Category Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit

Theresa May’s prime ministership remains one of torment, drawn out, and weakened daily.  But does it really matter?  If it is true to claim that people deserve the government they elect, then there is something madly representative of the debacle of May’s leadership, one where problems are sought for any possible solutions.

Steering through the waters of Brexit has been a nigh impossible task rendered even more problematic by a stubborn myopia nursed by May.  She nurses dogmas incapable of learning new tricks.  Her latest Brexit plan, as it headed to inevitable defeat, would have rendered Britain bound to the EU in a manner more servile than any sovereign populist would have dreamed.  Benefits would have been shed; obligations would have persisted. While there is very little to recommend the views of the rabid Tory Eurosceptics, there is something in the idea that Britain would become a vassal state.

As it transpired, May lost by a colossal margin, an indication that few could stomach her vision: 432 to 202, the worst defeat by a British administration in over a century. “In all normal circumstances,” observed Robert Peston, that legendary pessimist of matters economic, “a Prime Minister would resign when suffering such a humiliation on their central policy – and a policy Theresa May herself said today would ‘set the future of this country for a generation’.”

Such is the nature of the climate: gross failure results in bare survival rather than inevitable annihilation.  Grand acts of quixotic behaviour are not richly punished but given reprieve before the next charge against windmills. So we are left with the idea of uncharted territory, suggesting, in the face of such chaos and uncertainty, a postponement of the departure date from the EU set for March 29.  The Article 50 period, in other words, would have to be extended, but this, again, implies a set of hypothetical variations and ponderings.

For all that, May survived yet another no-confidence motion by 325 to 306, with Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn incapable of pushing the entire debacle to an election. Not even the Tories wished that upon their own leader, whom they have come to despise in ways verging on the pathological. Corbyn might well have called the May prime ministership a “zombie” administration, but he had failed to supply the necessary weapons to finish it off, prompting colleagues in the Commons to suggest a change of approach.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, advanced the proposition that the Labour leader had to alter “his position and come behind the ‘People’s Vote’ or he will just be seen, and will be, a handmaiden of Brexit.”

Despite the failure, Corbyn had his own demands.  “The government must remove clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal exit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that.”  The language of cross-party lines on discussing Brexit remain distant matters.

As for the zombie representative-in-chief herself, the government would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”.  Same words, barely touched up – the May formulae remains incapable of changing form, incapable of elevation, but also seemingly incapable of perishing.

Wednesday’s vote of survival after the calamity of her defeated proposals suggested a change in heart from May.  (Did she have any other choice?)  She ventured talks with various opposition party leaders, though various news outlets in the UK insisted that Corbyn had been ungenerous in snubbing the prime minister. Labour’s leadership remains sceptical at any advances from Downing Street.  As The Guardian editorialised on May’s proposed talks, “It is a welcome shift in tone, but there is no indication from Mrs May’s record that she has the diplomatic skills required to make such a consultation fruitful.”  This notable lack manifested in an obsession with “red lines”, a mad faith in a Brexit plan long rendered cadaverous.

For the paper’s own worth, a new strategy of change focused on a customs union arrangement between Britain and the EU would “transform dialogue with Labour and pro-European Tories.”  Fine thing to suggest, but the darkness refuses to abate.  International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, for one, sees such a union as a way of ensuring that Britain will not have an independent trade policy.  The ship of apocalypse, whatever it might entail, remains on course.

Labour and anti-Semitism in 2018: The Truth Behind the Relentless Smear Campaign Against Corbyn

End-of-year polls are always popular as a way to gauge significant social and political trends over the past year and predict where things are heading in the next.

But a recent poll of European Jews – the largest such survey in the world – is being used to paint a deeply misleading picture of British society and an apparent problem of a new, left wing form of anti-semitism.

The survey was conducted by the European Union’s agency on fundamental rights and was given great prominence in the liberal-left British daily the Guardian.

The newspaper highlighted one area of life in which Britain scored worse with Jews than any of the other 12 member states surveyed. Some 84 per cent of Jews in the UK believe there is a major problem with anti-semitism in British politics.

As a result, nearly a third say they have considered emigrating – presumably most of them to Israel, where the Law of Return offers an open-door policy to all Jews in the world.

Britain scored only slightly better on indices other than politics. Some 75 per cent said they thought anti-semitism was generally a problem in the UK, up from 48 per cent in 2012. The average score in the 12 EU states with significant Jewish populations was 70 per cent.

‘Playing with fire’

Jeremy Corbyn, head of the UK’s opposition Labour party, has faced a barrage of criticism since he was elected leader more than three years ago for presiding over a supposedly endemic anti-semitism problem in his party.

The Guardian has been at the forefront of framing Corbyn as either indifferent to, or actively assisting in, the supposed rise of anti-semitism in Labour. Now the paper has a senior European politician echoing its claims.

Relating to the poll, Vera Jourova, the EU’s commissioner for justice, helpfully clarified what Britain’s terrible results in the political sphere signified.

The paper quoted her on Corbyn: “I always use the phrase ‘Let’s not play with fire’, let’s be aware of what happened in the past. And let’s not make the same mistake of tolerating it. It is not enough just to be silent … I hope he [Corbyn] will pay attention to this survey.”

Labour party problem?

However, both Jourova’s warnings and an apparent perception among British Jews of an anti-semitism problem fuelled by Corbyn fly in the face of real-world evidence.

Other surveys show that, when measured by objective criteria, the Labour party scores relatively well: the percentage of members holding anti-semitic views is substantially lower than in the ruling Conservative party and much the same as in Britain’s third party, the Liberal Democrats.

For example, twice as many Conservatives as Labour party members believe typically anti-semitic stereotypes, such as that Jews chase money or that Jews are less loyal to Britain.

Prejudices in decline

Even more significantly, the percentage of Labour party members who hold such prejudices has fallen dramatically across the board since Corbyn became leader.

That suggests that the new members who joined after Corbyn became leader – a massive influx has made his party the largest in Europe – are less likely to be anti-semitic than those who joined under previous Labour leaders.

In other words, the evidence suggests very persuasively that Corbyn has been a force for eradicating, or at least diluting, existing and rather marginal anti-semitic views in the Labour party. More so even than the previous leader, Ed Miliband, who was himself Jewish.

But all of this, yet again, went unremarked by the Guardian and other British media, which have been loudly declaiming a specific “anti-semitism problem” in Labour for three years without a shred of concrete evidence for it.

Resurgent white nationalism

There are good grounds for Jews to feel threatened in much of Europe at the moment, with the return of ugly ethnic nationalisms that many assumed had been purged after the Second World War.

And Brexit – Britain’s planned exit from the European Union – does indeed appear to have unleashed or renewed nativist sentiment among a section of the UK population. But such prejudices dominate on the right, not the left. Certainly Corbyn, a lifelong and very prominent anti-racism activist, has not been stoking nativist attitudes.

The unexplored assumption by the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media, as well as by Jourova, is that the rise in British Jews’ concerns about anti-semitism in politics refers exclusively to Corbyn rather than a very different problem: of a resurgent white nationalism on the right.

But let’s assume that they are correct that the poll solely registers Jewish worries about Corbyn.

A separate finding in the EU survey underscored how Jewish opinion on anti-semitism and Corbyn may be far less straightforward than Jourova’s presentation suggests – and how precisely the wrong conclusions are likely to be drawn from the results.

