Category Archives: around the world

an alternative review of the year by Chunky Mark

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget — Arundhati Roy

When I came across Chunky Mark’s (aka the Artist Taxi Driver) three hour youtube upload entitled “JEZZA the movie 2018” I was intrigued. Three hours later I was impressed: it had really felt like three hours well spent.

The film includes interviews with Dr Bob Gill, producer of The Great NHS Heist; David Graeber, anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5000 years; Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media; Paul Mason, former Economics Editor for BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News; Magid Magid, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Sheffield; as well as comedians Norman Lovett and Eddie Izzard. He speaks with Ed Miliband, and about half the current shadow cabinet: Emily Thornberry, Barry Gardiner, Richard Burgeon, Dan Carden, Jon Ashworth and John McDonnell. He even gets an interview with French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He also introduces us to Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra and his newly released documentary Nae Pasaran which tells the remarkable story of four factory workers at the Rolls Royce plant in East Kilbride who downed tools in solidarity with the victims of Pinochet’s reign of terror:

(Caution: strong language in parts)

A lot of ground is covered as he slow tours Liverpool, Sheffield and London; the trail of his video diaries interspersed with an occasion lyrical rant which is the trademark of Chunky Mark’s online performances. Topics range from austerity, tax havens, pensions, fracking, homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS, the Windrush scandal, the neglect of the Grenfell survivors, the march against Trump’s visit, the ongoing fight for justice for the Hillsborough victims, the plight of refugees, to the peril of a resurgent far right. Mark McGowan (his real name) speaks to those most deeply affected and closely involved. To a young man who is living on the streets of London, to three Muslim women who run a soup kitchen, to nurses and doctors, to a fellow (he is actually one) taxi driver and to a handful of the WASPI women. Most poignantly he visits a few of the migrant camps near Calais including that one nicknamed “The Jungle” (isn’t that shameful enough?)

In truth I paused a few times during the three hours – there’s a lot to take in and some sequences are a little slack, which is only to be expected. Judged fairly, this is a fine piece of amateur filmmaking: sensitive, constantly thought-provoking, and in parts hilarious. Though it will not win any Golden Globes, it deserves an audience, which is why I am recommending it.

Oh, and at one point I stopped for about half an hour to gaze out of my bedroom window over the rooftops and the gardens, watching as fireworks lit up the Sheffield sky welcoming in the New Year. The annual people’s firework display (as I regard it) is one recent tradition I look forward to. How different from our long-established Bonfire Night which goes on and on for days and means what? Why do we celebrate the uncovering of the so-called ‘gunpowder plot’ to blow up parliament by detonating lots of mini explosives? Yet it feels right that we celebrate something as arbitrary and ephemeral as the passing of the minute hand at the start of every year with such a nonsensical flurry of sound and fury. Countless individuals in countless backyards lighting blue touch papers that launch into one glorious, synchronised citywide spectacular.

Reflecting upon the moment of yearly rebirth can feel a bit like pinching yourself; uncannily becoming aware of the thing you are forever forgetting. Not merely another year passing and I am still here, but right now I am here. And in a way Chunky Mark’s review is a gentle slap to our political consciousness (whereas most other annual reviews are to entertain and distract). His appraisal of Britain’s mounting social problems is unsettling, but there is constant encouragement too. It is not so much a homage to the Labour leader as a heartfelt tribute to grassroots activism.

Incidentally, Corbyn is featured just twice (in spite of the title) — quoting the beautiful words of Arundhati Roy at the beginning and then at the end rallying supporters saying:

That is why those great people who founded our movement, those great people who struggled against enormous odds in the last two centuries to try to bring about the kind of strength and organisation that we’ve got in trade unions and in the Labour Party [made] all those things possible for us. Now my friends, let’s dedicate ourselves absolutely to taking that message of decency, justice, social justice, socialism out there on the streets all around this country and say to the Tories “we are many, you are few — We are for the many, you are for the few.”

Wishing you all a very happy New Year!!!

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Correction:

Mark McGowan is a real minicab driver although in the original post I had written that he spoke to: “… a (‘fellow’ – he’s not actually one) taxi driver…”

You can read more about him in this Guardian review by Dawn Foster published in January 2015.

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Additional:

New Year’s greetings from Syria courtesy of independent journalist Eva Bartlett:

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‘Integrity Initiative’ c/o Institute for Statecraft — the UK government’s own troll farm

Update: Inside the Integrity Initiative

On Boxing Day, independent journalists Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton invited propaganda expert Professor David Miller from the University of Bristol to discuss the scandal surrounding UK government-funded think tank The Institute for Statecraft and its ‘Integrity Initiative’ on their podcast Moderate Rebels (E32).

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Last week I received a response to a parliamentary question I’d tabled asking the government if the ‘Integrity Initiative’, a so-called think tank dealing in disinformation, had received government funding. The response was stunning. I was met with the admission that in the last 18 months or so, some 2.2 million has been awarded by the Foreign Office to this organisation.

Staffed by former security and military personnel, its agenda seems to include the denigration of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. Their approach is to connect media with academia and politicians to influence policy in certain countries.

Leaked documents revealed numerous examples such as Pedro Baños, an army reserve colonel and author, who the Spanish Socialist Party wanted to make the country’s Director of National Security. That was before the Integrity Initiative’s Spanish cluster for involved, putting a stop to the appointment altogether.

That’s right a Foreign Office-funded British think tank stopped the appointment of a public official in a fellow European democracy. And these are the people defending freedom?

Now it seems similar tricks are being played here at home. Ben Nimmo, a core member of the Integrity Initiative’s UK cluster was even quoted in The Sun newspaper saying Russia was supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it. The newspaper used this to support its assertion, which had no other evidence, that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has back Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK”.

How many other stories like this have been entirely fabricated, and with government funding too? Well we don’t know, because after I submitted a follow-up question, Minister of State Alan Duncan refused to provide any further information claiming it could “disrupt and undermine the programme’s effectiveness”.

Effectiveness at what? Interfering in the politics of other countries while undermining the leader of Britain’s opposition? Because that’s precisely what it’s doing. That’s why I’m calling for a public enquiry into the Integrity Initiative and similar information war efforts being funded by our government.

Their approach of silencing and suppressing aspects of public debate doesn’t strengthen democracy, it debases it. — Chris Williamson MP

Click here to watch a video presentation of the statement on Chris Williamson’s facebook page uploaded on December 11th.

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Even the mainstream media has been forced to give a few paragraphs to the outrageous Integrity Initiative, under which the MOD-sponsored Institute for Statecraft has been given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by the FCO to spread covert disinformation and propaganda, particularly against Russia and the anti-war movement. Activities include twitter and facebook trolling and secretly paying journalists in “clusters of influence” around Europe. Anonymous helpfully leaked the Institute’s internal documents. Some of the Integrity Initiative’s thus exposed alleged covert agents, like David Aaronovitch, have denied any involvement despite their appearance in the documents, and others like Dan Kaszeta the US “novichok expert”, have cheerfully admitted it.  — Craig Murray

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft” published on December 13th.

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Did Jeremy Corbyn mutter words to the effect that Theresa May is a “stupid woman”? I don’t know because I’m not a lip-reader. Neither do I care.

May is a woman and she was (as is increasingly her manner) behaving stupidly. As for the buffoons behind her, ‘stupid’ fails to do justice to their infantile efforts to divert attention from the irremediable divisions within their own ranks and the shambolic failures of this callous and inept Tory government. Given the seriousness of the current political situation, Wednesday’s Commons pantomime was more than a national embarrassment, it was an unspeakable disgrace, and ought to have been reported on as such. But what we got instead were the feeble rumblings of another smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

The BBC led the way as they so often do. Thus sham allegations of misogyny against Corbyn made during the Commons debacle became headlines to every news bulletin and in the 24 hours since featured in no less than three articles. So today if you google “stupid woman BBC” you will find a full page of hits:

On the other hand, if you search for “integrity initiative BBC” a mere four of google’s hits are actually linked to the BBC and just one of those links reaches an actual article:

The reason for this disparity is straightforward. Since the release of the leaks at the beginning of November and the ensuing ‘Integrity Initiative’ scandal, the BBC has only ever published one article on the matter. An article it has since revised on no less than four occasions.

The article in question published back on December 10th is headlined “Russia hack ‘bid to discredit’ UK anti-disinformation campaign – Foreign Office” and credited to Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale, however, an earlier version was in fact released four hours prior and entitled “Foreign Office probes Russia campaign over ‘anti-Labour tweets’”. The difference between these twin versions is striking:

The original piece centres attention on the FCO’s investigation into the Institute and quotes Sir Alan Duncan saying “he would ‘totally condemn’ any UK-backed organisation ‘involved in domestic politics in that way’”.  This is strong language for a government minister. The updated version opens instead with a strident assault on “Russia state media” and asserts that it is “trying to discredit a government-funded body that works to counter Kremlin disinformation”. In this new telling the serious charges levelled against the IfS are neatly brushed over and an organisation that in different circumstances would be decried as a troll farm is instead recast as the more or less innocent victim of Kremlin villainy!

Click here to compare versions at News Sniffer.

So the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) is what precisely? It declares itself “independent” and somehow holds Scottish charity status (this is finally under investigation too). If it were not for the current scandal it would have surely remained just one of a burgeoning multitude of so-called “political charities”. But as its “Integrity Initiative” has suddenly been exposed (by whoever was behind the hack – Anonymous have claimed credit) what we discover with each fresh tranche of leaked documents is how UK government money is being diverted for nefarious purposes: not only to smear the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but to meddle in democracies abroad. We learn in fact that “clusters” of its agents are embedded throughout Europe and beyond:

One such cluster operates in Spain, where the II [Integrity Initiative] successfully obstructed the appointment of a reservist colonel, Pedro Baños, who was preferred by the socialist government as the country’s next head of national security. Despite his strong resume – Baños was once head of counterintelligence and security for the European army – his admission on Twitter that Spain ‘would not gain anything from provoking Russia’ was apparently a stretch too far.

writes Aaron Bastani in an excellent piece for Novara Media. He continues:

The operation itself was named ‘Operation Moncloa and proved successful in less than 24 hours. Around midday on 7 June 2018, the Spanish cluster learned that Baños would soon be appointed to the role. […]

By 19.45 the Spanish cluster noted the campaign had raised significant noise on Twitter, with contacts in the Socialist party confirming the matter had been brought to the attention of prime minister Pedro Sanchez. Not long after the Partido Popular and Ciudadanos asked the prime minister to halt the appointment. They were successful.

Listed as the operatives working within its UK “cluster” we find Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council – home also to Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat notoriety – and usual suspects including Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum. Another name on the list is that of Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw:

Alongside military personnel the bedrock of the cluster are individuals working in think tanks, with Demos, RUSI, Chatham House, and the Henry Jackson Society all represented. Among the military names are high ranking officials including a captain in the Royal Navy and a colonel. On Twitter the II is followed by some interesting names, including Tom Watson, Luke Akehurst and Mary Creagh.

writes Bastani in the same piece for Novara Media, continuing:

Among the organisation’s top three ‘deliverables’ to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the first is to develop and prove ‘the cluster concept and methodology, setting up clusters in a range of countries with different circumstances’. The II is essentially a proof-of-concept in how to exert influence in an era of hybrid war where information can be a critical variable. Subsequently, its model should be viewed as mirroring that of Russia, the morphology of influencers, narrativistic ‘poles of attraction’ and the leveraging of backchannels (WhatsApp groups, text messages and email) to coordinate a front-facing response: this being composed of a ‘swarm’ on social media which synergises with legacy formats in broadcast and print.

That such an approach is being applied by a British organisation to the politics of a European neighbour is cause for grave concern – and by itself merits an enquiry. What’s worse, however, is the possibility that the same approach has been used against Corbyn’s Labour. One only need look on the II’s Twitter feed to see the low regard it holds Corbyn and his leading advisers in. Intriguingly, the organisation was founded in the autumn of 2015 – the same time Corbyn became Labour leader.

Click here to read Aaron Bastini’s full article entitled “Undermining Democracy, Not Defending It: The ‘Integrity Initiative’ is Everything That’s Wrong With British Foreign Policy” also published on December 10th.

The list of individuals associated with the UK-based cluster also includes the names of seven journalists (see update below for further information on this):

Deborah Haynes, David Aaronovitch and Dominic Kennedy all from The Times.

Natalie Nougayrède from the Guardian.

Neil Buckley from the FT.

And (like the final piece of a jigsaw fitting inevitably into place) Jonathan Marcus who is a Diplomatic Correspondent at the BBC…

As Craig Murray writes:

[But] One of the activities the Integrity Initiative sponsors happens to be the use of online trolls to ridicule the idea that the British security services ever carry out any kind of infiltration, false flag or agent provocateur operations, despite the fact that we even have repeated court judgements against undercover infiltration officers getting female activists pregnant. The Integrity Initiative offers us a glimpse into the very dirty world of surveillance and official disinformation. If we actually had a free media, it would be the biggest story of the day.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft”.

And here to read Tim Hayward’s article “Integrity: Grasping the Initiative”.

