Tag Archives: Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein calls out Dame Hodge and speaks to “the crucifixion of Corbyn”

Here is a brief summary of Margaret Hodge’s role in the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn – for a fuller account read the addendum to this post which also includes an interview with Palestinian scholar Ghada Karmi:

Having defamed Corbyn by calling him “a f—ing racist and antisemite” deliberately within earshot of journalists, Margaret Hodge was rightly called to a disciplinary hearing by the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Following that hearing she then gave an interview to Sky News in which she compared her own treatment to how it felt to be a Jew in Nazi Germany. A transcription of the most relevant section of the Sky News interview and the interview itself are below:

“On the day that I heard that they were going to discipline me and possibly suspend me, it felt almost like – I kept thinking what did it feel like to be a Jew in Germany in the Thirties?

“Because it felt almost as if they were coming for me. And it’s rather difficult to define, but there’s that fear, and it reminded me of what my Dad used to say. He always said to me as a child, “You’ve gotta keep a packed suitcase at the door, Margaret, in case you ever have to leave in a hurry. When I heard about the disciplinary [action], my emotional response resonated with that feeling of fear that clearly was at the heart of what my father felt when he came to Britain.”

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And here is Norman Finkelstein’s response in full:

“Dame Hodge hasn’t a clue what it means to talk about deportations, having a suitcase and being prepared to flee. My parents, both of them, were in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940s until the repression by the Nazis of the uprising in 1943. They were deported at the Umschlagplatz. If you go there now there’s a monument to the deportees, and my mother’s name Maryla and my father’s name Zacharias; they’re on that monument.

“You haven’t a clue, Ms Hodge, Dame Hodge, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. You know the suffering? You know the death? My mother used to talk about how she walked the streets of the ghetto and there were dead bodies all around her. She lost both of her parents, all of her family: her sisters, her brother were deported. But unlike you Dame Hodge they weren’t deported to a summer home, they were deported to a death camp. My parents ended up in Auschwitz and Majdenek, and slave labour camps. Where are you going Ms Hodge? To Switzerland? To your chalet? And you have the gall, the brass, the audacity to compare your life with what my parents endured.

“You felt it was like 1930s, when you got a letter from the disciplinary committee. I wonder Dame Hodge when you were in sixth grade and your principal called you down to his office, did it bring back memories of the Holocaust? Or maybe you got a letter from the tax office, and they called you down, did that remind you of the Holocaust? What’s the point… What’s the relevance… What’s the pertinence of dragging in the suffering, the death, the martyrdom of what Jews endured during World War II in this context, except to cheapen and exploit the memory of Jewish suffering, as you carry on a blackmail and extortion racket against Jeremy Corbyn.

“It’s disgusting, it’s revolting, and if any of the rules that are now being implemented in the Labour Party have any meaning whatsoever, if they have any content whatsoever, the first person who should be booted out of the Labour Party is Dame Hodge, for trivialising the memory the Nazi Holocaust and for making wretched, disgusting, repulsive comparisons between herself and what Jews endured during World War II.

“Speaking of bags and suitcases, Dame Hodge, it’s time now to pack your bags, pack your suitcase, and get the hell out of the Labour Party.”

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Norman Finkelstein later spoke with George Galloway on his ‘TalkRadio’ show about “the crucifixion of Corbyn and how to combat it”:

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Addendum: the fuller background story and a Palestinian’s response

The smear campaign that falsely accuses Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism on the basis of guilt by association goes back all the way to the period of his first election as Labour leader, but this latest episode involving Margaret Hodge comes at a time when the party has been considering the adoption of the full IHRA definition of “antisemitism”: a change to the rules that if implemented will curtail the freedom speech of party members to openly speak out against Israel.

On August 13th, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu waded into this debate after he provocatively accused Corbyn of laying a wreath on the grave of “a terrorist”. Margaret Hodge was one of a number of Labour MPs who seized upon the opportunity to further tighten pressure on Corbyn. As the Guardian reported on August 14th:

The Labour MP Margaret Hodge said the only way “Jeremy Corbyn can put this issue to bed” is to “adopt the internationally agreed definition of antisemitism in full”. She said: “Until he does that, incidents such as his presence at the laying of wreaths at the graves of those responsible for torturing and murdering innocent Jewish Israeli athletes in Munich will continue to emerge.”

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Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian scholar and doctor of medicine who lives in England and teaches at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in the University of Exeter; she is also a member of the Labour Party. On August 21st, Marc Steiner of The Real News interviewed Karmi to hear the viewpoint of a Palestinian on the “antisemitism” campaign against Corbyn. Transcribed below is part of her interview – the complete interview is embedded within:

“I mean that is so ludicrous it makes one laugh. First of all the [laying of the wreath] incident took place in 2014, now you’ve got to ask yourself why do they wait till 2018 to make such a fuss if it was so offensive, it should have been pointed out in 2014. However, they’ve waited four years because, of course, it’s not about whatever happened in Tunis, it’s about attacking Jeremy Corbyn.