Buried in the Guardian report was a starkly anomalous finding – from Hungary.

Anti-Jewish sentiment

Hungary is a country in which Jews and other minorities undoubtedly face a very pressing threat to their safety. Its ultra-nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, used the general election in April to whip up a frenzy of anti-Jewish sentiment.

He placed the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros at the centre of his anti-immigration campaign, suggesting that the philanthropist was secretly pulling the strings of the opposition party to flood the country with “foreigners”.

In the run-up to the election, his government erected giant posters and billboards all over the country showing a chuckling George Soros next to the words: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.”

Raiding the larder of virtually every historic anti-semitic trope, Orban declared in an election speech:

We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the world.

All of this should be seen in the context of Orban’s recent praise for Miklos Horthy, a former Hungarian leader who was an ally of Hitler’s. Orban has called him an “exceptional statesman”.

The Hungary anomaly

So did Hungarian Jews express to EU pollsters heightened fears for their community’s safety? Strangely, they did not. In fact, the percentage who regarded anti-semitism as a problem in Hungary was only slightly above the EU average and far below the concerns expressed by French Jews.

Not only that, but the proportion of Hungarian Jews fearful of anti-semitism has actually dropped over the past six years. Some 77 percent see anti-semitism as a problem today, compared to 89 percent in 2012, when the poll was last conducted.

So, the survey’s results are more than a little confounding.

On the one hand, at least according to the British media and the EU, British Jews are in a heightened state of fear about the UK Labour party, where the evidence suggests an already marginal problem of anti-semitism is actually in decline. And on the other, Hungarian Jews’ fears of anti-semitism are waning, even though the evidence suggests anti-semitism there is on the rise and government-sanctioned.

Array of opponents

There is, however, a way to explain this paradox – and it has nothing to do with anti-semitism.

Corbyn’s socialist-lite agenda faces a devastating array of opponents that include British business; the entire spectrum of the UK corporate media, including its supposedly liberal components; and, significantly in this case, the ultra-nationalist government of Israel, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The British establishment fears Corbyn poses a challenge to the further entrenchment of neoliberal orthodoxy they benefit from.

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians loathe Corbyn because he has made support for the Palestinian people a key part of his platform, becoming the first European leader to prioritise a Palestinian right to justice over Israel’s right to maintain its 51-year belligerent occupation.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban, by contrast, is beloved of big business, as well as the country’s mainstream media, and, again significantly, the Israeli government.

Orban: Israel’s ‘true friend’

Rather than distancing himself from Orban and his Jew-baiting electioneering in Hungary, Netanyahu has actually sanctioned it. He has called Orban a “true friend of Israel”, thanked him for “defending Israel”, and joined the Hungarian leader in denouncing Soros.

Netanyahu, like Orban, intensely dislikes Soros’s liberalism and his support for open borders. Netanyahu shares Orban’s fears that a flood of refugees will disrupt his efforts to make his state as ethnically pure as possible.

Earlier this year, for example, Netanyahu claimed that Soros had funded human rights organisations to help African asylum seekers in Israel avoid a government programme to expel them.

Netanyahu has many practical and ideological reasons to support not only Orban but the new breed of ultra-nationalist leaders emerging in states like Poland, Italy, France and elsewhere.

Hostility to Muslims

Nativism in European states is primarily directed against Muslim and Arab immigrants arriving from the Middle East and north Africa, though domestic Jews could well become collateral damage in any future purge of “foreigners”.

Europe’s ultra-nationalist leaders are therefore more likely to sympathise with Israel and its own “Arab-Muslim problem”, especially since Netanyahu and the Israeli right have proved adept at falsely presenting the Palestinians as immigrants rather than the region’s native population.

Netanyahu would also like to see Europe paralysed by political differences, so it is incapable of lobbying for a two-state solution, as it has been doing ineffectively for many years; it is unable to agree on funding human rights activism designed to protect Palestinian rights; and it is too weak to move towards the adoption of sanctions against Israel.

But most importantly, Netanyahu and the Israeli right can identify with the anti-semitic view of “the Jew” shared by Europe’s hardline nationalists.

Ethnic purity and the Other

These far-right groups see Jews as outsiders, a discrete community that cannot be assimilated or exist peacefully among them, and one that has separate loyalties and should either be encouraged to leave or be sent elsewhere.

Netanyahu agrees. He also believes Jews are different, that they are a distinct and separate people, that their primary loyalties are tribal, to their own kind, and not to other states, and that they can only ever really be at home and properly Jewish in Israel, their true home.

Zsofia Kata Vincze, a professor of ethnology in Budapest, recently referred to the ideological affinity between Netanyahu’s Zionism and Orban’s Hungarian-Christian nativism:

They found a common language very easily. They kept talking about mutual values, which are nationalism, exclusivism … Hungarian purity, Jewish purity … against the Others.

Only ‘partial’ Jews

In fact, Netanyahu’s views are widely shared in Israel. A few years ago the celebrated liberal Israeli author A B Yehoshua outraged American Jews by saying they could only ever be what he called “partial Jews” outside Israel.

Speaking of the divide between them and Israeli Jews, he said: “In no way are we the same thing – we are total and they are partial.” He called the refusal of all Jews to live in Israel and become “complete Jews … a very deep failure of the Jewish people”.

The high levels of racism among Israelis towards non-Jews is highlighted in every poll.

According to one this month, more than half of Israeli Jews – or those willing to admit it – believed that “most Jews are better than most non-Jews because they were born Jews”. Only a fifth rejected the statement outright.

Some 74 per cent were disturbed by hearing Arabic, the mother tongue of the fifth of the country’s population who are Palestinian citizens. And a further 88 per cent did not want their son to befriend an Arab girl.

Anti-immigrant views

A separate poll this month found that, apart from Greeks, Israelis hold the most anti-immigrant views of 27 countries surveyed – more so even than Hungarians.

By immigrants, of course, Israelis mean non-Jews. They do not regard the millions of Jews who have arrived in Israel from Europe and the Americas over the past decades as immigrants. Instead they are viewed as olim, or those who “ascend” to Israel, supposedly returning to their biblically ordained home.

It is this ideological affinity – between a European ultra-nationalism and the kind of Zionist ultra-nationalism dominant in Israel – that explains why the far-right in Europe venerates Israel while despising Jews, and why so many Israelis prefer an Orban to a Soros.

And it also, of course, explains why Netanyahu and most Israelis detest Corbyn.

Legacy of Europe’s racism

Not only does Corbyn offer an inclusive domestic political agenda, unlike the Orbans of Europe, but worse he also refuses to shy away from confronting the legacy of European racism and colonialism.

The chief historic victims of that racism in Europe were Jews. But today that same European racism is channeled both into fervent support for Israel as a supposedly “safe haven” for Jews and into a general indifference – aside from handwringing – towards the Palestinians who for decades have been displaced and oppressed by Israel.

Corbyn represents a huge break with that tradition and is therefore a threat to Israel. That is why behind the scenes Israel has been seeking to redefine anti-semitism in a way that tars anti-racists like Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour party.

The ‘ultimate’ anti-semitism

I have documented before in Middle East Eye Israel’s role in stoking the supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in Labour and in cornering the party into adopting a new, convoluted definition of anti-semitism that for the first time makes criticism of Israel the benchmark of anti-semitic discourse.