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Update: on UK journalists named in documents

The following is republished from the “Briefing note on the Integrity Initiative” published by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media on December 21st.

7.1 UK journalists named in documents

  • The Times – Deborah Haynes (now with Sky News), David Aaronovitch, Dominic Kennedy
  • The Guardian – Natalie Nougayrede, Carole Cadwalladr
  • The Economist – Edward Lucas
  • FT – Neil Buckley
  • BBC – Jonathan Marcus
  • Paul Canning – blogger with a focus on Ukraine, who has contributed to The Guardian
  • David Leask – Chief Reporter, Herald Scotland
  • Borzhou Daragahi – The Independent – appears as the only individual listed under ‘Turkey’ in the document xcountry.pdf that tabulates countries and election dates.

We have asked journalists listed in the documents whether they have had any contact with the Integrity Initiative. It may be relevant that the Integrity Initiative Handbook states that members of clusters are ‘to sign code of conduct & non-disclosure’.

Their responses can be grouped into four categories

7.1.1 I know nothing

  • David Aaronovitch – When asked over Twitter whether he knew of or had had contact with Integrity Initiative, Institute for Statecraft or the UK Cluster, Aaronovitch replied

I have never heard of any of these three exotic entities. I think you have been hoaxed.

  • Jonathan Marcus (BBC) – the BBC provided a statement to the Scottish Sunday Mail (print edition 16 December 2018) that

neither Marcus nor the BBC knew of the list of journalists, nor did he or the BBC consent to be part of any so-called cluster.

7.1.2 I attended a meeting or was on an email list, but was not involved

  • Borzou Daragahi:

I do receive their emails’

it goes to my junk email account’

I systematically subscribe to think tank email newsletters’

7.1.3 I am proud to be associated with them, there was nothing improper

I have not been paid by the institute. But I applaud their work in dealing with the Chekist regime’s pernicious information and influence operations.

He did not confirm or deny the existence of a network, responding to questions on Twitter with:

I don’t see why one lot of people have to explain being on lists compiled by another lot of people

  • David Leask – has been open about working with the Integrity Initiative. He has published two articles quoting “a spokesman for the Integrity Initiative”, one on the visit of Andriy Parubiy and one on Russian media coverage of the Salisbury poisonings. He has endorsed the output of the twitter account @initintegrity and others associated with the Integrity Initiative such as Nimmo. He responded to the release of documents with a 12 tweet thread on Twitter., acknowledging contact with the Integrity Initiative but denouncing Sputnik for ‘insinuation that I work for for or with a Nato/UK black ops’.

Leask’s description of the Integrity Initiative as ‘a network of researchers and journalists seeking to counter Russian propaganda and boost media literacy” confirms the existence of a network. In response to further questions, Leask asserted that government funding of the Integrity Initiative was ‘hardly a secret’. On this he was mistaken. The official summary of the Russian Language Programme does not list the recipient ‘implementing organizations’ stating that ‘Information has been withheld from publication on security grounds’. Although the government funding of £1.96 million for the Integrity Initiative in the current financial year is now a matter of public record following a parliamentary question, this information was not in the public domain until the documents were released on 5 November 2018. The source of funding for the Integrity Initiative was not mentioned on its public website. It would have been possible for a diligent researcher to infer the total FCO spending on the Institute for Statecraft by going through the monthly expenditure tables for the FCO, but this would not have revealed the specific funding for the Integrity Initiative programme. The accounts filed at Companies House show FCO funding of £124,567 for the year ending 23 November 2017, but not the £1.96 million awarded for the current financial year.

The Integrity Initiative documents include notes of a meeting with Leask on 27 March 2018, allegedly taken by Guy Spindler, Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Statecraft. The main focus of the interview is on Leask’s assessment of the prospects for the Scottish independence movement. The meeting finishes with a briefing on the misuse of Scottish Limited Partnerships as vehicles for money-laundering, which Leask’s own investigative reporting has helped to expose. It is not clear whether he is aware of the unusual use of this business structure by the founders of the Institute for Statecraft.

7.1.4 No response or refusal to answer

  • Deborah Haynes – no response.
    Three of Haynes’ stories between 2016 and 2018 can be linked to internal documents of the Integrity Initiative:

    • For the visit of Ukrainian special forces officers organised by the Institute of Statecraft, a one-hour meeting with Haynes was scheduled at the Institute of Statecraft’s office in 2 Temple Place on 11 July 2016. Haynes wrote a story based on this meeting that appeared in The Times on 11 August 2016. Haynes was the only journalist scheduled for a meeting with the Ukrainian officers: all their other meetings were with military officers except for one with the House of Commons Defence Committee.
    • The draft application for MoD funding dated 20 March 2017 lists under ‘Success so far’ (for the Integrity Initiative) the lead front-page story by Haynes in The Times on 17 December 2016 with title ‘Russia waging cyberwar against Britain’.
    • A document entitled ‘Representative selection of Integrity Initiative staff 2018 presentations and media interviews on Russian disinformation and malign influence’ lists under the outputs of Victor Madeira a report in the Times on 9 March 2018 by Fiona Hamilton, David Brown and Deborah Haynes with the title “Spy mystery: Sergei Skripal’s contact with MI6 in Spain suggests links to Litvinenko case’. Victor Madeira is briefly quoted:

Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft in London, said yesterday that links with organised crime were entirely possible. Russia was a mafia state where organised crime and the authorities overlap, he said.

It may be relevant that Haynes is listed as an honorary member of the Pen & Sword club, whose main mission is “the promotion of media operations as a necessary and valued military skill in the 21st century.” This may be an appropriate aspiration for military officers, but not for journalists. The club has 334 members, including Steve Tatham (listed in the UK cluster), Paul Tilley and the former BBC correspondent Mark Laity. Almost all other members have a military background or are NATO officials.

  • Dominic Kennedy – In response to an email asking whether he had heard of or was involved with the Integrity Initiative, Kennedy stated that he had not read the leaked documents, but did not answer the question.

On 14 April 2018 Haynes and Kennedy launched an attack on members of the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media in the Times, including a front-page article, a two-page spread and an anonymous editorial. Two members of the Working Group hold posts at the University of Edinburgh. Unable to find anything tying them to Russia, Kennedy attempted to suggest that the university was under Russian influence (based on a grant from the Russian cultural institute Russkiy Mir), and even that the city of Edinburgh was a base for Russian influence (based on the presence of Sputnik’s office).

  • Neil Buckley (FT) – No response when asked over Twitter whether he had had contact with the Integrity Initiative.
  • Carole Cadwalladr – Identified in the third tranche of leaked documents as scheduled to talk at an event at the Frontline Club in early November 2018, co-organised by the Integrity Initiative and Foreign Desk Ltd. She confirmed that she had spoken at the event and did not receive a fee, but did not answer a question on whether she had been involved with the Integrity Initiative or its parent the Institute for Statecraft.
  • Natalie Nougayrede – No response when asked over Twitter if she was involved with the Integrity Initiative. She appears also in the French cluster list. In the same list, with a note that he is Nougayrede’s partner, is Nicholas Roche, whose current post is Director of Strategy at the Directorate of Military Applications of the French Atomic Energy Commission. It may be relevant that in May 2013, when she was editor of Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrede had a role in information operations in Syria. Under her direction, two Le Monde journalists acted as couriers to transfer samples provided by the opposition, allegedly from chemical attacks, to French intelligence agents in Jordan. Le Monde was then given the scoop of reporting that these samples had tested positive for sarin at the French chemical weapon detection lab at Le Bouchet.

Click here to read the full briefing note at the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media website.

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Additional:

On December 22nd Afshin Rattansi interviewed John Pilger for a special end of year Going Underground episode. In the first half they discuss the Integrity Initiative and what it reveals about the lack of true integrity in journalism. In part two topics range from the genocide taking place in Yemen, the “canonisation” of George Bush Sr., and Donald Trump:

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faked concern: Haley & corporate media bleating about Idlib civilians, ignore terrorists’ presence | Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett | InGaza

Nikki Haley, the hypocritical US Ambassador to the UN, mistakenly thinks she can dictate – from New York City, far from the terrorists which her country supports – that the Syrian army cannot fight and eradicate al-Qaeda in Idlib.

Her, and other American figures’ words, come with faked concern over the lives of Syrian civilians.

This is particularly ironic given that the US-led coalition, illegally in Syria, destroyed the Syrian city of Raqqa and killed untold numbers of civilians along the way, in their fake fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) – a pretext which has only time and again strengthened IS in Syria. Raqqa remains uninhabitable, and even today corpses are still being unearthed.

Haley and the Western corporate media have been bleating in chorus about Idlib and the civilians there, deliberately ignoring the presence of Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists occupying the governorate and surrounding areas in Aleppo and Hama governorates.

They ignore, too, the reality of life in areas which were once occupied by these terrorists: the torture, imprisonment, maiming, assassination, and starvation endured by the civilian population at the hands of these extremists and paid mercenaries.

The other reality Haley and co-regime change mouthpieces whitewash is that once these areas are liberated of Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and the myriad other extremist terrorist groups, life gets back to normal, schools reopen, cities and towns repopulate, ancient traditions resume as they have for thousands of years in this cradle of civilization.

Occupation, Liberation, Peace and Stability

With the exception of Deir ez-Zor, and smaller hamlets throughout the Syrian countryside, I’ve been to every major city and town liberated by Syria and allies from Al-Qaeda and co-terrorists. They are all now in peace, with many of the areas thriving, rebuilding, and the other areas at least in peace without the sadistic rule of terrorists.

In June 2014, I went to the old city of Homs just one month after the reconciliation deals that saw Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army terrorists bused out of the city. This beautiful historic old city and its ancient churches were in shambles. Some of that was due to the Syrian army fighting the terrorists, but most of it was due to the terrorists burning, looting, and booby trapping the buildings they had occupied.

Indeed, a resident of the old city, Abu Nabeel, took me around, showing me the destruction, vandalization, burning and looting that terrorists did before leaving Old Homs, including leaving bombs in residents’ homes, to inflict yet more loss of life even after the terrorists had left. But also while there in June 2014, I saw residents and youth volunteers scraping the debris, painting hopeful art on walls, beginning the rebuilding process.

Also in June 2014, two months after its liberation, I went to the ancient village of Maaloula, which had been occupied or targeted by al-Qaeda and co-terrorists from September 2013 to April 2014. They systematically destroyed, looted, burned or stole ancient relics and vandalized historic buildings. In summer 2016 and more recently in September 2018, I returned to find life pulsing during the Celebration of the Holy Cross, a nearly-1700 year old celebration interrupted only during the terrorists’ occupation of Maaloula.

In December 2015, I returned to Old Homs to find that some reconstruction had occurred. Churches were partially repaired, a school was fully rehabilitated, shops had opened, and residents were putting up Christmas decorations.

In June 2017, when I returned to Homs, I saw a city pulsing with life, and peace. That June, I also went back to Aleppo, which I’d been to four times prior to its December 2016 liberation [see: Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors,  The Villages in Aleppo Ravaged by America’s “Moderate” “Rebels”, and: Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed “Rebels” Target ‘Every Syrian’, November 29, 2016, Mint Press News].

I saw eastern areas that had been occupied by Al-Qaeda, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, IS and other terrorist factions. The destruction was indeed immense, as terrorists had holed up underground, including occupying schools and hospitals. The complex housing the Eye and Children’s Hospitals was turned into a headquarters for Al-Qaeda and IS, with basements turned into prisons, prisoners’ fates decided by Sharia courts of the extremists.

I returned to Aleppo in May 2018, and spent hours at the ancient Citadel, both filming people enjoying their time around the Citadel, and later joining them at one of the cafes encircling this historic site. Talking with Aleppo MP, Fares Shehabi, we discussed how none of this had been possible under the rule of the extremists.

WATCH: Life in Old Aleppo, around the historic Citadel

WATCH: Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi on improved life in Aleppo since liberation

Indeed, in November 2016, standing near the ruins of the Carlton Hotel, tunnel-bombed by terrorists in May 2014, and looking towards the Citadel, I was told to step back due to the risk of Al-Qaeda snipers. But the Aleppo I saw in May 2018 was likewise pulsing with life, and peace.

In media campaigns to demonize the Syrian and Russian governments, Western media mentioned al-Waer, Homs, and Madaya. But few, or none, that I’m aware of bothered to go to those places after they were restored to peace. I did, in June 2017, and unsurprisingly heard what journalists in eastern Aleppo heard when those areas were liberated: the reason they had been starving was because  terrorists had stolen all the food aid that entered the town and kept it for themselves. Indeed, near a munitions workshop, I found the remnants of one such parcel, a Red Cross package. And like in eastern Aleppo, terrorists in Madaya had imprisoned civilians, and had tortured them.

When in April and May 2018 I went to various areas of eastern Ghouta, I again heard about terrorist-induced starvation. When I asked whether residents could access their farmland – as eastern Ghouta is an agricultural region – I was told that, no, they couldn’t, terrorists controlled the farmland, too, leaving them literally starving.

