in power. We have a narcissistic joker like Johnson in No 10 – just as Americans ended up with Donald Trump in the White House – because the public’s ability to think critically has been intentionally degraded over decades by a billionaire-owned press and a craven BBC that turned politics into the most cynical kind of entertainment.

When an opposition leader appeared, as if by accident, who actually wanted to use politics to transform the lives of ordinary people – rather than preserve the current predatory system of elite power – the corporate media lost no time turning him into a national security threat, a terrorist and an antisemite.

It is no accident that the one in power, Johnson, is the real clown. And it is no accident that the one out of power and in disgrace, Corbyn, was so easily made to look like a clown. The creation of an equivalence between them is more of the lies Cummings claims to be busting.

Cummings understands our weaknesses. We struggle to see how we are being manipulated. We listen credulously to flesh-and-blood journalists like Kuenssberg even as, in the abstract, we lose ever more trust in the media. We forget that by natural selection those drawn to the highest level of politics are invariably narcissists and master manipulators.

The result: we fall for their lies time and again. We listen to them uncritically, absorbing their cynicism and selfishness as truth, as honesty.

As Dominic Cummings knew we would.

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Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes

Here is something that can be said with great confidence. It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes. Jews are not responsible for Israel’s war crimes, even if the Israeli state presumes to implicate Jews in its crimes by falsely declaring it represents all Jews in the world.

Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.

But here is something that can be said with equal certainty. Israel’s apologists – whether Jews or non-Jews – cannot deny all responsibility for Israel’s war crimes when they actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or when they seek to demonise and silence Israel’s critics so that those war crimes can be pursued in a more favourable political climate.

Such apologists – which sadly seems to include many of the community organisations in Britain claiming to represent Jews – want to have their cake and eat it.

They cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticises them for doing so of being an antisemite.

But this is exactly what has been going on. And it is only getting worse.

Upsurge in antisemitism?

As a ceasefire was implemented yesterday, bringing a temporary let-up in the bombing of Gaza by Israel, pro-Israel Jewish groups in the UK were once again warning of an upsurge of antisemitism they related to a rapid growth in the number of protests against Israel.

These groups have the usual powerful allies echoing their claims. British prime minister Boris Johnson met community leaders in Downing Street on Thursday pledging, as Jewish News reported, “to continue to support the community in the face of rising antisemitism attacks”.

Those Jewish leaders included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a supporter of Johnson who played a part in helping him win the 2019 election by renewing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against the Labour party days before voting. It also included the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was founded specifically to whitewash Israel’s crimes during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza and has ever since been vilifying all Palestinian solidarity activism as antisemitism.

In attendance too was the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s main Jewish community groups. In an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on this supposed rise in antisemitism in the UK, the JLC’s vice-president, Daniel Korski, set out the ridiculous, self-serving narrative these community groups are trying to peddle, with seemingly ever greater success among the political and media elite.

Popular outrage over Gaza

Korski expressed grave concern about the proliferation of demonstrations in the UK designed to halt Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. During 11 days of attacks, more than 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children. Israel’s precision air strikes targeted more than a dozen hospitals, including the only Covid clinic in Gaza, dozens of schools, several media centres, and left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.

The sense of popular outrage at the Israeli onslaught was only heightened by the fact that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had clearly engineered a confrontation with Hamas at the outset to serve his immediate personal interests: preventing Israeli opposition parties from uniting to oust him from power.

In his naked personal calculations, Palestinian civilians were sacrificed to help Netanyahu hold on to power and improve his chances of evading jail as he stands trial on corruption charges.

But for Korski and the other community leaders attending the meeting with Johnson, the passionate demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians are their main evidence for a rise in antisemitism.

‘Free Palestine’ chants

These community organisations cite a few incidents that undoubtedly qualify as antisemitism – some serious, some less so. They include shouting “Free Palestine” at individuals because they are identifiable as Jews, something presumably happening mostly to the religious ultra-Orthodox.

But these Jewish leaders’ chief concern, they make clear, is the growing public support for Palestinians in the face of intensifying Israeli aggression.

Quoting David Rich, of the Community Security Trust, another Jewish organisation hosted by Johnson, the Haaretz newspaper reports that “what has really shaken the Jewish community … ‘is that demos are being held all over the country every day about this issue’ [Israel’s bombardment of Gaza].”

Revealingly, it seems that when Jewish community leaders watch TV screens showing demonstrators chant “Free Palestine”, they feel it as a personal attack – as though they themselves are being accosted in the street.

One doesn’t need to be a Freudian analyst to wonder whether this reveals something troubling about their inner emotional life: they identify so completely with Israel that even when someone calls for Palestinians to have equal rights with Israelis they perceive as a collective attack on Jews, as antisemitism.

Exception for Israel

Then Korski gets to the crux of the argument: “As Jews we are proud of our heritage and at the same time in no way responsible for the actions of a government thousands of miles away, no matter our feelings or connection to it.”

But the logic of that position is simply untenable. You cannot tie your identity intimately to a state that systematically commits war crimes, you cannot classify demonstrations against those war crimes as antisemitism, you cannot use your position as a “Jewish community leader” to make such allegations more credible, and you cannot exploit your influence with world leaders to try to silence protests against Israel and then say you are “in no way responsible” for the actions of that government.

If you use your position to prevent Israel from being subjected to scrutiny over allegations of war crimes, if you seek to manipulate the public discourse with claims of antisemitism to create a more favourable environment in which those war crimes can be committed, then some of the blame for those war crimes rubs off on you.