Last month Netanyahu made that conflation explicit in a video message to a conference in Vienna. While praising Orban, he averred: “Anti-semitism and anti-Zionism, anti-Israeli polices – the idea that the Jewish people don’t have the right for a state – that’s the ultimate anti-semitism of today.”

But it is not just Netanyahu who is stoking the patently preposterous notion that anti-racists like Corbyn – those whose principles require that they reject Jewish privilege over Palestinians – are really secret Jew-haters.

If that were the case, the criticisms of Corbyn might not have as much traction with British Jews as this month’s EU poll suggests.

Media distortions

The UK media have played a vital role in promoting a false image of Corbyn, as a survey by the Media Reform Coalition found in September when it analysed British coverage of the Labour party.

The coalition, which is led by academics, concluded that there had been systematic “disinformation” from media outlets. Inaccurate and misleading reporting by the supposedly liberal Guardian was especially pronounced.

“Two thirds of the news segments on television contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion,” its researchers also discovered.

These failures included “marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered.”

Covert propaganda

The group is reluctant to infer that these consistent media failures indicate an intention to smear Corbyn.

But revelations this month provide reason to believe that powerful interests in the UK are prepared to use dirty tricks to keep the Labour leader out of power.

According to hacked documents, a network of politicians, academics, journalists and military personnel in Britain and elsewhere have been engaged in covert propaganda to shore up pro-western narratives and smear dissidents through an organisation called ‘Integrity Initiative.’

In the UK, these operations have been overseen by an even more shadowy group called the Institute for Statecraft, with a fake address in Scotland. In fact, it is headquartered in London and staffed by former and possibly current military intelligence officers.

The UK government has been forced to admit that the institute has received substantial payments from the foreign office and defence ministry, and from the British army.

Much of what the Integrity Initiative is up to is unclear, but from public records – such as its Twitter history – it can be seen that it has repeatedly sought to damage Corbyn and his key advisers by implicating them in supposed Russian “disinformation” campaigns.

‘Fair or foul means’

It is worth recalling that shortly after Corbyn was elected Labour leader in summer 2015 an unnamed British army general was given a platform in the Establishment’s newspaper, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times, to denounce Corbyn. He warned that the army would use “whatever means possible, fair or foul” to prevent the Labour leader from becoming prime minister and being able to carry out his policies.

Certainly, the fingerprints of the British establishment now look all too visible on some of the recent efforts to malign Corbyn in the media.

Maybe not surprisingly, despite the huge implications of the story for British politics, it has been given only the barest reporting in that same media. At the time of writing, the Guardian had referred to the Integrity Initiative only in the most pro forma fashion – in the context of government denials of wrongdoing.

Is it credible that those covertly trying to paint Corbyn as a “Kremlin stooge” are not also seeking to exploit Israeli covert efforts to vilify the Labour leader as someone who encourages anti-semitism in his own party?

The real remedy

There is a serious, if rarely explored ideological tension between Israeli-style Zionism and a progressive or liberal outlook, just as there is between Orbanism and liberalism.

In a political climate where European nativists are on the rise, the stark choice facing Europe’s Jews is to double-down on their traditional left-liberal worldview or abandon it entirely and throw their hat in with Israel’s own nativists. Corbyn represents the first choice, Netanyahu’s hardline Zionism the second.

Bombarded by disinformation campaigns, it looks like many British Jews are being misled into seeing Corbyn as a threat – of a confected “left wing anti-semitism” – rather than as the best hope of inoculating Britain against the resurgence of a very real menace of right wing anti-semitism.

Jewish emigration to Israel will make matters far worse. It will pander to the prejudices of Europe’s white nationalists, weaken the European left, and bolster an equally ugly Jewish nationalism that requires the oppression of Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Year of Putin-Nazi Paranoia

As my regular readers will probably recall, according to my personal, pseudo-Chinese zodiac, 2017 was “The Year of the Headless Liberal Chicken.” This year, having given it considerable thought, and having consulted the I Ching, and assorted other oracles, I’m designating 2018 “The Year of Putin-Nazi Paranoia.”

Not that 2017 wasn’t already paranoid. It was. It was completely paranoid, and otherwise clinically batshit crazy. But 2018 has been batshit crazier. It started out with the Internet companies that control the flow of information that most of us now perceive as “reality” launching an all-out War on Dissent, purportedly to protect the public from “divisive” and “confusing” content, and other forms of Russian “influencing.”

Twitter started sending out scary emails warning customers that there was “reason to believe” that they had “followed,” “retweeted,” or “liked the content of” accounts “connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization.” Facebook launched its own Ministry of Truth, manned by “a dedicated counter-terrorism team” of “former intelligence and law-enforcement officials” (also known as The Atlantic Council, NATO’s unofficial propaganda wing). Google stepped up its covert deranking of insufficiently Russia-hating and other “non-authoritative” websites.

This Orwellian corporate censorship campaign was enthusiastically welcomed by liberals and other Russia-and-Trump-obsessives, who by this time were already completely convinced that secret Russian Facebook agents were conspiring to transform the Western masses into zombified, Russia-loving neo-Nazis by means of some sort of irresistible Putin-Nazi hypno-technology that would melt their brains to oatmeal the second they clicked on one of those dancing cat GIFs.

But the paranoia was just getting started. By the Spring, professional Putin-Naziologists were issuing warnings explaining that anyone using words like “globalist,” “globalism,” or “global capitalism” was an anti-Semite. There was no such thing as “globalism,” they told us. “Globalist” was just Nazi codespeak for “JEW!” Moreover, anyone criticizing “the media,” or mentioning “banks,” “Wall Street,” or “Hollywood,” or, God help you, making fun of “George Soros,” was clearly a Russia-loving, Sieg-heiling Nazi.

Meanwhile, in London, Blairites were busy combing through six year-old Facebook posts in an effort to prove that Jeremy Corbyn had transformed the British Labour Party into his personal Putin-Nazi death cult. The Guardian published over one hundred articles smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semite and “linking” Labour to anti-Semitism. The BBC jacked up the Russia paranoia, doctoring Corbyn’s hat on TV to make it appear more insidiously Slavic. Owen Jones sprang to Corbyn’s defense, explaining that, yes, the Labour Party was a disgusting hive of anti-Semites, but they were doing their utmost to root out the Nazis, ban all criticism of the IDF, and reverse the mass exodus of Jews from London.

All this was happening in the wake of the notorious Novichok Porridge and Perfume Attacks, allegedly perpetrated by two totally incompetent, pot-smoking, prostitute-banging “assassins” that Putin personally dispatched to Salisbury to miserably fail to take out their target and then waltz around getting photographed by every CCTV camera in Great Britain. According to the corporate media, Putin tried to cover the crimes of these Jason Bourne-like GRU assassins by ordering his network of Putin-Nazi Twitter bots to flood the Internet with disinformation. Sky News captured and mercilessly interrogated one of these alleged “Twitter bots,” who it turned out was just a feisty British pensioner by the name of Ian, or at least that’s what Putin wants us to believe!