A few weeks ago I returned to Daraa City. I’d been there in May 2018, at a time when terrorists in Daraa al-Balad and outskirts were heavily shelling the city. At great risk, I was able to go to the state hospital, with snipers just 100 metres away from the sole route leading there. The hospital was severely damaged, with entire wards destroyed. The Children’s Hospital wing was damaged and off limits due to the proximity of terrorists roughly 50 metres away – as I would learn when I returned a few weeks ago.

In Daraa this September, there was no bombing, just the scraping of rubble as bulldozers and residents cleaned up the remnants of this foreign war on Syria.

On September 11, I went to Mhardeh, a town in northern Hama, where 13 civilians were killed by terrorists missiles targeting the town on September 7. Most of the dead were killed right away, others died slowly of critical injuries. One man lost his wife, three young children and mother to the terror attacks. He lost everything.

When I asked him how the situation of Idlib, occupied by at least 70,000 terrorists, a modest estimate – impacted him and Mhardeh, he replied that Idlib is the cause of their suffering.

WATCH: Shadi Shehda on his murdered children, mother, and wife, killed by terrorists in Idlib

The September 7 attacks on Mhardeh weren’t the first. To the contrary, the town has been relentlessly targeted for the past 7 years, its local defense commander, Simon al-Wakil, told me.

WATCH: Simon al Wakeel Speaks on Mhardeh’s National Defense Forces and Civilians Under Terrorist Attacks

So did the Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Maan Bitar, who said: “The gunmen, the terrorists, they are in all the region of Idlib, not just Idlib city. They are also two kilometers from here (in northern Hama). We’ve received more than 7,000 missiles, rockets, and mortars these past eight years. Every time the terrorists feel they are in a critical situation, militarily speaking, from the government, they shell civilians. Nobody spoke about that. For eight years, Mhardeh town is being shelled, and civilians killed, but nobody spoke of that.”

WATCH: Reverend Maan Bitar on Terrorism Against Mhardeh Civilians, and Need to Liberate Idlib

Nearby al-Skalbiyye has also been relentlessly targeted, including with 10 Grad missiles fitted with cluster bombs, as noted by British journalist Vanessa Beeley who visited the town.

Idlib Reality: an al-Qaeda safe-haven

With the Nikki Haleys and laptop media now droning incessantly about “3 million civilians” in Idlib prone to being massacred by the Syrian and Russian armies, it’s time to reflect on a number of points.

First of all, there is no accurate figure for the number of civilians in Idlib, much less the number of terrorists. Given that when we heard the same cries before the liberation of Aleppo, with the UN itself chiming in to claim that 300,000 civilians were trapped in Aleppo’s eastern areas – the actual number was less than half that figure – we can at least be sceptical about the current claims of 300,000 in Idlib.

Moreover, among the population in Idlib, how many are terrorists? How many are being held against their will by terrorists? How many are Syrians?

Al-Qaeda’s presence in Idlib isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s an established fact that even US State Department’s Special Envoy, Brett McGurk, made clear when he said: “Look, Idlib province is the largest Al-Qaeda safe-haven since 9/11. Idlib now is a huge problem, is an Al-Qaeda safe-haven right on the border with Turkey.

Yet, outlets like CNN whitewash their presence. While there are no definitive figures for the number of non-Syrians among those terrorists, it is a fact that there are extremists from around the world.

What Western leaders and media fail to address is the reign of terror the different extremist gangs inflict on Syrian civilians. This includes their kidnapping of untold numbers of civilians, particularly children.

Vanessa Beeley wrote this just weeks ago, noting that in a liberated area of eastern Idlib, she was told that over 600 children and adults had been kidnapped by “both the terrorist groups and the #WhiteHelmets” in the last 12 months there.

Further, it is from positions within Idlib governorate that terrorists continue to fire on Aleppo. So in spite of the liberation of Aleppo from these extremists, areas closest to them are routinely bombed.

Fares Shehabi tweeted in September about a rocket attack on Aleppo believed to have originated from Idlib.

In all of the areas I mentioned, the Syrian and Russian governments worked to offer amnesty and reconciliation to Syrians holding arms, and indeed these reconciliations enabled the return to peace in many of these areas.

The Syrian and Russian governments have again opened humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave Idlib, and as with corridors opened in Aleppo, terrorists have attacked the corridor, to prevent civilians from leaving. Some updates state that Syrians have been able to exit when the corridor wasn’t being targeted, and other updates note that terrorists are preventing civilians from leaving, or demanding money from civilians who want to leave.

Syria and Russia have again offered reconciliation and amnesty. It is terrorists within Idlib who refuse this, refuse a political process, and instead continue to hold civilians hostage and occupy Syrian territory.

On September 28, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, addressed media the day of a General Assembly meeting, noting the US-led destruction of both Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq, also noting that Russia and Syria prevented this in Aleppo and in Eastern Ghouta.

These are all points to keep in mind the next time Nikki Haley shrilling performs for the cameras. It is time to liberate Idlib, by military or political means, and bring peace to Syria.

Click here to read the same article as it was originally posted on Eva Bartlett’s website InGaza.

A shorter version of the article was first published on October 8th at RT.com

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RELATED:

I would like to thank Eva Bartlett for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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solidarity with the Frack Free Four

On Wednesday 26th, Simon Roscoe Blevins (right), a soil scientist from Sheffield, and Richard Roberts (centre), a piano restorer from London, were each sentenced to 16 months in prison for climbing onto delivery lorries as they tried to enter the Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, Lancashire. Another protector, Richard Loizou (left), a teacher from Devon, received 15 months for causing a public nuisance and a fourth defendant, Julian Brock, was given a 12-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the same offence.

Remarkably, the men had stayed on the lorries for at total of 99.5 hours.

Click here to read a full report on the sentencing hearing.

And here to sign the 38 Degrees petition to oppose fast-track fracking

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Although I do not share all the views of the four protectors and my own reason for opposing shale gas extraction is based on overwhelming evidence of the toxic contamination of water, air and soil of the local environment (much of which is irreversible), I greatly admire their conviction and tremendous courage and fully endorse this campaign of non-violent direct action.

In solidarity I have written to my local MP, Paul Blomfield, and encourage others to do the same.

Dear Paul,

I am delighted that you are fully behind Labour’s ban on fracking.

A few days ago I was deeply shocked to read about the imprisonment for 16 months of three peaceful anti-fracking protestors (another received a suspended sentence). As you may be aware, one of the four, Simon Roscoe Blevins, is a university soil scientist who lives in Pitsmoor. He is a friend of some of my own friends. You can read his own testimony here:

I’ve Been Jailed For Protesting Fracking – Here’s Why I Won’t Give Up The Fight

The handing out of custodial sentences for non-violent protest that does not involve criminal damage or intimidation is very nearly unprecedented in modern times. Comparisons have been made to the jailing of activists involved in the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932, but even this comparison is inaccurate, because those involved were not sentenced for trespass but found guilty of affray, having been involved in scuffles with the landowner’s henchmen.

In this instance, Lancashire Council has already voted against fracking but the local democratic process was later overturned. As the government now seeks to allow “permitted development” for fracking more widely (mostly in “the desolate north”), protestors like Simon Roscoe Blevins are the last line of defence against this appalling industry. The draconian sentencing of non-violent protestors is yet another bullying tactic.

This week’s decision to jail three men for peaceably defending the environment represents a travesty of justice. The potential repercussions are so serious that I ask if you will raise the matter in Parliament.

With kind regards,

James Boswell

I received a reply from Paul Blomfield on October 10th as follows:

Dear James,

Thanks for your email regarding the sentence imposed on Simon Blevins. I was shocked by the sentence when I read about it and made my view clear at a public meeting on the 26th September, which I had organised with Sheffield Climate Alliance as part of my Big Conversation. I do oppose fracking, but there is a wider issue at stake on the treatment of peaceful protest. I’ve organised many protest activities over the years and recognise that there are consequences if activities step outside the law but am deeply concerned by the severity of this sentence.

I’ll certainly be doing all I can, recognising that Simon works in my constituency, but am liaising with Gill Furniss as his MP. I’ve read that he intends to appeal the sentence and we’ll therefore liaise with his solicitor, to ensure that any intervention helps the legal process.

With best wishes

Paul

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Additional:

David Smythe was Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow. Following early retirement in 1998 he consulted intermittently for the oil industry. Since 2013 he has researched the risks of contamination of groundwater resources by fracking.

In this TEDx talk from February he speaks specifically to the risks of fracking in the Lancashire Fylde and more generally exposes the fracking industry as both uneconomical and environmentally damaging. He also details ways in which both the industry and the government have been deliberately misleading the public:

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Update:

More than a thousand academics – lecturers, researchers and professors at more than 70 institutions across the UK and abroad – have since signed an open letter calling for a judicial review of the prison sentences given to three men who took part in anti-fracking protests. The letter was originally entitled “Open letter from University of Sussex academics: The harsh sentencing of anti-fracking campaigners sets a dangerous precedent.” It reads:

We the undersigned are writing to express our growing concern about the shrinking space for communities and environmental defenders to engage in civil opposition to fracking developments in the UK.

This week three non-violent campaigners opposing fracking were jailed for 15 to 16 months simply for ‘causing a public nuisance’ and for not expressing regret. This is the first time since 1932 that environmental defenders have been imprisoned for such long periods of time for staging a protest in the UK. It is also the first time ever that activists have been jailed for anti-fracking actions.

With fracking companies increasingly granted civil injunctions to prevent protest, the scope of protest is becoming more and more restricted, representing a threat to fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Fracking is controversial in the UK. According to government surveys conducted in 2017, only 16% of people support fracking development. Given the grave environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing and growing concerns about climate change, this is not surprising.

The ruling sets a worrying precedent, curtailing opportunities for the kind of public protests that have historically been effective in instituting the legal and policy changes that defend our environment for our future generations. We need more, not less, space for action to confront unsustainable industrial practices that harm our communities and perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels.

We join calls for a judicial review of this absurdly harsh sentence, and an inquiry into the declining space for civil society protest that it represents.

Sincerely,

The original source of this article is University of Sussex

Copyright © Andrea Brock, Dr Amber Huff, and Prof. Lyla Mehta, University of Sussex, 2018

Click here to find the letter and read a periodically updated list of signatories as reprinted by Global Research.

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On October 3rd, MEPs from across Europe joined in a protest at the European Parliament to send a message of solidarity to the campaigners. One of the MEPs, Keith Taylor, said:

“I am pleased so many of my colleagues join me in sending a united message of support to the brave heroes whose fight to protect our planet has robbed them of their liberty.”

“We are supposed to be, the theory goes, a mature liberal democracy that can accommodate dissent.

“The decision to jail peaceful fracking protesters blows that myth wide-open; authoritarianism has become a favourite tool of a minority government that lacks the public’s support to force through its environmentally destructive agenda by any other means.

“Any government that conspires with the dirty fossil fuel industry against its own people is rotten to the core.”

Click here to read more in a report entitled “1000+ academics call for review of fracking protest prison sentences” written by Ruth Hayhurst and published in Drill or Drop.

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On October 5th, Ian Crane devoted the first twenty minutes of episode 119 Fracking Nightmare to the case:

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for the many… in Palestine too

Update: The article as it was originally posted follows the first asterisk.

Exposing Israel’s racism is all too easy. Mere denunciation, without explanation of its underlying context, may actually be misleading if not counterproductive; it may appear as singling Israel out for some peculiar and exceptional moral defect of its leaders or, worse, of its Jewish majority. In fact, racist structures and attitudes, wherever they occur, are part of the legal and ideological superstructure and cannot properly be understood in isolation from their material base.

In the case of Israel, that material base is the Zionist colonisation of Palestine – a process of which Israel is both product and instrument. That the Zionist project is all about the colonisation of Palestine by Jews is, once again, an indisputable fact. It is how political Zionism described itself right from the start.

So writes Israeli-born pro-Palestinian activist and former Labour member Moshé Machover in an article entitled “Why Israel is a racist state” that featured as part of a pamphlet handed out to delegates attending the Labour Party Conference.

On Sept 29th The Real News broadcast an interview with Machover in which he stresses that his article does not consider the question of whether Israel is a racist state (since it irrefutably is), but seeks to address the underlying reason for its racism:

As Machover concludes his piece:

In the US Declaration of Independence, the freedom-loving founding fathers – only some of whom were slave owners – complain that the king of Great Britain “has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” In today’s terminology they would no doubt be described as ‘terrorists’. The Palestinian Arabs are Israel’s “merciless Indian savages”.

When viewed against the background of the history of this type of colonisation, Israeli racist ideology and practices are par for the course. The annals of colonisation certainly have grimmer chapters, such as the total extermination of the people of Tasmania, to mention an extreme example. Zionist colonisation is, however, exceptional in being anachronistic: it continues in the 21st century the kind of thing – settler colonialism – that elsewhere ended in the 19th.

To conclude: apart from its anachronism, there is little that is exceptional about Israel’s racism. It is rooted in its nature as a settler state. Uprooting colonialist racism requires a change of regime, decolonisation – which in the case of Israel means de-Zionisation.

Click here to read the article in full on the Labour Party Marxists website.

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The following is reposted from extracts drawn from an article originally published by The Electronic Intifada. 

In a historic move, the Labour Party’s annual conference on Tuesday [Sept 25th] voted to end UK arms sales to Israel.