That is how responsibility works in every other sphere of life. What Israel’s apologists are demanding is an exception for Israel and for themselves.

Lobby with the UK’s ear

In another revealing observation seeking to justify claims of an upsurge in antisemitism, Korski adds: “We don’t see the same kind of outpouring of emotion when it comes to the Rohingya or the Uighurs or Syria, and it makes a lot of Jews feel this is about them [as Jews].”

But there are many reasons why there aren’t equally large demonstrations in the UK against the suffering of the Rohingya and the Uighurs – reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism.

The oppressors of the Rohingya and the Uighurs, unlike Israel, are not being generously armed by the British government or given diplomatic cover by Britain or being given preferential trade agreements by Britain.

But equally importantly, the states oppressing the Rohingya and Uighurs – unlike Israel – don’t have active, well-funded lobbies in the UK, with the ear of the prime minister. China and Myanmar – unlike Israel – don’t have UK lobbies successfully labelling criticism of them as racism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that openly seek to influence elections to protect them from criticism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that work with Britain to introduce measures to assist them in carrying out their oppression.

The president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, for example, pressed Johnson at the meeting this week to classify all branches of Hamas, not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation. That is Israel’s wet dream. Such a decision would make it even less likely that Britain would be in a position to officially distance itself from Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, where Hamas runs the government, and even more likely it would join Israel in declaring Gaza’s schools, hospitals and government departments all legitimate targets for Israeli air strikes.

Pure projection

If you are lobbying to get special favours for Israel, particularly favours to help it commit war crimes, you don’t also get to wash your hands of those war crimes. You are directly implicated in them.

David Hirsch, an academic at the University of London who has been closely connected to efforts to weaponise antisemitism against critics of Israel, especially in the Labour party under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, also tries to play this trick.

He tells Haaretz that antisemitism is supposedly “getting worse” because Palestinian solidarity activists have been giving up on a two-state solution. “There used to be a struggle in Palestine solidarity between a politics of peace – two states living side by side – and a politics of denouncing one side as essentially evil and hoping for its total defeat.”

But what Hirsch is doing is pure projection: he is suggesting Palestinian solidarity activists are “antisemites” – his idea of evil – because they have been forced by Israel to abandon their long-favoured cause of a two-state solution. That is only because successive Israeli governments have refused to negotiate any kind of peace deal with the most moderate Palestinian leadership imaginable under Mahmoud Abbas – one that has eagerly telegraphed its desire to collaborate with Israel, even calling “security coordination” with the Israeli army “sacred”.

A two-state solution is dead because Israel made it dead not because Palestinian solidarity activists are more extreme or more antisemitic.

In calling to “Free Palestine”, activists are not demanding Israel’s “total defeat” – unless Hirsch and Jewish community organisations themselves believe that Palestinians can never be free from Israeli oppression and occupation until Israel suffers such a “total defeat”. Hirsch’s claim tells us nothing about Palestinian solidarity activists, but it does tell us a lot about what is really motivating these Jewish community organisations.

It is these pro-Israel lobbyists, it seems, more than Palestinian solidarity activists, who cannot imagine Palestinians living in dignity under Israeli rule. Is that because they understand only too well what Israel and its political ideology of Zionism truly represent, and that what is required of Palestinians for “peace” is absolute and permanent submission?

Better informed

Similarly, Rich, of the Community Security Trust, says of Palestinian solidarity activists: “Even the moderates have become extremists.” What does this extremism – again presented by Jewish groups as antisemitism – consist of? “Now the movement [in solidarity with Palestinians] is dominated by the view that Israel is an apartheid, genocidal, settler-colonialist state.”

Or in other words, these pro-Israel Jewish groups claim there has been a surge in antisemitism because Palestinian solidarity activists are being influenced and educated by human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem. Both recently wrote reports classifying Israel as an apartheid state, in the occupied territories and inside Israel’s recognised borders. Activists are not becoming more extreme, they are becoming better informed.

And in making the case for a supposed surge in antisemitism, Rich offers another inadvertently revealing insight. He says Jewish children are suffering from online “abuse” – antisemitism – because they find it increasingly hard to participate on social media.

“Teenagers are much quicker to join social movements; we’ve just had Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo – now Jewish kids find all their friends are joining this [Palestinian solidarity] movement where they don’t feel welcome or they are singled out because they’re Jewish.”

Fancifully, Rich is arguing that Jewish children raised in Zionist families and communities that have taught them either explicitly or implicitly that Jews in Israel have superior rights to Palestinians are being discriminated against because their unexamined ideas of Jewish supremacy do not fit with a pro-Palestinian movement predicated on equality.

This is as preposterous as it would have been, during the Jim Crow era, for white supremacist Americans to have complained of racism because their children were being made to feel out of place in civil rights forums.

Such assertions would be laughable were they not so dangerous.

Demonised as antisemites

Zionist supporters of Israel are trying to turn logic and the world upside down. They are inverting reality. They are projecting their own racist, zero-sum assumptions about Israel on to Palestinian solidarity activists, those who support equal rights for Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East.

As they did with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, these Jewish groups are twisting the meaning of antisemitism, skewing it from a fear or hatred of Jews to any criticism of Israel that makes pro-Israel Jews feel uncomfortable.

As we watch these arguments being amplified uncritically by leading politicians and journalists, remember too that it was the only major politician to demurred from this nonsensical narrative, Jeremy Corbyn, who became the main target – and victim – of these antisemitism smears.

Now these pro-Israel Jewish groups want to treat us all like Corbyn, demonising us as antisemites unless we fall silent even as Israel once again brutalises Palestinians.

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