Back in America, millions of liberals and other Russia-and-Trump-obsessives were awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse, which despite the predictions of Resistance pundits had still, by the Summer, failed to materialize. The corporate media were speculating that Putin’s latest “secret scheme” was for Trump to destroy the Atlantic alliance by arriving late for the G7 meeting. Or maybe Putin’s secret scheme was to order Trump to sadistically lock up a bunch of migrants in metal cages, exactly as Obama had done before him … but these were special Nazi cages! And Trump was separating mothers and children, which, as General Michael Hayden reminded us, was more or less exactly the same as Auschwitz! Paul Krugman had apparently lost it, and was running around the offices of The New York Times shrieking that “America as we know it is finished!” Soros had been smuggled back into Europe to single-handedly thwart the Putin-Nazi plot to “dominate the West,” which he planned to do by canceling the Brexit (which Putin had obviously orchestrated) and overthrowing the elected government of Italy (which, according to Soros, was a Putin-Nazi front).

As if that wasn’t paranoia-inducing enough, suddenly, Trump flew off to Helisnki to personally meet with the Devil Himself. The neoliberal establishment went totally apeshit. A columnist for The New York Times predicted that Trump, Putin, Le Pen, the AfD, and other such Nazis were secretly forming something called “the Alliance of Authoritarian and Reactionary States,” and intended to disband the European Union, and NATO, and impose international martial law and start ethnically cleansing the West of migrants. That, or Trump and Putin were simply using the summit as cover to attend some Nazi-equestrian homosexual orgy, which The Times took pains to illustrate by creating a little animated film depicting Trump and Putin as lovers. In any event, Jonathan Chait was certain that Trump had been a “Russian intelligence asset” since at least as early as 1987, and was going to Helsinki to “meet his handler.”

In the wake of the summit, the neoliberal Resistance, like some multi-headed mythical creature in the throes of acute amphetamine psychosis, started spastically jabbering about “treason” and “traitors,” and more or less demanding that Trump be tried, and taken out and shot on the White House lawn. A frenzy of neo-McCarthyism followed. Liberals started accusing people of being “traitorous agents of Trump and Moscow,” and openly calling for a CIA coup, because we were “facing a national security emergency!” A devastating Russian cyber-attack was due to begin at any moment. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats personally assured the Associated Press that the little “Imminent Russia Attack” lights he had on his desk were “blinking red.”

Into this maelstrom of monomania boldly slunk the Charlottesville Nazis, who had resolved to reenact their infamous national white supremacist tikki torch conclave right across the street from the White House this year. The Resistance and Antifa had been promoting this event as the long anticipated Putin-Nazi uprising, and Kristallnacht II, and other such nonsense, so it was a bit of a letdown when only twenty or thirty rather timid Nazis turned up. It felt like maybe the Great Nazi Panic of 2018 was finally over.

But no, of course, it wasn’t over. The Nazis had just gone underground. Weeks later, right there on national television, a Jewish-Mexican-American Nazi was spotted transmitting secret Nazi hand signals to her Nazi co-conspirators. One of them, a U.S. Coast Guard member, then relayed the secret Nazi signal to … well, it wasn’t entirely clear, perhaps the Underground Putin-Nazi Navy, which was steaming toward the Florida coast hidden in the eye of Hurricane Florence.

By the Autumn, with the midterm elections fast approaching, the Putin-Nazi terrorists finally struck. It soon became clear that those secret hand signs were just parts of a much larger Trumpian conspiracy to “embolden” a couple of totally psychotic wackos to unleash their hatred on the public. Wacko Number One accomplished this by mailing a series of non-exploding explosive devices to various prominent members of the neoliberal Resistance. Wacko Number Two stormed into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered a lot of people. While the corporate media were unable to prove that Trump, Putin, or possibly Jeremy Corbyn, had personally “emboldened” these wackos, clearly, they had been “emboldened” by somebody, and thus were definitely domestic Putin-Nazi “terrorists,” and not just mentally disturbed individuals … like all the other mentally-disturbed individuals who go around murdering people all the time.

In November, at last, the tide began to turn. Despite the relentlesschaos campaign to undermine faith in American democracy” that the Russian bots and Nazis were waging, the Democrats managed to win back the House and rescue America from “the brink of fascism.” Apparently, the War on Dissent was working, because the millions of Black people that the Russians had brainwashed into not voting for Clinton in 2016 with those Jesus-doesn’t-like-masturbation memes had all miraculously been deprogrammed.

Liberals celebrated by singing hymns to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and compiling lists of people to subpoena to testify before congressional committees in what will someday be known as “the Hitlergate Hearings.” The New York Times even published a “roadmap” that Mueller and his team can follow to “send incriminating evidence directly to Congress,” thus protecting this “evidence” from the Justice Department, which is totally infested with Russians and Nazis!

But it’s not quite time for liberals to break out the vuvuzelas and Trump effigies yet … or to let up on the paranoia. The Putin-Nazi menace is still out there! The Internet is still literally crawling with all sorts of deviant, division sowing content! And now the Russian bots have brainwashed the French into staging these unruly Yellow Vest protests, and the Putin-Nazis have “weaponized” humor, and the economy, and religion, and Brexit, and Wikileaks, and pretty much everything else you can imagine. So this is no time to switch off the television, and log off the Internet, and start thinking critically … or to forget for one moment that THE NAZIS ARE COMING, and that A DEVASTATING RUSSIAN ATTACK IS IMMINENT!

So here’s wishing my Russia-and-Trump-obsessed readers a merry, teeth-clenching, anus-puckering Christmas and a somewhat mentally-healthier New Year! Me, I’m looking forward to discovering how batshit crazy things can get … I have a feeling we ain’t seen nothing yet.

National Interest or Personal Interest: Theresa May’s Spat with Tony Blair

The war of words between Tony Blair and Theresa May over the last few days is quite revealing – not of Blair’s known position regarding the Brexit mess, but because the Prime Minister’s rant showed her weakness.  Her position is unsustainable and the last thing she wanted was unwelcome comments from an ex-Prime Minister.

She had, after all, just come back from Brussels yet again, carrying no hope from the EU negotiators, but then she had offered no new ideas to put on the table.  The agreed withdrawal text was ‘the best deal’ she could get, and Parliament had been refused the chance to vote against it – a vote she had promised then taken away.

The spat started with Tony Blair speaking on BBC’s Today programme* prior to a speech he was due to make later that day.  His predecessor John Major, had already publicly given his support for 2 options: another referendum (the Peoples Vote) and revoking the Article 50 withdrawal.  Blair had also backed the People’s Vote.

There is currently no majority in Parliament for May’s deal or any other, including crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. Blair said there could be majority support among MPs for a new EU poll if Parliament ended up “gridlocked”, and certainly more MPs are saying so.  He added that “he admired Mrs May’s determination but suggested that, with so many MPs opposed to the backstop and other parts of the deal, this was becoming a weakness and she must realise she was “in a hole… and there is literally no point in carrying on digging”.

All very reasonable but this did not please Theresa May.  She issued an explosive statement, demonstrating just how touchy and vulnerable she’s feeling.  She said the ex-PM’s backing for a second referendum was deliberately sabotaging her bid to make EU leaders compromise on the Irish backstop.  To quote:

There are too many people who want to subvert the process for their own political interests rather than act in the national interest.  For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served.  We cannot, as he would, abdicate responsibility for this decision.