Amid a sea of waving Palestinian flags, and chants of “Free Palestine,” delegates debated a motion condemning Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters – more than 140 to date – since the Great March of Return protests began on 30 March.

The motion, passed with almost no votes against, calls for an immediate freeze on UK arms sales to Israel.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s director Ben Jamal stated: “This incredible show of support and this historic motion demonstrate the strength of feeling at the grassroots of the party. Labour members want to show real solidarity with Palestinians.”

“Given Israel’s continuing use of live fire to kill unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, it is no surprise that there’s clear support for an immediate freeze of arms sales to Israel,” Jamal added.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, the steering group of the international BDS movement, praised the Labour Party vote for “rekindling hope that Israel’s South Africa moment is getting closer.”

Click here to read the original report published by The Electronic Intifada from which these extracts are drawn.

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Emily Thornberry

But The Electronic Intifada has learned that Emily Thornberry, the woman who would become foreign minister were a Labour government elected tomorrow, had privately tried to scupper the motion.

Although Thornberry is a close ally of Labour leader and Palestine solidarity veteran Jeremy Corbyn, she is also a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel and opposes an arms embargo.

Thornberry has said in the past that a Labour government would “review” arms sales to Israel – far short of the freeze called for by Tuesday’s motion.

She repeated her promise to review arms sales to Israel at a meeting of Labour Friends of Palestine at the conference on Monday night, a campaigner told The Electronic Intifada.

But multiple sources told The Electronic Intifada that Thornberry had put pressure on Labour activists behind the motion to make changes to its text that would have gutted it.

Not only did Thornberry demand that the call for an immediate arms trade freeze be removed, she had wanted a line mentioning “Palestinian victims of the Nakba” taken out as well – a reference to Israel’s expulsion of some 800,000 Palestinians to establish a “Jewish state” in 1948.

The proposers of the motion declined to comment on the record.

But sources with knowledge of the discussions told The Electronic Intifada that during an hour-long meeting Thornberry and her people pressured the activists from Harlow and Wolverhampton South West local Labour parties to water down the draft.

Proposer Colin Monehen [featured in the video embedded at the top] made a thinly veiled reference to Thornberry’s interference in his speech to delegates.

As Thornberry sat on the stage nearby, he stated: “There are those that are nervous about the word Nakba. But the Nakba did happen and those people were forcibly removed from their homes, and there has to be a recognition of that.”

Thornberry’s pressure tactics failed and, if anything, the final motion ended up slightly stronger. The original draft stated that the arms freeze was pending the results of an independent investigation into Israel’s killings in Gaza, while the adopted text doesn’t make the freeze conditional on an investigation.

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Jackie Walker

During the debate academic Hilary Wise was shut down by the chair after encouraging delegates to watch the Al Jazeera film, The Lobby.

Rhea Wolfson chided Wise: “I would ask you to be very careful with your language.”

Wolfson is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, a group with intimate ties to the Israeli embassy.

The massive level of popular support for Palestine at the Labour grassroots put into stark relief the failure of the Israel lobby’s attempts to court support within the party.

As it has become clear how isolated pro-Israel activists are within Labour, some appear to be turning to ever more extreme tactics.

On Tuesday night, a film screening focusing on Black anti-Zionist Jewish activist Jackie Walker was cut short after a bomb threat.

The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker was due to be premiered at a conference fringe showing on Tuesday night. The screening got only 15 minutes in before the venue was forced to call off the event.

Walker told The Electronic Intifada that a phone call to the venue from an unknown person claimed that “There are two bombs in the building that will kill many people.”

Walker has been a vocal critic of the Labour Party’s witch hunt against anti-Zionists, and was suspended from the party for her views.

Click here to read the original report published by The Electronic Intifada from which these extracts are drawn.

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Update:

As Craig Murray writes:

What is astonishing is that the state and corporate media, which has made huge play around the entirely fake news of threats to pro-Israel MP Luciana Berger leading to her being given a police escort to protect her from ordinary delegates, has completely ignored this actual and disruptive pro-Israeli threat – except where they have reported the bomb threat, using the big lie technique, as a further example of anti-semitism in the Labour Party!

The Guardian’s report in this respect is simply unbelievable. Headed “Jewish event at Labour conference abandoned after bomb scare” it fails to note that Jewish Voice for Labour is a pro-Corbyn organisation and the film, “The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker”, exposes the evil machinations of the organised witch-hunt against Palestinian activists orchestrated by Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli Embassy. It is not that the Guardian does not know this – it has carried several articles calling for Jackie Walker’s expulsion.

The attempt to spin this as the precise opposite of what it was continues on social media. This chap is followed on Twitter by the Foreign Office.

I want you to undertake a little mental exercise for me, and try it seriously. Just imagine the coverage on Newsnight, the Today Programme and Channel 4 News if a Labour Friends of Israel meeting had been cancelled by a bomb scare. Imagine through the experience of seeing or listening to the coverage, on each of those in turn, of a bomb threat to Labour Friends of Israel.

Done that?

Well the bomb threat to the pro-Palestinian rights Jewish Voice for Labour has so far received zero coverage on those programmes.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “Pro-Israeli Terror Threat at Labour Conference Covered Up By MSM”

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forget ‘Russiagate’, why is no-one talking about ‘Israelgate’…?

The following is an extract drawn from an article posted last February entitled “‘fake news’ is the new blackwhite” – a reference to newspeak jargon from Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ .

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‘Russiagate’ has dominated the US news cycle for well over eighteen months in spite of the fact that after several investigations there has been an embarrassing failure to uncover substantiating evidence pointing to an actual Russian plot to “hack the election” as was so vigorously claimed. But the latest twist in the saga is arguably the lamest to date. It involves Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian nationals for purportedly creating sockpuppet accounts on behalf of Trump (or else disparaging him – presumably for added confusion!), as well as (still more bafflingly) bolstering the campaigns of progressives Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein in the 2016 election. Missing altogether are any claims that Trump knew anything at all about the alleged Russian meddling, or that in fact “Russia hacked the election” – the very pivot about which Russiagate started spinning. As even the Guardian admits in its wholly uncritical account of Mueller’s findings which is excitedly titled “Putin’s chef, a troll farm and Russia’s plot to hijack US democracy”:

The indictment does not allege that any American knowingly participated in Russian meddling, or that Trump campaign associates had more than “unwitting” contact with some who posed as Americans. Trump quickly claimed vindication, noting in a tweet that the interference efforts began in 2014 “long before I announced that I would run for president”. He added: “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Nor does it have anything to say regarding the origins of ‘Russiagate’:

The indictment does not mention the hacking of Democratic emails, which then turned up on WikiLeaks. It does not mention the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. It does not mention the four Trump associates who are facing charges that range from money laundering to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador. America, and the world, is waiting for Mueller to join the dots.1

The post continues:

In fact, both presidential candidates bent over backwards to secure the backing of AIPAC, the most formidable foreign lobby group in America, but that doesn’t count as meddling apparently.

Meanwhile, the bizarre claim that a handful of Russians threw the election process into confusion via social media platforms is an already laughably pathetic allegation, made worse for the simple fact that it is next to impossible to validate, since, as Mueller knows perfectly well, those named will never be extradited to face trial. And for what crime are they to be indicted exactly? For not being American citizens but writing about an US election without registering as a foreign agent. That’s certainly the precedent Muller is setting here. Moreover, the contention is not that this alleged ‘troll farm’ has been spreading falsehoods as such, but that they cunningly redeployed truth in order to deceive the ignorant masses.

Click here to read the full post.

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On August 13th, Jimmy Dore welcomed William Binney, NSA whistleblower and member of Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), to set the record straight about Guccifer 2.0 and Mueller’s indictments:

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Having trawled for evidence of “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as the Mueller investigation was tasked to do, it instead uncovered actual evidence of complicity with Israel. These uncomfortable revelations have since been swept under the carpet by the corporate media, but are discussed in detail elsewhere. For instance, as far back as last December Max Blumenthal was reporting for Alternet:

Seven months later, after three indictments that did little, if anything, to confirm the grand collusion narrative, Mueller had former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn dragged before a federal court for lying to the FBI. The Russia probe had finally netted a big fish.

As the details of the Flynn indictment seeped out into the press, however, the bombshell was revealed as another dud. To the dismay of many Trump opponents, nothing in Flynn’s rap sheet demonstrated collusion with Russia. Instead, the indictment undermined the Russiagate narrative while implicating another, much more inconvenient foreign power in a plot to meddle in American politics.

Blumenthal continues:

To be sure, Flynn indictment did contain a stunning revelation of collusion between Team Trump and a foreign state. But it was not the country that the national media has obsessed over for the past year.

Flynn was found by the FBI to have lobbied [Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey] Kislyak to exercise Russia’s veto against the passage of a United Nations security council resolution condemning the growth of Israel’s illegal settlements. And he did so under orders from Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law and Middle East fixer, who was himself acting on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thanks to Flynn’s indictment, we now know that the Israeli prime minister was able to transform the Trump administration into his own personal vehicle for undermining Obama’s lone effort to hold Israel accountable at the UN. A clearer example of a foreign power colluding with an American political operation against a sitting president has seldom, if ever, been exposed in such glaring fashion. 2

Click here to read Blumenthal’s full article entitled “Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia”.

Around the same time, a journalistic investigation of Israeli meddling in American politics was also secretly hushed up. As a sequel to its damning report on the Israel Lobby’s activities in Britain, Al Jazeera’s Director of Investigative Journalism, Clayton Swisher, announced in October 2017 that the Qatari satellite channel had embedded a different undercover journalist (called “Tony”) inside the US Israel lobby:

Swisher made the announcement soon after the UK’s broadcast regulator dismissed all complaints against Al Jazeera’s film The Lobby.

That documentary, broadcast in January 2017, exposed Israel’s covert influence campaign in the UK’s ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties. The film revealed an Israeli embassy agent plotting with a British civil servant to “take down” a government minister seen as too critical of Israel.

Although Swisher promised the US film would come out “very soon,” nearly five months later it has yet to be broadcast. 3

Click here to read more on the announcement at The Electronic Intifada.

The documentary was never broadcast. However, based on newly leaked footage from this banned documentary, The Electronic Intifada published a follow-up article last week [Sept 13th] that discloses the operation of (what should be called) ‘troll farms’ operating under the cover of “The Israel Project” (TIP) using sockpuppets to sway public opinion and disseminate propaganda on the social media platform Facebook:

The Israel Project, a major advocacy group based in Washington, is running a secret influence campaign on Facebook.

The video above, exclusive to The Electronic Intifada, shows the latest excerpts to leak from the documentary.

Earlier leaked footage published by The Electronic Intifada and the Grayzone Project has already revealed underhanded tactics by anti-Palestinian groups planned and executed in collusion with the Israeli government.

In the newest clips, David Hazony, the managing director of The Israel Project, is heard telling Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter: “There are also things that we do that are completely off the radar. We work together with a lot of other organizations.”

“We produce content that they then publish with their own name on it,” Hazony adds.

A major part of the operation is the creation of a network of Facebook “communities” focused on history, the environment, world affairs and feminism that appear to have no connection to pro-Israel advocacy, but are used by The Israel Project to spread pro-Israel messaging.

The same piece continues:

One of these Facebook pages, Cup of Jane, has almost half a million followers.

Cup of Jane’s “About” page describes it as being about “Sugar, spice and everything nice.”

But there is no disclosure that this is a page run for the purpose of promoting Israel.

The “About” page does identify Cup of Jane as being “a community launched by TIP’s Future Media Project in DC.”

There is however no direct and explicit mention of Israel or indication that “TIP” stands for The Israel Project.

The Electronic Intifada understands that even this vague acknowledgment of who is behind the page was only added after The Israel Project learned about the existence of the Al Jazeera undercover documentary and presumably anticipated being exposed.

The Israel Project also added an acknowledgment on its own website that it runs the Facebook pages. However its website is not linked from the Facebook pages themselves.

There is no evidence in the Internet Archive of the page existing before May 2017 – months after “Tony’s” cover was blown.

According to [former employee Jordan] Schachtel, The Israel Project is putting considerable resources into producing Cup of Jane and a network of similar pages.

“We have a team of like 13 people. We are working on a lot of videos, explainers,” he tells Tony in Al Jazeera’s documentary. “A lot of it is just random topics and then maybe like 25 percent of it would be like Israel or Jewish-based.”

“Cup of Jane” is just one of many such fake websites:

Other pages identified by the censored Al Jazeera documentary as run by The Israel Project include Soul Mama, History Bites, We Have Only One Earth and This Explains That.

Some have hundreds of thousands of followers.

History Bites does not reveal its affiliation with The Israel Project, not even with the vague formula used by Cup of Jane and the other pages.

History Bites simply describes itself as conveying “The awesome of History in bite-sized chewable pieces!”

That page re-posted Cup of Jane posts presenting Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister who implemented racist and violent policies against indigenous Palestinians, and viewed Palestinian women giving birth as an existential threat, as a feminist hero.

A 2016 This Explains That video spreads false Israeli claims that the UN cultural agency UNESCO “erased” Jewish and Christian reverence for holy sites in Jerusalem.