Now the event was very simply this. Corbyn and some other British political leaders were invited by the Tunisian government to a conference whose subject was Israeli aggression and its effect on the Palestinian people: that’s actually what the conference was. Now the ceremony was to commemorate and lay a wreath on the graves of Tunisians and Palestinians together, who perished in an Israeli bombing attack in 1985. Now that’s what actually happened. It’s not my perspective; it’s what happened. Now Netanyahu, who has joined the pack of Corbyn hunters for his own reasons, came into this and outrageously really – he’s a foreign leader, he’s the leader of a foreign state; he has no business interfering in a domestic issue, however he barged in – and he accused Corbyn of laying a wreath on the graves of quote “terrorists”. Now there were no terrorists amongst the victims of the Israeli bombing attack.

So the problem is that he has joined the side of the people who want to discredit Corbyn so he never becomes a Prime Minister – and I can’t stress this too strongly – that the idea of a pro-Palestinian, a pro-justice British Prime minister is anathema to certain groups of people, Israel and its friends most prominently.”

[from 5:20 mins]

 “The issue really is that the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been subjected to an unprecedented attack, by members of his own party, by a lobby of people claiming to hunt anti-Semites, and by some parts of the British press. It is an unprecedented and very bad attack which he does not deserve. Now, in terms of what he has actually done, the answer is nothing. What has he done to offend these people – the thing he really has done to offend them, is that he supports Palestine, and the rights of Palestinians, and he has supported that all of his political life. That is something that is an anathema to certain Jewish groups in Britain, friends of Israel, and members of his own party who don’t want him to become Prime Minister. That is the reality of the position. It’s very depressing and very wrong, but that aspect of it has not been put forward often enough and strongly enough. This is about Palestine and it’s about Israel’s maltreatment of the Palestinian people and it’s about the desire of defending of Israel to attack people who support the Palestinians because they want to defend Israel.”

[from 3:05 mins]

“We as a Palestinian group are very, very anxious that our voice is heard and that our point of view is taken into account because far too often the media, the political elite, is held hostage to a lobby that does not hesitate to use the “antisemitism” smear because they know it’s effective, and it discredits the people whether it’s true or not. Now we as Palestinians have found it almost impossible to persuade people who are so devoted to Israel that they can’t see straight to try to explain to them there is a whole story there which is not simply a question of being anti-Jewish when you criticise Israel. You have to criticise Israel because it behaves in ways which are illegal and very aggressive. And if you don’t feel able to criticise a state that does that and not be labelled as some kind of racist then you know it’s a terrible world we’re living in.”

[from 10:20 mins]

“But you know it’s very, very serious to allow groups of people with their own agendas to use antisemitism as a tool – to weaponise it, to use a popular term – to weaponise it in order to defend certain behaviours on the part of Israel. It’s very, very serious. People should take it seriously. I mean it’s not a joke to try to discredit any political person… discredit what they’re saying by accusing them of being Jew-haters. The term “anitsemitism” by the way is not very useful any more. It’s very emotive. We need to talk about Jew-hatred. Is it really the case that if you criticise the policies of the Israeli state and its army that this is hatred of Jews? Of course not. When you put it like that you know very well it’s nonsense. But, it’s weaponised, it’s used cynically by people who want to defend Israel.”

[from 14:45 mins]

Please note that all transcriptions are my own.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, Palestine

the pro-Israel two-pronged offensive: Tommy Robinson and the weaponisation of ‘antisemitism’

There have been two concurrent stories running for weeks on end. On the one hand, the corporate media repeatedly reinforces its own opinion – based on a blatant smear campaign conceived and perpetuated by political enemies – that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemitic apologist of a rabidly antisemitic party (of which I am a member), whilst on the other, it offers a platform to far-right EDL founder Tommy Robinson who they portray as a merely “controversial leader” of a popular movement. In fact, BBC news and Channel 4 were both caught red-handed by Twitter activist Sonia Mota who helpfully uploaded the evidence of how the news channels presented each of these two stories literally side-by-side:

The first clip (now hidden because it “might contain sensitive content”) begins with BBC correspondent Norman Smith informing the audience that Corbyn ought to immediately accept the international definitions of antisemitism (more later) before feigning puzzlement that “for whatever reason Mr Corbyn at the moment is holding back” from such acquiescence. In the following report, correspondent Tom Burridge then speaks about Tommy Robinson’s release from prison on bail which opens with an unopposed statement by one of Robinson’s supporters and concludes “Robinson is a product of the internet age, sites like Youtube allow the founder of the English Defence League to reach many more people than far-right leaders of the past”. In other words, don’t blame us for promoting him again and again, blame the internet…