There are three points to note here. First, ‘her bid to make EU leaders compromise…’  After all this time and months of negotiation, her government has not abandoned its arrogant and self-important attitude towards the EU, something many of us find embarrassing.  How many more times does the EU have to say ‘no more negotiations’ before they will be believed?

Secondly, her government’s ‘responsibility for this decision’.  The decision is no decision.  Brexit MPs and supporters have never produced a genuine plan for Brexit.  It has been about nothing but leave the EU and its regulations.  What happens then is not their problem.  On May’s side there has been a complete failure to enable Parliament to come up with any ‘decision’.  That is her problem, and indeed her responsibility.

Thirdly, according to the Independent, ‘Mr Blair is understood not to have visited Brussels for several months, and it is unclear what prompted the timing of Ms May’s attack.’  Blair, of course, defended his position, being somewhat better at that than May (he’s had a lot of practice), saying that if Parliament cannot come to a clear decision, it is logical to go back to the people.

May suggests that Blair’s latest comments are in his own interests.  It is true that Blair has relentlessly popped up to pontificate about the current state of affairs, and that most of those occasions could be seen as self-advertisement and very much in his personal interest.  (On the other hand, the Prime Minister may not be doing all this in her personal interest, but it’s certainly focused on the interests of the Conservative Party and its survival.)

Blair ignored the people and the national interest when he joined President Bush’s military games.  I and millions of others will find it difficult to ever forgive him for the damage done to Afghanistan and Iraq and their citizens** (and, Mr Blair, please don’t forget that somewhere in the dusty back rooms of the International Criminal Court is a case still to be heard against you for war crimes).

Word has it that whenever he criticises Jeremy Corbyn or suggests a more ‘centrist’ party, Labour membership increases. Sadly, that is now probably balanced by the number of members leaving because of Labour’s very weak position on Brexit.  People joined Labour because of the social reforms promised in the Labour manifesto.  They saw an end to the disastrous Tory ‘austerity’ ideology.  How on earth Labour thinks it can deal with Brexit and deliver on its pledges is beyond me – and anyone else.  Nor would the EU be willing to start negotiations all over again, regardless of Corbyn’s internationalism and negotiating skills.

So, where Brexit and the national interest are concerned, I have to admit Blair is right, and I never thought I would say that.  But then, over the last two years I have had to revise my opinion about several, mostly right wing, MPs who are doing their best to protect the UK from Brexit and the chaos that May’s predecessor David Cameron and her government have caused.

Blair and his predecessor John Major (who sensibly kept out of politics until Brexit reared its head) were largely responsible for the Good Friday Agreement, which not only brought an end to most of the violence in Northern Ireland; it resulted in the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  For trade, traffic and people that border has become almost invisible.  It is in the national interests of both the UK and the RoI to keep it that way, regardless of what Brexiters and Northern Ireland’s DUP MPs claim.  The border issue is the very large and unavoidable hole in the Brexit road.

For Blair and Major, their legacy will include the Good Friday Agreement.  For the politicians of that time, it is something to be proud of, something worth protecting.  And if the negotiators could achieve that, then surely peace could be made between Leavers and Remainers without trashing the UK in the process.

Theresa May’s legacy, on the other hand, will be ‘the hostile environment’, a policy that shames this nation and its people.  And the last two years under her leadership, with her ministers’ inability to negotiate in any real sense with the EU, is also deeply shaming.  Even worse, they have blamed the EU for their failures, accusing them of bullying (Brexit Minister No. 1, David Davis, and blackmailing and bullying (Brexit Minister No. 2, Dominic Raab) while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt likened the EU to the Soviet Union. This is no way to negotiate your way out of one of the biggest threats to this country’s stability.

Shame, embarrassment, humiliation and unwise rants against a former Prime Minister – what more could Theresa May add to her ‘legacy’ and its place in our history?

* You can hear the whole interview here, starting at 2:19:52

** An estimate of 2.4 million Iraqi deaths from the invasion and the following years of violence and unrest.

In Contempt of Parliament: The Legal Advice of Brexit

It is attrition, suffocation and contortion.  While Theresa May’s Brexit program, weak, compromising and cobbled as it is, endures that bit longer, her opponents from within and without government have been essentially undercutting her on various fronts.

Foppish and solutions-free Boris Johnson does so from the perspective that the May program as it has been agreed to with the EU so far is a case of Britannia surrendering to the wickedness of the Continent.  He prefers, according to Sir Roger Gale, “the grievance to the solution”.

In the Commons, Johnson persisted with his motif of imprisonment and punishment for the sceptred isle: that the bureaucrats across the channel were cooking up a terrible fate for Britain were the backstop not to be removed from any arrangement. “They will keep us in permanent captivity as a momento mori, as a reminder to the world of what happens to all those who try to leave the EU.” Britain would be hostage to Spanish claims on Gibraltar, the French purloining of its fish and bankers, and German pressing for concessions on the free movement of EU nationals.

Opposition parties assail the prime minister from the perspective that the entire campaign for Brexit, and government behaviour since, has been a tissue of irresponsibility and lying.  They are often not sure which, but they are chancing it.  Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is, however, playing a double game. Being himself sympathetic with the Leavers, he can only, as of this time, trash the Chequers proposals with indignant scrutiny.  Before his fellow parliamentarians, Corbyn insisted that May’s plan would cause a severe case of economic shrinkage: some 4 percent, precipitating the loss of £100 billion over the course of fifteen years.

What exercised the House of Commons on this occasion most, however, was a historical incident of singular rarity.  Members from Labour and the DUP were permitted by Speaker John Bercow to submit an emergency motion to find the government in contempt.  The motion carried.

The May government had not done itself any favours in that regard, equipping opponents with the bombs to duly situate under their chairs.  As if channelling her former self as home minister, the secretive May refused to release the full legal advice behind the Brexit deal that may yet be doomed.  A circulating rumour (for much, in these shadows, remains rumour), is the fear that the backstop might keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union indefinitely.

The government defence proved to be stock standard and would, in most instances, have worked: to release such a report would expose vulnerabilities in negotiating positions ahead of further talks with the EU, thereby rewarding the very individuals deemed enemies by many in parliament.  Besides, argued transport secretary Chris Grayling, himself a former lord chancellor, it remained “a central part of the principles of our legal system that the advice provided from a lawyer to their client is treated as confidential.”

Such is the dire, panicked state of British politics at the moment than even old principles of legal propriety, including that of professional privilege, should be seen to be broken in the higher national interest.  Parliament, as the people’s arbiter, must be informed, and not releasing the attorney general’s legal advice failed to comply, according to the parties behind the contempt motion, with the Commons resolution of November 13.  That resolution stemmed from the principle that legal advice on the Brexit deal would be published in its entirety.

Attempts to placate opponents were duly made. The first was the release by the government of an overview on Monday covering the gist of the attorney general’s legal advice.  Then came the appearance of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox in the Chamber. He expressed a willingness to answer questions put to him, but this proved a minor sedative to the proceedings.  A three-line whip, deployed by Conservative MPs in an effort to shield the government, also failed.

Cox’s responses conceded various government weaknesses in their negotiations with the EU.  He would have preferred, for instance, “a unilateral right of termination” over the Northern Ireland backstop.  Additionally, he would have also liked to see “a clause that would have allowed us to exit if negotiations had irretrievably broken down.”  But such frankness was to no avail, and Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, was compelled to accede to the wishes of the opponents, with the full advice set to be published on Wednesday.