History Bites reposted the video last December stating that it “seems to support President Trump’s declaration today that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state of Israel.”

The video has received almost five million views.

Another video posted by History Bites attempts to justify Israel’s June 1967 surprise attack on Egypt, launching the war in which Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights.

The video describes Israel’s military occupation of East Jerusalem as the city being “reunified” and “liberated.”

There is a great deal more detail in the article and I strongly encourage readers to read the piece in its entirety. It concludes where my own post begins – making a parallel reference to the furore surrounding the equivalent Russiagate allegations:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook has been accused of allowing its platform to be used for manipulative Russian-sponsored propaganda aimed at influencing politics and public opinion.

Despite the hype, these allegations have been grossly overblown or unsubstantiated.

Nevertheless, Facebook has partnered with the Atlantic Council in an effort to ostensibly crack down on “fake accounts” and “disinformation.”

The Atlantic Council is a Washington think tank that has been funded by NATO, the US military, the brutally repressive governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, European Union governments, and a who’s who of investment firms, oil companies, arms makers and other war profiteers.

As the apparent result of this partnership, a number of completely innocuous social media accounts with few or no followers were recently taken down.

More worryingly, pages run by leftist news outlets focusing on countries targeted by the US government, such as Venezuela Analysis and teleSUR, were suspended, though later restored.

Now with solid evidence of The Israel Project’s well-resourced and extensive influence campaign on Facebook, it remains to be seen if the social media giant will act to ensure that unwitting users are aware that what they are being exposed to is propaganda designed to boost and whitewash the Israeli state.

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada the company would look into the matter. 4

Why is no-one talking about ‘Israelgate’? The question in the title to this post is rhetorical, of course, but we might easily answer it anyway. Russiagate was the cover story for why the Clinton campaign bombed so badly and then afterwards successfully reworked into the pretext to close down “fake news” websites. Talking about Israelgate on the other hand… what would that achieve?

Click here to read the full article entitled “Censored film reveals The Israel Project’s secret Facebook campaign.

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On Monday 10th, The Real News interviewed Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal about why Qatar bowed down to American pressure to censor the documentary. In particular they speak about leaked clips that show how the Israeli government was behind attacks on American pro-Palestinian activists and Black Lives Matter:

Ali Abunimah: We published on August 27th, the first leaked video from the film in which an official of The Israel Project names Adam Milstein, a pro-Israel financier based in California – real estate magnate who spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. In the film, Milstein is named as the funder of ‘Canary Mission’ [a blacklist for pro-Palestine activists] and for years now people have been trying to find out who is behind ‘Canary Mission’ other than a few snippets of information which came out this appears to be first major break in cracking who is behind this.

And what it also shows is that ‘Canary Mission’ is part of a much bigger effort, effectively orchestrated by the Israeli government, in which groups like the ‘Israel on Campus Coalition’ and ‘The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ are acting as agents, or front groups, for the Israeli government, helping it to gather information on US citizens; to harass US citizens; and other activities – without being registered as foreign agents of the State of Israel. So this really I think explains why the Israel lobby put such intense pressure on Qatar and on Al Jazeera to censor the film. Because I think it reveals a lot of activity that they don’t want revealed.

And what’s ironic is that this film contains real evidence of foreign interference in American politics [and] in American civic life by a foreign state: orchestrated, funded and directed by a foreign state and it’s got no attention. The censorship has gotten very little attention in the mainstream media. Meanwhile, as you know very well, the mainstream media and mainstream politicians continue to chase the shadows of ‘Russiagate’ and Russian interference, which until now have proven to be just shadows, as opposed to this really powerful evidence of Israeli interference.

[from 1:55 mins]

Max Blumenthal: Well, Noah Pollak [Executive Director of the ‘Emergency Committee for Israel’] is part of the crew that Ali describes as essentially unregistered agents – Adam Milstein, Jacob Baime of the ‘Israel on Campus Coalition’ – that are effectively surveilling and attacking American students on behalf of the Israeli government. These are Likudnik operatives: figures who align with the ring wing in Israel, who are substantially funded by Milstein as well as Sheldon Adelson who is one of the largest donors to both Donald Trump and to the political empire of Benjamin Netanyahu.

And we reported based on leaked content from the censored Al Jazeera “Lobby USA” documentary that Noah Pollak had essentially been astroturfing a protest against a 2016 gathering of the ‘National Students for Justice in Palestine’ conference. It was in DC and basically Pollak went to the Hudson Institute, which is a pro-Israel think tank with very close ties of its own to the Israeli government, and said you know send us some of your campus fellows – basically like youth fellows – and they’re going to protest for us.

And the undercover reporter for Al Jazeera, James Kleinfeld, gets on the bus to this protest – he was interning for The Israel Project, another affiliated pro-Israel lobby group – and covertly films all of these young people, who are young conservative activists, saying we don’t really have any interest in going to yell at Arabs and that’s what we’ve been told to do: go shout at Arabs. And they’re driving around in a bus and getting lost and asking people “where are the Jihadis? We’ve just been told to go yell at Jihadis.” So you can see kind of the racism and Islamophobia behind the whole operation. But at the same time they’re saying basically we’re being forced to do this. We get paid like $50,000 a year as part of this fellowship and this is what we have to do – we’re selling our souls.

So it’s kind of amusing but at the same time you see how the Israel lobby operates. It essentially has to pay fake protesters because it has no grassroots support.

Then these campus fellows from this ring wing think tank show up at the conference where there are hundreds of young people, students who are organically drawn to Palestine solidarity activism [and] don’t have to be paid to be there. They themselves are paying their own way. And these fake protesters start shouting Islamophobic insults at them. Noah Pollak is screaming about child suicide bombers at young women and men, who are mostly students from immigrant backgrounds. Si I thought it was a really scandalous scene and I chose to reveal at the Greyzone Project along with a more recent report that shows the phenomenon that Ali described which is the Israeli government actually coordinating directly attacks on American progressive social movements, which should be scandalous. If Russia was doing it, you know, you’d have the New York Times and Washington Post freaking out but in this case it’s silence.

I mean [the report] should have been explosive… if the FBI had been exposed for recruiting black establishment leadership to attack the Black Lives Matter movement and undermining Black Lives Matter events, you know, how much outrage would there be? Probably a lot but in this case all we’ve done is expose a foreign government – the apartheid government of Israel – for doing exactly the same and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of outrage. The suppressed, censored Al Jazeera “Lobby” documentary shows scenes from a pro-Israel conference where a group of Israeli diplomats are essentially boasting about having recruited former civil rights leaders and established black activists as proxies to denounce Black Lives Matter as antisemitic. This was right after the movement for black lives had introduced its platform supporting BDS, denouncing Israel as an apartheid state, and accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinian people. So there was a big priority not just for the Israel lobby but the Israeli government to undermine Black Lives Matter. And they not only claimed responsibility for op-eds in the Huffington Post by black civil rights leaders and in other publications attacking Black Lives Matter as anti-Semitic. […]

Then you have Eric Gallagher, who is the Director of development [of The Israel Project] who was filmed covertly by the undercover Al Jazeera reporter, James Kleinfeld, boasting of how The Israel Project had gotten a Black Lives Matter event cancelled – a fundraiser cancelled – in New York, right after it released its platform, basically by calling donors and then having them call a nightclub that they were affiliated with and the nightclub put the kibosh on the event. So all this goes back to the phenomenon that Ali described, which is the Israeli government interfering, not just in American politics, but in American life. Surveilling Americans and covertly undermining American progressive social movements that are dedicated to advocating for the equality of some of the most oppressed groups in the country.

[from 4:45 mins]

The transcript is my own.

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1 From an article entitled “Putin’s chef, a troll farm and Russia’s plot to hijack US democracy” written by David Smith, published in the Guardian on February 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/17/putins-chef-a-troll-farm-and-russias-plot-to-hijack-us-democracy

2 From an article entitled “Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia” written by Max Blumenthal, published in Alternet on Decmeber 5, 2017. https://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/flynn-indictment-exposes-collusion-israel

3 From an article entitled “What’s in Al Jazeera’s undercover film on US Israel lobby?” written by Asa Winstanley, published in The Electronic Intifada on March 5, 2018. https://electronicintifada.net/content/whats-al-jazeeras-undercover-film-us-israel-lobby/23496

4 From an article entitled “Censored film reveals The Israel Project’s secret Facebook campaign” written by Ali Abunimah and Asa Winstanley, published by The Electronic Intifada on September 13, 2018. https://electronicintifada.net/content/censored-film-reveals-israel-projects-secret-facebook-campaign/25486

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Filed under internet freedom, Israel, USA

Craig Murray on the media response to Boshirov and Petrov’s story – whatever happened to presumption of innocence?

Former ambassador and independent journalist Craig Murray is no friend of the Kremlin or Putin but has been outspoken in his doubts over UK government allegations relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In previous articles he has cross-examined the government case point by point, and now he considers the latest evidence provided in the RT interview of suspects Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov.

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The presumption of innocence is the principle that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty. It was traditionally expressed by the Latin maxim ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”.

From Wikipedia.

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I was caught in a twitterstorm of hatred yesterday, much of it led by mainstream media journalists like David Aaronovitch and Dan Hodges, for daring to suggest that the basic elements of Boshirov and Petrov’s story do in fact stack up. What became very plain quite quickly was that none of these people had any grasp of the detail of the suspects’ full twenty minute interview [also embedded below], but had just seen the short clips or quotes as presented by British corporate and state media.

As I explained in my last post [see below], what first gave me some sympathy for the Russians’ story and drew me to look at it closer, was the raft of social media claims that there was no snow in Salisbury that weekend and Stonehenge had not been closed. In fact, Stonehenge was indeed closed on 3 March by heavy snow, as confirmed by English Heritage. So the story that they came to Salisbury on 3 March but could not go to Stonehenge because of heavy snow did stand up, contrary to almost the entire twittersphere.

Once there was some pushback of truth about this on social media, people started triumphantly posting the CCTV images from 4 March to prove that there was no snow lying in Central Salisbury on 4 March. But nobody ever said there was snow on 4 March – in fact Borisov and Petrov specifically stated that they learnt there was a thaw so they went back. However when they got there, they encountered heavy sleet and got drenched through. That accords precisely with the photographic evidence in which they are plainly drenched through.

Another extraordinary meme that causes hilarity on twitter is that Russians might be deterred by snow or cold weather.

Well, Russians are human beings just like us. They cope with cold weather at home because they have the right clothes. Boshirov and Petrov refer continually in the interview to cold, wet feet and again this is borne out by the photographic evidence – they were wearing sneakers unsuitable to the freak weather conditions that were prevalent in Salisbury on 3 and 4 March. They are indeed soaked through in the pictures, just as they said in the interview.

Russians are no more immune to cold and wet than you are.

Twitter is replete with claims that they were strange tourists, to be visiting a housing estate. No evidence has been produced anywhere that shows them on any housing estate. They were seen on CCTV camera walking up the A36 by the Shell station, some 400 yards from the Skripals’ house, which would require three turnings to get to that – turnings nobody saw them take (and they were on the wrong side of the road for the first turning, even though it would be very close). No evidence has been mentioned which puts them at the Skripals’ House.

Finally, it is everywhere asserted that it is very strange that Russians would take a weekend break holiday, and that if they did they could not possibly be interested in architecture or history. This is a simple expression of anti-Russian racism. Plainly before their interview – about which they were understandably nervous – they prepared what they were going to say, including checking up on what it was they expected to see in Salisbury because they realised they would very obviously be asked why they went. Because their answer was prepared does not make it untrue.

That literally people thousands of people have taken to twitter to mock that it is hilariously improbable that tourists might want to visit Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge, is a plain example of the irrationality that can overtake people when gripped by mob hatred.

I am astonished by the hatred that has been unleashed. The story of Gerry Conlon might, you would hope, give us pause as to presuming the guilt of somebody who just happened to be of the “enemy” nationality, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the mocking mob, there is nothing inherently improbable in the tale told by the two men. What matters is whether they can be connected to the novichok, and here the safety of the identification of the microscopic traces of novichok allegedly found in their hotel bedroom is key. I am no scientist, but I have been told by someone who is, that if the particle(s) were as the police state so small as to be harmless to humans, they would be too small for mass spectrometry analysis and almost certainly could not be firmly identified other than as an organophosphate. Perhaps someone qualified might care to comment.

The hotel room novichok is the key question in this case.

Were I Vladimir Putin, I would persuade Boshirov and Petrov voluntarily to come to the UK and stand trial, on condition that it was a genuinely fair trial before a jury in which the entire proceedings, and all of the evidence, was open and public, and the Skripals and Pablo Miller might be called as witnesses and cross-examined. I have no doubt that the British government’s desire for justice would suddenly move into rapid retreat if their bluff was called in this way.

As for me, when I see a howling mob rushing to judgement and making at least some claims which are utterly unfounded, and when I see that mob fueled and egged on by information from the security services propagated by exactly the same mainstream media journalists who propagandised the lies about Iraqi WMD, I see it as my job to stand in the way of the mob and to ask cool questions. If that makes them hate me, then I must be having some impact.