Sky News is arguably worse. It begins with correspondent Jason Farrell gushing on and on about how: “Robinson has garnered a huge amount of support – hundreds of thousands of people providing a petition, they’ve had a free Tommy website, and some people may question why we are talking about this – should we be giving him the oxygen of publicity in discussing this issue… but the fact is it would be ridiculous not to because there has been so much discussed about this on social media – he has hundreds of thousands of followers and in some ways that is beneficial to him as a political character, he has actually gained an awful lot of support over this period and this will be an interesting time for him as to what he does with this – this former EDL member who doesn’t have a political party at the moment, he may well want to use that to his advantage in the future. So we’ll see what he does when he comes out [of prison].” This upbeat promo is then juxtaposed by newscaster Gamal Fahnbulleh intoning with grave seriousness that Corbyn’s latest apology “adds more pressure on the leader who’s repeatedly been accused of not doing enough to stamp out antisemitism within the party”, and to hammer the point, a second Sky News correspondent aggressively doorsteps Corbyn, shouting after him: “Are relations between the Labour leadership and the British Jewish community broken beyond repair?”

There are so many points here that it’s hard to know where to start, but the main point I wish to make is that any notion of a single British Jewish community that is unanimous in its condemnation of Corbyn is already a complete media construction. There are multiple Jewish voices and a great many have gone to considerable lengths to speak in support of Jeremy Corbyn, however the corporate media has its own agenda and takes trouble to marginalise all voices that oppose it.

As one of Jewish Voices for Labour (JVL) founder members, Richard Kuper, told Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground on July 27th:

The Jewish community does not speak with one voice. The Jewish community has never done so. And it is important that diversity and plurality within the Jewish community are recognised and encouraged. We would argue that we speak firmly within the Jewish humanitarian, internationalist tradition and that we are basing ourselves on Jewish values: respect for the other; respect for all religions; egalitarianism; and not making the kinds of legal distinctions between citizens which is now occurring in Israel. This is not acceptable democratic practice. If Israel wishes to be called a liberal democracy, it has to abide by liberal democratic values. If it wants to be a nationalist autocracy it can continue on the line it is going on.

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Jeremy Corbyn is “a dedicated anti-racist”

“This [is a] grotesque, cynical, contrived, fake, fabricated attack on Corbyn by the whole, the whole of the British ruling elites, and the whole of the British media” — Norman Finkelstein 1

The video embedded above is an update. It features Norman Finkelstein speaking directly to camera and calling for Dame Margaret Hodge to be expelled from the Labour Party.

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Jeremy Corbyn is not a racist. He is a staunch opponent of all forms of racism, and has been consistently throughout his entire political life. Indeed, when back on July 25th, the Jewish News, the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish Telegraph jointly published a front-page editorial that scurrilously and absurdly accused him of being an “existential threat” to British Jews, one of their own contributors, Stephen Oryszczuk, foreign editor of Jewish News , broke ranks and said in an exclusive Q&A with The Canary published on Monday 6th, August:

“It’s repulsive. This is a dedicated anti-racist we’re trashing. I just don’t buy into it at all.” 2

I highlight Stephen Oryszczuk because he bravely took a stand against his own newspaper, but still he is one of a multitude of Jewish voices who have very actively defended Jeremy Corbyn.

As Richard Kuper of Jewish Voices for Labour (JVL) told Afshin Rattansi in the July 27th interview on RT’s Going Underground:

“Jeremy is not and has never been an antisemite or a racist. It is absurd for Margaret Hodge to make this accusation, and to make an accusation in that form, whether or not with the expletive deleted, should not be unacceptable behaviour. And she should apologise: that is not the way in which we conduct debates in the Labour Party. […]

Anti-semitism in our view is hostility to Jews as Jews and it needs to be opposed. Criticism of Israel is criticism of Israel and unless it shows hostility to Jews as Jews it is political criticism and argument and has to be fought on that basis. […]

I hope that Jeremy will continue to be Jeremy and stand up for what he believes in and speak openly and honestly and pursue the values he has always stood up for: internationalist values egalitarian values, and most of all, anti-racist values. Standing up to all forms of racism including anti-semitism.”

To hear other Jewish voices in defence of Corbyn I refer readers to the addendum below as well as to earlier posts on the subject here and here. I have also embedded below two excellent recent broadcasts of The Real News from August 11th featuring interviews with American-Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein and British academic Jamie Stern-Weiner:

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As comedian Mark Steel put it in The Independent on Thursday 2nd August:

You can’t help wondering whether, for some people, the motivation for accusing Corbyn of being an antisemite may be a teeny bit driven by the fact they don’t really like him.