Contempt matters are ancient things, the sort referred to a privileges committee.  But the focus here will be less seeking sanction against any relevant minister, including Cox, than the vote on December 11 in a house that is already faltering.  The government, surmised shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, “has lost its majority and the respect of the house”.  At this point, the deal in this form will be scuppered, leaving a drawing board bereft of options.  Those filling the void will do so with a formula so repetitive it has become traditional: extol the scenario of total collapse, or embrace the fiction a world outside Europe that can act as appropriate replacement for British trade and power.

Guardian ups its Vilification of Julian Assange

It is welcome that finally there has been a little pushback, including from leading journalists, to the Guardian’s long-running vilification of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Reporter Luke Harding’s latest article, claiming that Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly visited Assange in Ecuador’s embassy in London on three occasions, is so full of holes that even hardened opponents of Assange in the corporate media are struggling to stand by it.

Faced with the backlash, the Guardian quickly – and very quietly – rowed back its initial certainty that its story was based on verified facts. Instead, it amended the text, without acknowledging it had done so, to attribute the claims to unnamed, and uncheckable, “sources”.

The propaganda function of the piece is patent. It is intended to provide evidence for long-standing allegations that Assange conspired with Trump, and Trump’s supposed backers in the Kremlin, to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

The Guardian’s latest story provides a supposedly stronger foundation for an existing narrative: that Assange and Wikileaks knowingly published emails hacked by Russia from the Democratic party’s servers. In truth, there is no public evidence that the emails were hacked, or that Russia was involved. Central actors have suggested instead that the emails were leaked from within the Democratic party.

Nonetheless, this unverified allegation has been aggressively exploited by the Democratic leadership because it shifts attention away both from its failure to mount an effective electoral challenge to Trump and from the damaging contents of the emails. These show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.

To underscore the intended effect of the Guardian’s new claims, Harding even throws in a casual and unsubstantiated reference to “Russians” joining Manafort in supposedly meeting Assange.

Manafort has denied the Guardian’s claims, while Assange has threatened to sue the Guardian for libel.

‘Responsible for Trump’

The emotional impact of the Guardian story is to suggest that Assange is responsible for four years or more of Trump rule. But more significantly, it bolsters the otherwise risible claim that Assange is not a publisher – and thereby entitled to the protections of a free press, as enjoyed by the Guardian or the New York Times – but the head of an organisation engaged in espionage for a foreign power.

The intention is to deeply discredit Assange, and by extension the Wikileaks organisation, in the eyes of right-thinking liberals. That, in turn, will make it much easier to silence Assange and the vital cause he represents: the use of new media to hold to account the old, corporate media and political elites through the imposition of far greater transparency.

The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador’s right wing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.

It will soften opposition when the UK moves to arrest Assange on self-serving bail violation charges and extradites him to the US. And it will pave the way for the US legal system to lock Assange up for a very long time.

For the best part of a decade, any claims by Assange’s supporters that avoiding this fate was the reason Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy was ridiculed by corporate journalists, not least at the Guardian.

Even when a United Nations panel of experts in international law ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily – and unlawfully – detained by the UK, Guardian writers led efforts to discredit the UN report. See here and here.

Now Assange and his supporters have been proved right once again. An administrative error this month revealed that the US justice department had secretly filed criminal charges against Assange.

Heavy surveillance

The problem for the Guardian, which should have been obvious to its editors from the outset, is that any visits by Manafort would be easily verifiable without relying on unnamed “sources”.

Glenn Greenwald is far from alone in noting that London is possibly the most surveilled city in the world, with CCTV cameras everywhere. The environs of the Ecuadorian embassy are monitored especially heavily, with continuous filming by the UK and Ecuadorian authorities and most likely by the US and other actors with an interest in Assange’s fate.

The idea that Manafort or “Russians” could have wandered into the embassy to meet Assange even once without their trail, entry and meeting being intimately scrutinised and recorded is simply preposterous.

According to Greenwald:

If Paul Manafort … visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray also points out the extensive security checks insisted on by the embassy to which any visitor to Assange must submit. Any visits by Manafort would have been logged.

In fact, the Guardian obtained the embassy’s logs in May, and has never made any mention of either Manafort or “Russians” being identified in them. It did not refer to the logs in its latest story.

Murray:

The problem with this latest fabrication is that [Ecuador’s President] Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs … What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.

No fact-checking

It is worth noting it should be vitally important for a serious publication like the Guardian to ensure its claims are unassailably true – both because Assange’s personal fate rests on their veracity, and because, even more importantly, a fundamental right, the freedom of the press, is at stake.

Given this, one would have expected the Guardian’s editors to have insisted on the most stringent checks imaginable before going to press with Harding’s story. At a very minimum, they should have sought out a response from Assange and Manafort before publication. Neither precaution was taken.

I worked for the Guardian for a number of years, and know well the layers of checks that any highly sensitive story has to go through before publication. In that lengthy process, a variety of commissioning editors, lawyers, backbench editors and the editor herself, Kath Viner, would normally insist on cuts to anything that could not be rigorously defended and corroborated.

And yet this piece seems to have been casually waved through, given a green light even though its profound shortcomings were evident to a range of well-placed analysts and journalists from the outset.

That at the very least hints that the Guardian thought they had “insurance” on this story. And the only people who could have promised that kind of insurance are the security and intelligence services – presumably of Britain, the United States and / or Ecuador.

It appears the Guardian has simply taken this story, provided by spooks, at face value. Even if it later turns out that Manafort did visit Assange, the Guardian clearly had no compelling evidence for its claims when it published them. That is profoundly irresponsible journalism – fake news – that should be of the gravest concern to readers.

A pattern, not an aberration

Despite all this, even analysts critical of the Guardian’s behaviour have shown a glaring failure to understand that its latest coverage represents not an aberration by the paper but decisively fits with a pattern.

Glenn Greenwald, who once had an influential column in the Guardian until an apparent, though unacknowledged, falling out with his employer over the Edward Snowden revelations, wrote a series of baffling observations about the Guardian’s latest story.

First, he suggested it was simply evidence of the Guardian’s long-standing (and well-documented) hostility towards Assange.

The Guardian, an otherwise solid and reliable paper, has such a pervasive and unprofessionally personal hatred for Julian Assange that it has frequently dispensed with all journalistic standards in order to malign him.

It was also apparently evidence of the paper’s clickbait tendencies:

They [Guardian editors] knew that publishing this story would cause partisan warriors to excitedly spread the story, and that cable news outlets would hyperventilate over it, and that they’d reap the rewards regardless of whether the story turned out to be true or false.

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Deeper malaise

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist left wing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for left wing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s right wing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where left wing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

Heroes of the neoliberal order

Equally, the Guardian has made clear who its true heroes are. Certainly not Corbyn or Assange, who threaten to disrupt the entrenched neoliberal order that is hurtling us towards climate breakdown and economic collapse.

Its pages, however, are readily available to the latest effort to prop up the status quo from Tony Blair, the man who led Britain, on false pretences, into the largest crime against humanity in living memory – the attack on Iraq.