So I ask this question again – and nobody so far has attempted to give me an answer. At what time did the Skripals touch their doorknob? Boshirov and Petrov arrived in Salisbury at 11.48 and could not have painted the doorknob before noon. The Skripals had left their house at 09.15, with their mobile phones switched off so they could not be geo-located. Their car was caught on CCTV on three cameras heading out of Salisbury to the North East. At 13.15 it was again caught on camera heading back in to the town centre from the North West.

How had the Skripals managed to get back to their home, and touch the door handle, in the hour between noon and 1pm, without being caught on any of the CCTV cameras that caught them going out and caught the Russian visitors so extensively? After this remarkably invisible journey, what time did they touch the door handle?

I am not going to begin to accept the guilt of Boshirov and Petrov until somebody answers that question. Dan Hodges? David Aaronovitch? Theresa May? Anybody?

Reposted in full from an article entitled “Lynch Mob Mentality” published today by Craig Murray.

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Here is Craig Murray’s initial response in full (with images retained) published on his blog yesterday and entitled “The Strange Russian Alibi”.

Like many, my first thought at the interview of Boshirov and Petrov – which apparently are indeed their names – is that they were very unconvincing. The interview itself seemed to be set up around a cramped table with a poor camera and lighting, and the interviewer seemed pretty hopeless at asking probing questions that would shed any real light.

I had in fact decided that their story was highly improbable, until I started seeing the storm of twitter posting, much of it from mainstream media journalists, which stated that individual things were impossible which were, in fact, not impossible at all.

The first and most obvious regards the weather on 3 and 4 March. It is in fact absolutely true that, if the two had gone down to Salisbury on 3 March with the intention of going to Stonehenge, they would have been unable to get there because of the snow. It is therefore perfectly possible that they went back the next day to try again; and public transport out of Salisbury was still severely disrupted, and many roads closed, on 4 March. Proof of this is not at all difficult to find.

Those mocking the idea that the pair were blocked by snow from visiting Stonehenge have pointed to the CCTV footage of central Salisbury not showing snow on the afternoon of 4 March. Well, that is central Salisbury, it had of course been salted and cleared. Outside there were drifts.

So that part of their story in fact turns out not to be implausible as social media is making out; in fact it fits precisely with the actual facts.

The second part of their story that has brought ridicule is the notion that two Russians would fly to the UK for the weekend and try to visit Salisbury. This ridicule has been very strange to me. Weekend breaks – arrive on Friday and return on Sunday – are a standard part of the holiday industry. Why is it apparently unthinkable that Russians fly on weekend breaks as well as British people?

Even more strange is the idea that it is wildly improbable for Russian visitors to wish to visit Salisbury cathedral and Stonehenge. Salisbury Cathedral is one of the most breathtaking achievements of Norman architecture, one of the great cathedrals of Europe. It attracts a great many foreign visitors. Stonehenge is world famous and a world heritage site. I went on holiday this year and visited Wurzburg to see the Bishop’s Palace, and then the winery cooperative at Sommerach. Because somebody does not choose to spend their leisure time on a beach in Benidorm does not make them a killer. Lots of people go to Salisbury Cathedral.

There seems to be a racist motif here – Russians cannot possibly have intellectual or historical interests, or afford weekend breaks.

The final meme which has worried me is “if they went to see the cathedral, why did they visit the Skripal house?” Well, no evidence at all has been presented that they visited the Skripal house. They were captured on CCTV walking past a petrol station 500 yards away – that is the closest they have been placed to the Skripal house.

The greater mystery about these two is, if they did visit the Skripal House and paint Novichok on the doorknob, why did they afterwards walk straight past the railway station again and head into Salisbury city centre, where they were caught window shopping in a coin and souvenir shop with apparently not a care in the world, before eventually returning to the train station? It seems a very strange attitude to a getaway after an attempted murder. In truth their demeanour throughout the photographs is consistent with their tourism story.

The Russians have so far presented this pair in a very unconvincing light. But on investigation, the elements of their story which are claimed to be wildly improbable are not inconsistent with the facts.

There remains the much larger question of the timing.

The Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

I shall write a further post on these timing questions shortly.

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Detailed below are five outstanding questions. Questions one and two pertain directly to the incidents of the Salisbury and Amesbury poisonings; three and four look into the background to the case and find improbable links to the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ allegations; and the last question relates to the potentially buried testimony of Yulia Skripal. All sections are based on a quoted sequence of earlier posts written by Craig Murray, who has been foremost in cross-examining the government case (links to each post are provided as footnotes to be read in full).

  1. When did the Skripals touch the doorknob?

At 09.15 on Sunday 4 March the Skripals’ car was seen on CCTV driving through three different locations in Salisbury. Both Skripals had switched off their mobile phones and they remained off for over four hours, which has baffled geo-location.

There is no CCTV footage that indicates the Skripals returning to their home. It has therefore always been assumed that they last touched the door handle around 9am.

But the Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

This BBC report gives a very useful timeline summary of events. 1

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  1. Why was the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley still sealed?

ITV News gamely inserted the phrase “poisoned by a Russian nerve agent” into their exclusive interview with Charlie Rowley, an interview in which they managed to ask no penetrating questions whatsoever, and of which they only broadcast heavily edited parts. Their own website contains this comment by their journalist Rupert Evelyn:

He said it was unopened, the box it was in was sealed, and that they had to use a knife in order to cut through it.

“That raises the question: if it wasn’t used, is this the only Novichok that exists in this city? And was it the same Novichok used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal?

But the information about opening the packet with a knife is not in the linked interview. What Rowley does say in the interview is that the box was still sealed in its cellophane. Presumably it was the cellophane he slit open with a knife.

So how can this fit in to the official government account? Presumably the claim is that Russian agents secretly visited the Skripal house, sprayed novichok on the door handle from this perfume bottle, and then, at an unknown location, disassembled the nozzle from the bottle (Mr Rowley said he had to insert it), then repackaged and re-cellophaned the bottle prior to simply leaving it to be discovered somewhere – presumably somewhere indoors as it still looked new – by Mr Rowley four months later. However it had not been found by anyone else in the interim four months of police, military and security service search. 2

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  1. What is Sergei Skripal’s connection to Christopher Steele and ‘Russiagate’?

Skripal had not retired but was active for MI6 on gigs briefing overseas intelligence agencies about Russia. This did not increase his threat to Russia, as he told everything he knows a decade ago. But it could provide an element of annoyance that would indeed increase Russian official desire to punish him further.

But the fact he was still very much active has a far greater significance. The government slapped a D(SMA) notice on the identity of Pablo Miller, Skripal’s former MI6 handler who lives close by in Salisbury and who worked for Christopher Steele’s Orbis Intelligence at the time that Orbis produced the extremely unreliable dossier on Trump/Russia. The fact that Skripal had not retired but was still briefing on Russia, to me raises to a near certainty the likelihood that Skripal worked with Miller on the Trump dossier.

I have to say that, as a former Ambassador in the former Soviet Union trained in intelligence analysis and familiar with MI6 intelligence out of Moscow, I agree with every word of this professional dissection of the Orbis Trump dossier by Paul Roderick Gregory, irrespective of Gregory’s politics. In particular this paragraph, which Gregory wrote more than a year before the Salisbury attack, certainly applies to much of the dossier.

I have picked out just a few excerpts from the Orbis report. It was written, in my opinion, not by an ex British intelligence officer but by a Russian trained in the KGB tradition. It is full of names, dates, meetings, quarrels, and events that are hearsay (one an overheard conversation). It is a collection of “this important person” said this to “another important person.” There is no record; no informant is identified by name or by more than a generic title. The report appears to fail the veracity test in the one instance of a purported meeting in which names, dates, and location are provided. Some of the stories are so bizarre (the Rosneft bribe) that they fail the laugh test. Yet, there appears to be a desire on the part of some media and Trump opponents on both sides of the aisle to picture the Orbis report as genuine but unverifiable.

The Russian ex-intelligence officer who we know was in extremely close contact with Orbis at the time the report was written, was Sergei Skripal.

The Orbis report is mince. Skripal knew it was mince and how it was written. Skripal has a history of selling secrets to the highest bidder. The Trump camp has a lot of money. My opinion is that as the Mueller investigation stutters towards ignominious failure, Skripal became a loose end that Orbis/MI6/CIA/Clinton (take your pick) wanted tied off. That seems to me at least as likely as a Russian state assassination. To say Russia is the only possible suspect is nonsense. 3

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  1. What does BBC’s Mark Urban know about the case?

On 8 July 2018 a lady named Kirsty Eccles asked what, in its enormous ramifications, historians may one day see as the most important Freedom of Information request ever made. The rest of this post requires extremely close and careful reading, and some thought, for you to understand that claim.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.

2: When did the BBC know this?

3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the subject of Sergei Skripal.

Yours faithfully,

Kirsty Eccles

The ramifications of this little request are enormous as they cut right to the heart of the ramping up of the new Cold War, of the BBC’s propaganda collusion with the security services to that end, and of the concoction of fraudulent evidence in the Steele “dirty dossier”. This also of course casts a strong light on more plausible motives for an attack on the Skripals.

Which is why the BBC point blank refused to answer Kirsty’s request, stating that it was subject to the Freedom of Information exemption for “Journalism”.

10th July 2018
Dear Ms Eccles
Freedom of Information request – RFI20181319
Thank you for your request to the BBC of 8th July 2018, seeking the following information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000:
1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he
had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.
2: When did the BBC know this?
3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the
subject of Sergei Skripal.
The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of
‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you. Part VI
of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters
is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The
BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or
information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

The BBC is of course being entirely tendentious here – “journalism” does not include the deliberate suppression of vital information from the public, particularly in order to facilitate the propagation of fake news on behalf of the security services. That black propaganda is precisely what the BBC is knowingly engaged in, and here trying hard to hide. 4

Click here to read Craig Murray’s follow-up post regarding the BBC’s refusal to reply to him.

  1. Where are Sergei and Yulia Skripal today?

Mark Urban’s piece for Newsnight tonight [July 5th] was simply disgusting; it did not even pretend to be more than a propaganda piece on behalf of the security services, who had told Urban (as he said) that Yulia Skripal’s phone “could have been” tapped by the Russians and they “might even” have listened to her conversations through the microphone in her telephone. That was the “new evidence” that the Russians were behind everything.

As a former British Ambassador I can tell you with certainty that indeed the Russians might have tapped Yulia, but GCHQ most definitely would have. It is, after all, their job, and billions of our taxes go into it. If tapping of phones is seriously presented as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.  5

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I was happy to see Yulia alive and looking reasonably well yesterday, if understandably stressed. Notably, and in sharp contrast to Litvinenko, she leveled no accusations at Russia or anybody else for her poisoning. In Russian she spoke quite naturally. Of the Russian Embassy she said very simply “I am not ready, I do not want their help”. Strangely this is again translated in the Reuters subtitles by the strangulated officialese of “I do not wish to avail myself of their services”, as originally stated in the unnatural Metropolitan Police statement issued on her behalf weeks ago.

“I do not wish to avail myself of their services” is simply not a translation of what she says in Russian and totally misses the “I am not ready” opening phrase of that sentence. My conclusion is that Yulia’s statement was written by a British official and then translated to Russian for her to speak, rather than the other way round. Also that rather than translate what she said in Russian themselves for the subtitles, Reuters have subtitled using a British government script they have been given.

It would of course have been much more convincing had Sergei also been present. Duress cannot be ruled out when he is held by the British authorities. I remain extremely suspicious that, at the very first chance she got in hospital, Yulia managed to get hold of a telephone (we don’t know how, it was not her own and she has not had access to one since) and phone her cousin Viktoria, yet since then the Skripals have made no attempt to contact their family in Russia. That includes no contact to Sergei’s aged mum, Yulia’s grandmother, who Viktoria cares for. Sergei normally calls his mother – who is 89 – regularly. This lack of contact is a worrying sign that the Skripals may be prevented from free communication to the outside world. Yulia’s controlled and scripted performance makes that more rather than less likely.

It is to me particularly concerning that Yulia does not seem to have social media access. The security services have the ability to give her internet risk free through impenetrable VPN. But they appear not to have done that.  6

I would like to thank Craig Murray for allowing the reproduction of these articles.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Updates:

Embedded below is a video made by nuclear scientist and environmental activist Chris Busby (73 years old) – who is featured in earlier posts on Fukushima and the use of depleted uranium – speaking out in April shortly after the Salisbury poisoning happened:

On Wednesday 12th (two days ago), Chris Busby was raided by police on the entirely spurious grounds that two police officers had “felt unwell” during a visit. He was arrested and held for 19 hours under the Explosives Act before being released without charge:

Dr Busby, who has previously advised the government on radiation risks, said neighbours had reported his 29-year-old housemate “acting strangely”.

A cordon was set up around his home on Wednesday morning when the two officers complained of feeling unwell – which Dr Busby attributed to “psychological problems associated with their knowledge of the Skripal poisoning”.

The scientist said he was handcuffed and interviewed all night by police who suspected he was making a bomb, but the only substances found at his home were “innocuous chemicals for research into radiation”.

Click here to read the BBC news report from September 13th.

Chris Busby afterwards spoke with independent journalist Tony Gosling of BCfm radio about Wednesday’s arrest, the various court cases he’s involved with, contamination from Fukushima and briefly also regarding the Skripal case:

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On Friday 14th BBC2’s Newsnight broadcast the recording of a phone interview between Kirsty Wark and editor-in-chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan, the interviewer of Boshirov and Petrov. If you watch the clip to the end you will see that Kirsty Wark brings the discussion around to accuse Simonyan of being a Russian state propagandist at which point Simonyan rather conveniently hangs up. She may well have done so and was within her rights, although refusal to answer questions will be seen by many as a tacit admission of guilt. Doubtless, this is how the BBC would have scripted it, so who knows, dare I suggest that the BBC may have hung up on her?

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Further updates:

On Sept 27th Craig Murray produced analysis challenging claims made by Bellingcat (of the neo-con Atlantic Council) that the true identity of “Ruslan Boshirov” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, “a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation.”

Here is an abridged version of his article:

The problem is with Bellingcat’s methodology. They did not start with any prior intelligence that “Chepiga” is “Boshirov”. They rather allegedly searched databases of GRU operatives of about the right age, then trawled photos in yearbooks of them until they found one that looked a bit like “Boshirov”. And guess what? It looks a bit like “Boshirov”. If you ignore the substantially different skull shape and nose.

Only the picture on the left is Chepiga. The two on the right are from “Boshirov’s” Russian passport application file, and the photo of “Boshirov” issued by Scotland Yard.

Like almost the entire internet, I assumed both black and white photos were from Chepiga’s files, and was willing to admit the identification of Chepiga with “Boshirov” as valid. But once you understand is that – as Bellingcat confirm if you read it closely – only the photo on the left is Chepiga, you start to ask questions.

The two guys on the right and the centre are undoubtedly the same person. But is the guy on the left the same, but younger?

Betaface.com, which runs industry standard software, gives the faces an 83% similarity, putting the probability of them being the same person at 2.8%.

By comparison it gives me a 72% identity with Chepiga and a 2.1% chance of being him.

There is a superficial resemblance. But if you take the standard ratios used for facial recognition, you get a very different story. If you draw a line between the centre of the pupils of the two guys centre and right, and then take a perpendicular from that line to the tip of the nose, you get a key ratio. The two on the right both have a ratio of 100:75, which is unsurprising since they are the same person. The one on the left has a ratio of 100:68, which is very different.

To put that more simply, his nose is much shorter, and less certainly his eyes are further apart. […]

It is worth repeating that the only evidence that Chepiga is Boshirov offered by Bellingcat is this photo. The rest of their article simply attempts to establish Chepiga’s career.

This is gross hypocrisy by Bellingcat, who have argued that scores of photos of White Helmets being Jihadi fighters are not valid evidence because you cannot safely recognise faces from photographs.

Yet Higgins now claims his facial identification of Chepiga as Boshirov as “definitive” and “conclusive”, despite the absence of moles, scars and blemishes. Higgins stands exposed as a quite disgusting hypocrite. Let me go further. I do not believe that Higgins did not take the elementary step of running facial recognition technology over the photos, and I believe he is hiding the results from you. Is it not also astonishing that the mainstream media have not done this simple test?

The bulk of the Bellingcat article is just trying to prove the reality of the existence of Chepiga. This is hard to evaluate, but as the evidence to link him to “Boshirov” is non-existent, is a different argument. Having set out to find a GRU officer of the same age who looks a bit like “Boshirov”, they trumpet repeatedly the fact that Chepiga is about the same age as evidence, in a crass display of circular argument.

This unofficial website does indeed name Chepiga as a Hero of the Russian Federation and recipient of 20 awards, as Bellingcat claims. But it is impossible to know if it is authentic, and by contrast there is no Chepiga on the official list of Heroes of the Russian Federation, for the stated 2014 or for any other year, which Bellingcat fail to mention. Their other documents and anonymous sources are unverifiable.

The photo of the military school honours arch, with Chepiga added right at the end and not quite in line, looks to me very suspect. My surmise so far would be that most likely Bellingcat’s source of supply is Ukrainian, and trying to tie the Skripal affair into the Ukrainian civil war via Chepiga.

My view of the most likely explanation on presently available evidence is this:

Boshirov is not Boshirov, and the Russian Government are lying.
Boshirov is not Chepiga, and Bellingcat are lying.
The whole Skripal novichok story still does not hang together, and the British government are lying.

I will continue to form my opinions as further evidence becomes available.

UPDATE Incredibly, at 13.15 on 27 September the BBC TV News ran the story showing only the two photos of “Boshirov”, which of course are the same person, and not showing the photo of Chepiga at all!

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “’Boshirov’ is probably not ‘Chepiga’. But he is also not ‘Boshirov’”.

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Bellingcat’s attempts to gild the Chepiga lily are now becoming ludicrous. The photo they published today [October 3rd] is a very obvious fake.

Many people have noticed that the photo of Chepiga on this wall appears to be hanging in completely different lighting conditions from the others. That is indeed a good point.

But there is a more important point here, and that is to do with sequencing. Except for Chepiga and Popov, who according to Belligncat also became a Hero of Russia in 2014, all of the people here are indeed openly and officially listed Heroes of Russia or, in the majority of cases, Heroes of the Soviet Union.

What is more, they are, as you would expect on a military honours wall, ranked in date order. ONLY CHEPIGA IS OUT OF DATE ORDER. The order runs top row let to right, then second row left to right, then bottom row left to right. The bit of the bottom row we can see runs:

Karpushenko (2000), Ribak (2005), Maclov (2012), Popov (2014).

So why is Chepiga in a row of much earlier Heroes of the Soviet Union? Next in sequence in fact to Grigory Dobrunov who got his award in 1956!!!! The pictures are definitely otherwise all in date order.

The glaringly obvious answer – in line with the reflections anomaly – is that Chepiga’s “picture” has been photoshopped onto this wall. The military do not suddenly insert photos out of order and at random on an honours board. Bellingcat, however, have a track record of image manipulation.

None of which proves or disproves the Boshirov identification. It is however an important reminder to take Bellingcat as a source with a pinch of salt.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s original post entitled “Bellingcat’s Very Obviously Fake Chepiga Photo”.

The following caveat is courtesy of a friend who specialises in lighting and works as a professor at the local university:

I disagree with Murray’s point about the different lighting conditions, and a bit like the photos of the two walking through airport gates at the same time [from a previous post], he is too eager to jump to convenient conclusions. The key image is middle row, right hand side. Yes, it has a large veiling reflection on it that does not appear (so strongly) on other photos, but that is not unusual. It’s like when you could see a reflection of a window or the room light on your TV (when it was a CRT); it covered a part of the screen but not all of it. It could be fake, but the lighting argument doesn’t work.

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1 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/09/skripals-the-mystery-deepens/

2 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-silence-of-the-whores/ 

3 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/yulia-skripal-and-the-salisbury-wut/ 

4 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/08/skripals-when-the-bbc-hide-the-truth/ 

5 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-amesbury-mystery/ 

6 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/yulia-skripal-and-the-salisbury-wut/

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government is trying to make fracking just as easy as putting up a garden shed! join campaign to oppose fast-track fracking

The following sections are drawn from pages of the Frack Free Ryedale campaign website.

The government are planning to make non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas Permitted Development, which means fracking companies won’t need local planning permission to build a 1.5-hectare exploratory well site. They are also planning to make full scale industrial fracking a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), which means the decisions regarding whether or not fracking is allowed will be made by the Secretary of State and a Planning Inspector – not your local council planning authority.

This is nothing less than an assault on local democracy on an unprecedented scale and would result in local communities left without a voice about whether their countryside should be fracked.

This desperate attempt to bypass local democracy shows that the Conservative government have realised that they are never going to get ‘social licence’ for this unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary industry. Rather than put their support behind renewables, they seem intent on forcing fracking on unwilling communities, and at the same time ignoring the huge weight of evidence of the harm this industry causes, and their own climate change commitments.

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

Please sign this 38 Degrees petition, and then share with friends and family.

Please also sign this Friends of the Earth petition, and you can sign up for webinars and resources from FoE here.

For the sake of our countryside fracking should be stopped immediately. This is the only way our beautiful country can avoid becoming a contaminated wasteland.

Click here to reach the Frack Free Ryedale Permitted Development & NSIP campaign page.

Please note: the ‘consultations’ linked above use technical language and appear to be deliberately obscure. Frack Free Ryedale intends to post guidelines on how to respond in near future – I shall update but meanwhile click here to sign up for newsletters.

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Q + A on permitted development and NSIP

Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is Permitted Development?

Permitted Development is the part of the UK planning system which allows people to carry out low-impact improvements on their property without having to apply for planning permission. It was introduced in 1948 to enable people to make modest improvements on their homes without having to apply to the council.

What kind of things can people do to their houses under Permitted Development rules?

Typical home improvements you can undertake under permitted development rules are converting your loft into a bedroom, moving a door or a window, putting up a fence, adding a conservatory or building a garden shed.

That’s all very interesting. But what’s this got to do with fracking?

On 17th May the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement which proposes that non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered Permitted Development, and therefore would not require planning permission from the local council.

What do they mean by ‘non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas’?

Before companies can frack, they need to build a well-pad and drill an exploratory well, which will then be used to take core samples of the rock about 2 miles below the surface. These are typically about 1.5 hectares in size, require hundreds of truck movements to construct, involve drilling day and night for weeks and installing a drilling rig of up to 125 ft in height.

So you’re telling me the government wants the planning system to treat a fracking well-pad in the same way as a garden shed?

You are correct. If the government gets its way, fracking companies will be able to put one of these 1.5-hectare well-pads – with all the traffic, noise, pollution and other issues that come with such a development – only a few hundred metres from your home, school, town or village without having to apply to the local council for planning permission.

That’s crazy. Why on earth would they be proposing such a move?

There are lots of reasons, but the main one is probably because in every single place where fracking is proposed, local communities are up in arms about it and raising all sorts of objections to the industrialisation of their local area and the threat fracking poses to their health, environment and water. This has resulted in thousands of objections from local people to every fracking application, and concerted opposition from almost everyone apart from the fracking companies themselves.

This widespread and unceasing opposition to fracking has meant that some applications for exploratory drilling have been refused, others have been challenged in court, and those that have been allowed have been the focus of widespread peaceful demonstrations. So, rather like the school bully complaining to the teacher that someone has stolen his lunch, fracking companies appear to have gone to the government to complain that local residents and democratically elected local councils are slowing down their attempts to frack.

This permitted development ruse is therefore a way for fracking companies (and the pro-fracking Conservative government) to bypass the pesky planning system run by locally elected councils and force fracking on unwilling communities.

This doesn’t seem to be in line with the Government’s stated commitment to encouraging localism and letting the local community have the final say.

That’s true, and perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects to these proposals is that the government seems happy to ignore local democracy and accountability in their desperation to kick-start the failing fracking industry in the UK.

For a political party this is a risky step, particularly when many of the areas that are being threatened, such as North Yorkshire, are run by Conservative majority councils. And worryingly for the government, a recent survey of Conservative Councillors showed that 80% were opposed to making exploratory fracking Permitted Development. And of course Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and many Independents are implacably opposed to fracking anyway, and would ban the practice if they had half a chance.

Is this permitted development rule now enshrined in the laws of the land? 

No, not yet. The Government launched a public consultation on Permitted Development on the final afternoon of Parliament before the summer recess (a cynic would suggest this was to avoid comment or criticism ). We will be posting guidelines on how to respond to this before the October 25th deadline soon but in the meantime, please see the Let Communities Decide website for how to get involved in the campaign against permitted development. You can also read this summary of all the reasons this is a bad idea on this Friends of the Earth briefing.

And if you are moved to write to your MP and councillors to raise your concerns about this, please see our guidelines on our Campaign Page by clicking here.

But this permitted development would just be for exploratory drilling, right? If a company then wanted to establish a multi-well fracking site for commercial production, they’d still need to apply for planning permission, wouldn’t they?

Currently, that is true. However, it would be a very brave council that would refuse permission for production if commercially viable quantities of gas were found during the exploratory phase, particularly as by then the well pad would already be in place. And even if they did, their decision would most likely get overturned on appeal by the Secretary of State anyway. But just in case, the government have a plan for that too. It’s called NSIP.

Hmm, acronyms are never good. What does NSIP stand for?

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. The Written Ministerial Statement also proposes that full scale industrial fracking becomes an NSIP, which would mean that even full-scale commercial production would not need local planning permission, as it would all be decided and imposed by the Secretary of State and the government-appointed Planning Inspectorate. And yes, there is also consultation on NSIP in the summer.

It sounds to me like the government realise that they have completely lost the argument over fracking, and have decided that they are just going to force it on people anyway.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But all is not lost. This is causing a huge controversy and this is not in place yet. Many groups up and down the land are fighting this and opposition to these outrageous and undemocratic plans are growing every day.

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So, what can I do to stop this happening?