That “humanitarian intervention” cost the lives of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and created a vacuum that destabilised much of the Middle East, sucked in Islamic jihadists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and contributed to the migrant crisis in Europe that has fuelled the resurgence of the far-right. None of that is discussed in the Guardian or considered grounds for disqualifying Blair as an arbiter of what is good for Britain and the world’s future.

The Guardian also has an especial soft spot for blogger Elliot Higgins, who, aided by the Guardian, has shot to unlikely prominence as a self-styled “weapons expert”. Like Luke Harding, Higgins invariably seems ready to echo whatever the British and American security services need verifying “independently”.

Higgins and his well-staffed website Bellingcat have taken on for themselves the role of arbiters of truth on many foreign affairs issues, taking a prominent role in advocating for narratives that promote US and NATO hegemony while demonising Russia, especially in highly contested arenas such as Syria.

That clear partisanship should be no surprise, given that Higgins now enjoys an “academic” position at, and funding from, the Atlantic Council, a high-level, Washington-based think-tank founded to drum up support for NATO and justify its imperialist agenda.

Improbably, the Guardian has adopted Higgins as the poster-boy for a supposed citizen journalism it has sought to undermine as “fake news” whenever it occurs on social media without the endorsement of state-backed organisations.

The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.

Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: whether they are a platform like Wikileaks promoting whistle-blowing against a corrupt western elite; or a politician like Jeremy Corbyn seeking to break apart the status quo on the rapacious financial industries or Israel-Palestine; or a radical leader like Hugo Chavez who threatened to overturn a damaging and exploitative US dominance of “America’s backyard”; or social media dissidents who have started to chip away at the elite-friendly narratives of corporate media, including the Guardian.

The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

UPDATE: Excellent background from investigative journalist Gareth Porter, published shortly before Harding’s story, explains why the Guardian’s hit-piece is so important for those who want Assange out of the embassy and behind bars. Read Porter’s article here.

Bolsonaro is a Monster Engineered By Our Media

With Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election at the weekend, the doom-mongers among western elites are out in force once again. His success, like Donald Trump’s, has confirmed a long-held prejudice: that the people cannot be trusted; that, when empowered, they behave like a mob driven by primitive urges; that the unwashed masses now threaten to bring down the carefully constructed walls of civilisation.

The guardians of the status quo refused to learn the lesson of Trump’s election, and so it will be with Bolsonaro. Rather than engaging the intellectual faculties they claim as their exclusive preserve, western “analysts” and “experts” are again averting their gaze from anything that might help them understand what has driven our supposed democracies into the dark places inhabited by the new demagogues. Instead, as ever, the blame is being laid squarely at the door of social media.

Social media and fake news are apparently the reasons Bolsonaro won at the ballot box. Without the gatekeepers in place to limit access to the “free press” – itself the plaything of billionaires and global corporations, with brands and a bottom line to protect – the rabble has supposedly been freed to give expression to their innate bigotry.

Here is Simon Jenkins, a veteran British gatekeeper – a former editor of the Times of London who now writes a column in the Guardian – pontificating on Bolsonaro:

The lesson for champions of open democracy is glaring. Its values cannot be taken for granted. When debate is no longer through regulated media, courts and institutions, politics will default to the mob. Social media – once hailed as an agent of global concord – has become the purveyor of falsity, anger and hatred. Its algorithms polarise opinion. Its pseudo-information drives argument to the extremes.

This is now the default consensus of the corporate media, whether in its right wing incarnations or of the variety posing on the liberal-left end of the spectrum like the Guardian. The people are stupid, and we need to be protected from their base instincts. Social media, it is claimed, has unleashed humanity’s id.

Selling plutocracy

There is a kind of truth in Jenkins’ argument, even if it is not the one he intended. Social media did indeed liberate ordinary people. For the first time in modern history, they were not simply the recipients of official, sanctioned information. They were not only spoken down to by their betters, they could answer back – and not always as deferentially as the media class expected.

Clinging to their old privileges, Jenkins and his ilk are rightly unnerved. They have much to lose.

But that also means they are far from dispassionate observers of the current political scene. They are deeply invested in the status quo, in the existing power structures that have kept them well-paid courtiers of the corporations that dominate the planet.

Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.

The plutocrats who run our societies need figureheads, behind whom they can conceal their unaccountable power. Until now they preferred the slickest salespeople, ones who could sell wars as humanitarian intervention rather than profit-driven exercises in death and destruction; the unsustainable plunder of natural resources as economic growth; the massive accumulation of wealth, stashed in offshore tax havens, as the fair outcome of a free market; the bailouts funded by ordinary taxpayers to stem economic crises they had engineered as necessary austerity; and so on.

A smooth-tongued Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were the favoured salespeople, especially in an age when the elites had persuaded us of a self-serving argument: that ghetto-like identities based on colour or gender mattered far more than class. It was divide-and-rule dressed up as empowerment. The polarisation now bewailed by Jenkins was in truth stoked and rationalised by the very corporate media he so faithfully serves.

Fear of the domino effect

Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fueled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite’s power.

The true left – whether in Brazil, Venezuela, Britain or the US – does not control the police or military, the financial sector, the oil industries, the arms manufacturers, or the corporate media. It was these very industries and institutions that smoothed the path to power for Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Trump in the US.

Former socialist leaders like Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela were bound to fail not so much because of their flaws as individuals but because powerful interests rejected their right to rule. These socialists never had control over the key levers of power, the key resources. Their efforts were sabotaged – from within and without – from the moment of their election.

Local elites in Latin America are tied umbilically to US elites, who in turn are determined to make sure any socialist experiment in their backyard fails – as a way to prevent a much-feared domino effect, one that might seed socialism closer to home.

The media, the financial elites, the armed forces were never servants of the socialist governments that have been struggling to reform Latin America. The corporate world has no interest either in building proper housing in place of slums or in dragging the masses out of the kind of poverty that fuels the drug gangs that Bolsonaro claims he will crush through more violence.

Bolsonaro will not face any of the institutional obstacles Lula da Silva or Chavez needed to overcome. No one in power will stand in his way as he institutes his “reforms”. No one will stop him creaming off Brazil’s wealth for his corporate friends. As in Pinochet’s Chile, Bolsonaro can rest assured that his kind of neo-fascism will live in easy harmony with neoliberalism.

Immune system

If you want to understand the depth of the self-deception of Jenkins and other media gatekeepers, contrast Bolsonaro’s political ascent to that of Jeremy Corbyn, the modest social democratic leader of Britain’s Labour party. Those like Jenkins who lament the role of social media – they mean you, the public – in promoting leaders like Bolsonaro are also the media chorus who have been wounding Corbyn day after day, blow by blow, for three years – since he accidentally slipped past safeguards intended by party bureacrats to keep someone like him from power.

The supposedly liberal Guardian has been leading that assault. Like the right wing media, it has shown its absolute determination to stop Corbyn at all costs, using any pretext.

Within days of Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, the Times newspaper – the voice of the British establishment – published an article quoting a general, whom it refused to name, warning that the British army’s commanders had agreed they would sabotage a Corbyn government. The general strongly hinted that there would be a military coup first.

We are not supposed to reach the point where such threats – tearing away the façade of western democracy – ever need to be implemented. Our pretend democracies were created with immune systems whose defences are marshalled to eliminate a threat like Corbyn much earlier.

Once he moved closer to power, however, the right wing corporate media was forced to deploy the standard tropes used against a left leader: that he was incompetent, unpatriotic, even treasonous.