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

One of the most important things you can do is contact your MP and local councillors asking them to oppose the government’s plans to fast-track fracking and bypass local democracy. There is already a great deal of opposition to these proposals across all parties, with a recent survey showing that 80% of Conservative councillors oppose their own party’s Permitted Development plans.

And please visit the Let Communities Decide website for information on the campaign against Permitted Development, for updates on how to help and downloadable materials to help you campaign. You can also sign up for updates from Let Communities Decide by clicking here.

How do I find out who my MP and councillors are?

YOUR MP – To find out your MP’s name and contact details, please click here. You can also Google him/her to find out their local constituency office, which is useful if you want to go and meet your MP [click here to find advice on this at the Frack Free Ryedale website].

COUNCILLORS – To find out who your local councillors are, please visit the website of your local county council. It should be fairly easy to find the name(s) and contact details of your councillor(s). You can contact your Town Councillors and/or Parish Councillors too.

Here, is a template letter produced as part of the #FrackturedCommunities campaign that is run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE).

Click here to read the full page at the Frack Free Ryedale website.

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Some responses from environmental groups

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“It’s as if the government doesn’t realise the scale of the opposition. If they press ahead with these proposals, the protests, outrage and anger from local people across the country will undoubtedly intensify.

“These proposals would be a complete perversion of the planning system and trample over the rights of local communities – all to fast-track an industry bringing environmental risks that would massively outweigh any suggested ‘benefit’ to our energy security.”

Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner said:

“Fracking companies cannot be allowed to drill at will; without the need to apply for planning permission and precious little involvement from the local community.

“It’s absurd that planning rules originally designed for minor home improvements, like putting up a garden shed, could now be used for major drilling infrastructure.

“Our countryside and our climate are at serious risk if the government pushes ahead with these plans. We need to be moving away from fossil fuels, not make it easier for companies to dig up more.”

The campaign group, Frack Free United, said:

“This consultation is probably the most important issue for the anti-fracking movement this summer.

It represents a clear and present danger to the UK’ ability to meet its climate change targets. It drives a coach and horses through local democracy for the sake of fossil fuels.”

Sebastian Kelly, 350.org UK Fracking Outreach Organiser, said:

“The government’s proposal to allow free rein to fracking in the British countryside flies in the face of local democracy and threatens to slash community involvement in decision-making. The fact that the supposedly “public” consultation is being opened without informing those who need to be consulted is in blatant disregard of citizens’ right to be heard.”

Barbara Richardson, member of Roseacre Awareness Group, said:

“The government and industry have already lost the argument on fracking. It’s unpopular, risky, and increasingly financially unviable. Fracking has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and council after council have stood against development in their areas. These planning proposals are a desperate last ditch attempt to kickstart the industry in the UK – and it’s communities like mine who will pay the price.”

All quotes reposted from Drill or Drop article entitled “Government seeks views on proposals to bypass local council control of shale gas schemes” written by Ruth Hayhurst, published on July 19th.

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, fracking (shale & coal seam gas)

Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

Paul Blomfield replied to my letter on October 9th as follows:

I’m pleased to reassure you that I fully support Emily Thornberry’s position. I know that we have previously exchanged emails before about the issue of military intervention more widely.

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Trump and Netanyahu seal the deal on the fate of Palestine, as Israel’s critics are silenced

Update: The article as it was originally posted follows the first asterisk.

Shortly after I posted this article I came across an Al Jazeera interview broadcast in May 2012 featuring ultra-orthodox Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss who explains to Teymoor Nabili why the state of Israel has no legitimacy and how Israelis are responsible for “rivers of blood” in Palestine. Asked by Nabili whether he is anti-Semitic himself, Weiss replies:

“That is the beautiful ploy of Zionism, that they can intimate anyone who stands in opposition to their blatant inhumane treatment of the Palestinians”

[from 14:10 mins]

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The Likud Party founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon has remained the predominant force in Israeli politics since its landslide victory in 1977. Dragging the country ever further to the extreme right, the centrepiece to its ethno-nationalist policies is its rigid determination to push the Palestinians off their land with the “building of settlements”, and by episodically “mowing the lawn” – their own preferred euphemism for carrying out population reducing acts of genocide.

These constant moves to secure a Greater Israel are now reaching completion, symbolically thanks to the illegal move of the US embassy to Jerusalem – the occupied city becoming Israel’s de facto capital – and more directly at the end of the decades long, slow motion annexation of Palestine, with just the fractured bantustans of the West Bank and Gaza remaining, and Gaza all the while subjected to a blockade that has rendered it close to uninhabitable.

One obstacle does remain, however: what to do with the millions of indigenous Palestinians who fled during the period of ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel’s formation. This diaspora of refugees and their descendants still have a right of return under international law. 1 But this headache for Netanyahu is also about to be eradicated thanks to another initiative on the part of the ever-obliging Trump administration (discussed in detail below).

Meanwhile, to divert attention from the seventy year long struggle for Palestinian liberation, precisely as the cause is gathering strength, Israel is also engaged in a second offensive. The target here is free speech and the tactic is an old one: to marginalise and weaken its opponents, Israel accuses all of them of “antisemitism”. Most aggressively under assault in Britain is Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – arguably the most prominent pro-Palestinian politician in the world today.

Michael Walker of ‘Novara Media’ digs beneath the latest bs of British news after a week in which Corbyn was branded a fascist and Theresa May a freedom fighter!

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The enemies Corbyn faces are many and varied, of course, but in all cases this false charge of “antisemitism” is now wielded as the handy stick to beat him and his supporters with. To these ends, a loose alliance has been formed.

There are the Blairites, determined to get rid of Corbyn before – as they see it – he can entirely wreck the ‘New Labour’ project. This diminishing gaggle of MPs and old guard Labour insiders are still intent to stop Corbyn at any cost and even if it means Labour’s defeat in elections. It has become abundantly clear that they care little about inflicting irrevocable damage to the party they reputedly support. Instead, day in day out, they plot to topple Corbyn using every trick in the book, including set-piece resignations, lies about imaginary attacks by his supporters, and just straight out defamation. Calling him “a f–king antisemite” is just the latest and most excessive outburst in a campaign of hatred that actually started prior to his first leadership election.

Then there is the Israel lobby in Britain, which happens to share a broadly overlapping outlook when it comes to Middle East foreign policy with many on the Labour right-wing, and which was caught red-handed recently meddling in Labour Party affairs in clandestine attempts to undermine Corbyn. This subversion by a foreign power represents a genuine national security threat – something the media and government have shown no interest whatsoever in pursuing.

Added into the already toxic mix, we are also in the midst of a last-ditch attempt to stall Brexit with growing calls for a second referendum; a strategy that is completely stymied by Corbyn’s stated refusal to call for such a vote. Hammering Corbyn potentially weakens him on all fronts with the broader aim of cultivating anti-Corbyn sentiment within the Labour Party (although this has totally backfired) and to galvanise the media which is hugely anti-Corbyn to begin with and where both pro-EU and pro-Israel sentiment tends to run highest.

The sad irony to all of this is that, as a strategy, the slurs have been effective because, and only because, Corbyn is a committed anti-racist who feels obliged therefore to treat each accusation with extreme seriousness. Nor is it in his nature to call out phoneys and liars as most others in his position would have done.

For this assortment of reasons, the Labour Party has finally been frogmarched into ratifying the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, which means a witch-hunt can now begin in earnest to whittle away at Corbyn’s huge (and still growing) base of supporters within the membership. In principle, just like many hundreds of thousands of others, I have effectively been made persona non grata.

This latest conflation of antisemitism with views hostile to Israel is nothing new of course. It is a tried and tested formula for stifling resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestine. What is new, however, is the manner in which the notion of the “new antisemitism” to close down support for the Palestinian struggle has been so dramatically escalated. As Palestinian barrister, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, put it in a recent interview (video is embedded below):

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime, whereby there seems to be a full-fledged political campaign to assert that denying the Jewish right to self-determination – in other words, what they really mean is denying there should be an Israel, which is a majority Jewish state in Palestine – is a form of racism. So that’s the assertion: that it’s antisemitic and therefore racist. So that accusation is levelled that you are being racist if you say you’re opposed to Israel in its current form let’s say, however, clearly, what Israel is doing and all that it embodies in our [Palestinian] view, is deeply racist against us. So we the victims of racism are being painted as the perpetrators of racism. And the perpetrators are being painted as the victims.”

[from 30:45 mins]

In fact, there is a coordinated effort underway. What is happening in Britain and especially within the Labour Party, is also happening in America, where a similar restriction to free speech is about to be applied across college campuses and more widely. Writes Sheldon Richman in an article entitled “Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism: the Invidious Conflation” published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 4th:

I and others have warned that enactment of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act now before Congress would threaten free speech and free inquiry on America’s college campuses and beyond. As I’ve explained, this bill incorporates a conception — a “definition” plus potential examples — of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel’s founding and continuing abuse of the Palestinians with anti-Semitism for the purpose inoculating Israel from such criticism. Anti-Zionist Jews and others have objected to this conflation for over 70 years. 2

In the same piece, Richman quotes Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal, who writes in The Nation:

If this definition [of anti-Semitism] were adopted and implemented as [Trump’s assistant secretary of education for civil rights, Kenneth L.] Marcus would like, the DOE [US Department of Education] would be empowered to conclude that universities nurture hostile, anti-Semitic environments by allowing the screening of a documentary critical of Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian lands such as Occupation 101, a talk critical of Israeli policy by a Holocaust survivor, a mock checkpoint enacted by students to show their peers what Palestinian life under a military occupation is like, a talk on BDS [boycott-divestment-sanctions] campaigns for Palestinian rights, or student resolutions to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s human-rights abuses.

These aren’t hypotheticals. These speech activities were the subject of real legal complaints, filed or promoted by Marcus and his Brandeis Center against Brooklyn College (2013), University of California Berkeley (2012), and University of California Santa Cruz (2009). The complaints were filed to the same DOE office which Marcus has been nominated to head [and to which he has since been confirmed].

Crucially, all of these complaints were dismissed. Both a federal court and the DOE made clear that the activities at issue were not harassment against a protected group but constituted speech on matters of public concern, and therefore were protected by the First Amendment. 3

At the heart of Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is the same IHRA definition of “antisemitism” recently adopted in full by the Labour Party – a definition that caused its own lead author Kenneth Stern to write to the House Judiciary Committee in 2016, when a similar bill was under consideration.

Stern cautioned at the time:

“I write as the lead author of the EUMC’s [European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia] “Working Definition on Antisemitism,” to encourage you not to move “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016,” which essentially incorporates that definition into law for a purpose that is both unconstitutional and unwise. If the definition is so enshrined, it will actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic effect on the academy.” 4

Moreover, in testimony he gave before the committee, Stern said:

“[D]espite the fact that some outside groups allege that antisemitism on campus is an epidemic. Far from it. There are thousands of campuses in the United States, and in very few is antisemitism – or anti-Israel animus – an issue.” 5

Please note that extended versions of the quotes above can be read in Sheldon Richman’s Counterpunch article from where they were originally drawn.

With serious debate about Palestine rights suddenly on the verge of being shutdown both in Britain and America, Israel is also putting the final pieces of the jigsaw together at home. The latest move by Netanyahu’s close ally Donald Trump to end its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) deprives the organisation of a full third of its budget.

Independent reporter Jonathan Cook outlines the likely repercussions in a recent article entitled “There is a deeper, darker agenda afoot as the US cuts UNRWA funding”:

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how synchronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

As Cook then explains this signals closure to what the Lukidniks see as the last stumbling block to securing the Greater Israel:

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

On Monday 3rd, ‘Novara Media’ livestreamed a discussion featuring Palestinian barrister Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, who spoke to Ash Sarkar and Michael Walker about the US withdrawal of funding for UNRWA and the Labour Party’s adoption of IHRA definition [from 4:30 mins]:

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Cook concludes his excellent piece:

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel. 6

In summary, the far-right in Israel demand their lebensraum and to hasten completion are now employing the weaponisation not only of the very definition of “antisemitism” but, as Cook accurately points out, the aggressive weaponisation of aid too. That the noose is tightening both on the Palestinians and their supporters, and that this is happening concurrently, with dramatic moves occurring within America and Britain, is surely not a coincidence.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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1 Under the United Nations Resolution 194 which was passed on December 11, 1948 the Palestinian refugees were granted the right of return. Article 11 of the resolution reads:

(The General Assembly) Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

https://www.unrwa.org/content/resolution-194

2 From an article entitled “Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism: the Invidious Conflation” written by Sheldon Richman, published by Counterpunch on September 4, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/09/04/anti-israelism-and-anti-semitism-the-invidious-conflation/

3 From an article entitled “Students Beware: This Trump Nominee Doesn’t Believe in Your Civil Rights” written by Dima Khalidi, published in The Nation on January 10, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/students-beware-this-trump-nominee-doesnt-believe-in-your-civil-rights/ 

4 http://jkrfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/letter-sent-to-house-members-120616.pdf

5 https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Stern-Testimony-11.07.17.pdf

6 From an article entitled “There is a deeper, darker agenda afoot as the US cuts UNRWA funding”, written by Jonathan Cook, published on September 2, 2018. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2018-09-02/us-cuts-unrwa-funding/ 

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