But just as the human body has different immune cells to increase its chances of success, the corporate media has faux-liberal-left agents like the Guardian to complement the right’s defences. The Guardian sought to wound Corbyn through identity politics, the modern left’s Achille’s heel. An endless stream of confected crises about anti-semitism were intended to erode the hard-earned credit Corbyn had accumulated over decades for his anti-racism work.

Slash-and-burn politics

Why is Corbyn so dangerous? Because he supports the right of workers to a dignified life, because he refuses to accept the might of the corporations, because he implies that a different way of organising our societies is possible. It is a modest, even timid programme he articulates, but even so it is far too radical either for the plutocratic class that rules over us or for the corporate media that serves as its propaganda arm.

The truth ignored by Jenkins and these corporate stenographers is that if you keep sabotaging the programmes of a Chavez, a Lula da Silva, a Corbyn or a Bernie Sanders, then you get a Bolsonaro, a Trump, an Orban.

It is not that the masses are a menace to democracy. It is rather that a growing proportion of voters understand that a global corporate elite has rigged the system to accrue for itself ever greater riches. It is not social media that is polarising our societies. It is rather that the determination of the elites to pillage the planet until it has no more assets to strip has fueled resentment and destroyed hope. It is not fake news that is unleashing the baser instincts of the lower orders. Rather, it is the frustration of those who feel that change is impossible, that no one in power is listening or cares.

Social media has empowered ordinary people. It has shown them that they cannot trust their leaders, that power trumps justice, that the elite’s enrichment requires their poverty. They have concluded that, if the rich can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the planet, our only refuge, they can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the global elite.

Are they choosing wisely in electing a Trump or Bolsonaro? No. But the liberal guardians of the status quo are in no position to judge them. For decades, all parts of the corporate media have helped to undermine a genuine left that could have offered real solutions, that could have taken on and beaten the right, that could have offered a moral compass to a confused, desperate and disillusioned public.

Jenkins wants to lecture the masses about their depraved choices while he and his paper steer them away from any politician who cares about their welfare, who fights for a fairer society, who prioritises mending what is broken.

The western elites will decry Bolsonaro in the forlorn and cynical hope of shoring up their credentials as guardians of the existing, supposedly moral order. But they engineered him. Bolsonaro is their monster.

After 70 Years of Abuse, a Definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism

What is the matter with the Palestine solidarity movement? Since 1948 (and before that, even) the Palestinians have been viciously abused and dispossessed while the perpetrators and their supporters have continually played the anti-Semitism card.

Bemused spectators have been bored witless by the long and ludicrous propaganda campaign to vilify Jeremy Corbyn, bully the Labour Party into accepting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as a cornerstone in their code of conduct and stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against  the Palestinian people. The expected riposte never came.

Anti-Palestinian Racism

Now Jewish Voice For Labour, of all people, have struck back with a useful looking definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism which they decribe as “hatred towards or prejudice against Palestinians as Palestinians”. In a document faintly mocking the pronouncements on anti-Semitism they suggest that manifestations of anti-Palestinian racism might include the denial of Palestinian rights to a state of Palestine as recognised by over 130 member countries of the United Nations and blaming Palestinians for their own plight under brutal military occupation and lock-down. Here’s how they put it:

Contemporary examples of anti-Palestinian racism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  1. Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and nationhood, or actively conspiring to prevent the exercise of this right.
  2. Denial that Israel is in breach of international law in its continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  3. Denial that Israel is an apartheid state according to the definition of the International Convention on Apartheid.
  4. Denial of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and of their right, and the right of their descendants, to return to their homeland.
  5. Denial that Palestinians have lived in what is now the land of Israel for hundreds of years and have their own distinctive national identity and culture.
  6. Denial that the laws and policies which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel (such as the recently passed Nation State Law) are inherently racist.
  7. Denial that there is widespread discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories in matters of employment, housing, justice, education, water supply, etc, etc.
  8. Tolerating the killing or harming of Palestinians by violent settlers in the name of an extremist view of religion.
  9. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Palestinians such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth of a Palestinian conspiracy to wipe Israel off the map.
  10. Justifying the collective punishment of Palestinians (prohibited under the Geneva Convention) in response to the acts of individuals or groups.
  11. Accusing the Palestinians as a people, of encouraging the Holocaust.

I am not sure how Palestinians, as genuine Semites living there for thousands of years, will react to No.5 which claims their homeland is “now the land of Israel”. Despite being illegally occupied by an apartheid entity most of whose members have no ancestral links to the ancient “land of Israel” it is still Palestine.

For decades activists have been telling the Israel lobby to look in the mirror and address their own racial hatred towards the Palestinians. You must truly hate people to deny them their freedom and even their right to return to their homes and livelihoods. Why has it taken so long for such a simple and obvious weapon to be produced? Doesn’t it make you wonder about the true agenda of those in charge of Palestine solidarity? And why has it taken a group of Jews (bless ’em) to do it?

The question now is how best to deliver this somewhat delayed riposte. It might have been best delivered while the iron was hot, at the height of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt and media onslaught. Many activists wanted Corbyn to turn on his tormentors and tell them to mend their own vile attitude towards Palestinian Arabs before daring to smear others with accusations of  anti-Semitism.

On the other hand it will benefit from careful honing, cool planning and the massing of pro-Palestinian support to make the hit really count.

For reasons we know only too well our politicians won’t adopt it as eagerly as they embraced the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. But it is at least a starting point in the fight-back especially if deployed by a coalition of genuine pro-Palestine groups and the BDS movement as the centrepiece of their new, combined campaign strategy.

Lies, damned lies….

Meanwhile I hope all those who allowed themselves to be suckered by the Israel lobby will hang their heads in shame when they read this report by the Media Reform Coalition: Labour, Antisemitism and the News – A disinformation paradigm.

The Executive summary says that an analysis of over 250 articles and news segments from the largest UK news providers (online and television) showed:

  • 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by anchors or correspondents themselves, six of them surfacing on BBC television news programmes, and eight on TheGuardian.com
  • A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.
  • Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labours code of conduct were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1.

In all, there were 95 clear-cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. On TV two thirds of the news segments contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion.

The report points to “a persistent subversion of conventional news values”. Furthermore, coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018 often omitted critical discussion of the ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism promoted by the IHRA and wrongly described it as universally adopted. “We established through background case research that although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six  of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves.

  • In spite of a call for local authorities to adopt the definition by the UKs central government in early 2017, less than a third of councils have responded and several of those have chosen not to include any of the controversial examples contained within the working definition.
  • Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EUs Fundamental Rights Agency (a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based) and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Mainstream academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by three senior UK barristers and one former appeals court judge. Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.

Which all goes to show that Britain’s mainstream media has a hill to climb to get back its self-respect.

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

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

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

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

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

In their study, Schlosberg and Laker identified:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times added:

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

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

How on earth has it come to this?

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

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

He added:

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

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

But, note Schlosberg and Laker:

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

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

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

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

Response to the Media Reform Coalition Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chomsky and his co-signatories add:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We responded:

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

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

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

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

We answered:

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

Her follow-up:

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

And our reply:

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

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

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

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

Schlosberg pointed out:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real anti-Semites please stand up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And very interestingly,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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