For example, Ian McKenzie, who was chairman of Lewisham East Labour Party, wrote on Twitter that “the antisemitism, Brexit and Salisbury stuff is cutting through like the IRA/Iran stuff didn’t. We have a real chance of winning back NEC seats.”

So for him, a subject as important as antisemitism is apparently a handy tool to win back NEC seats from Corbyn supporters. That could be seen as slightly insulting to Jews, so I’m sure when it comes to expulsions, Ian McKenzie will insist he should be one of the first to be kicked out. Maybe he’ll make a complaint: “Corbyn is so slow to deal with antisemitism that he still hasn’t expelled me. If he was serious about tackling antisemitism he’d have told me to piss off ages ago, but no. Typical!” 3

Click here to read the complete article entitled “The fact that Corbyn didn’t yell abuse at a Holocaust survivor definitely makes him anti-Semitic”

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The weaponisation of ‘antisemitism’

Ongoing accusations that a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government would present an existential threat to the future of Jewish people is one obvious example of how misplaced accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a weapon by critics of Corbyn.

One conservative Jewish organization that has weaponised anti-Semitism in just this way is the Community Security Trust, a charity that describes its role as being to “protect[ing] British Jews from antisemitism and related threats”; and “To speak responsibly at all times, without exaggeration or political favour, on antisemitism and associated issues.”

But a recent press release from the Community Security Trust suggests that they have a problem with speaking responsibly, as they write:

“The reason Labour’s antisemitism problem dwarfs all of its other racism problems is because it originates from the far-left culture that Jeremy Corbyn and his closest advisers and supporters have always belonged to. That culture now dominates the party.” (“Antisemitism now: the IHRA controversy,” July 24, 2018)

This is not true and they know it!

In fact, it was only last September that the Community Security Trust helped fund a research report carried out by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research that put the lie to their latest press release.

The report in question, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel, was clear:

“Looking at the political spectrum of British society, the most antisemitic group consists of those who identify as very right-wing. In this group about 14% hold hard-core anti-Semitic attitudes and 52% hold at least one attitude, compared again to 3.6% and 30% in the general population. The very left-wing, and, in fact, all political groups located on the left, are no more antisemitic than the general population. This finding may come as a surprise to those who maintain that in today’s political reality, the left is the more serious, or at least, an equally serious source of antisemitism, than the right.” (p.64)

Then, in attempting to explain why there is the false perception among some parts of the Jewish community that the left has an issue with antisemitism, they explain:

“The left tends to see itself, and is commonly regarded, as an anti-racist and egalitarian political group, both in terms of its political goals and its modus operandi. This image tends to impact on people’s expectations of the left or, at the very least, draws attention to how well (or otherwise) it performs in relation to its own proclaimed values. We found that the left (including the far-left) is no less antisemitic than the general population. This is not a trivial finding, as it runs counter to the left’s self-proclaimed ethos. When the expectation is to find less antisemitism than elsewhere, the finding of ‘just the same’ level of antisemitism as elsewhere is likely to be noticed by politically attuned individuals. Simultaneously embarrassing the left and being used as a weapon by it critics, this dissonance becomes the centre of attention and gets accentuated.” [My highlights, pp.64-5]

Wouldn’t it be useful if Jon Lansman, and other self-identified Corbyn supporters, raised such issues when attacked on television? 4

Click here to read the same piece by Michael Barker published in Counterpunch.

In short, the Labour Party that Corbyn leads is not a deeply antisemitic party, but accusations of “antisemitism” are handy for “Simultaneously embarrassing the left and being used as a weapon by its critics”. This according to a statement by the Community Security Trust, which is a conservative Jewish organisation that has attacked Labour in precisely this way by falsely claiming “Labour’s antisemitism problem dwarfs all of its other racism problems” and that it exists as a “culture [that] now dominates the party.”

But then, accusations of this kind are frankly bizarre given how Ed Miliband, the Labour leader succeeded by Corbyn little more than three years ago, is the son of immigrants of Polish Jewish extraction who fled to Britain to escape the Nazis. What sort of an antisemitic party would have voted in a Jewish leader? In any case, during the period when Ed Miliband was Labour leader, the antisemitic smears came in the form of snide dog-whistle comment and from the establishment right, not from Labour members. Have we forgotten how the Daily Mail smeared his father, Ralph Miliband, branding him “the man who hated Britain”?

Moreover, Jon Lansman, who founded the pro-Corbyn movement Momentum – roundly attacked by the same establishment right, anti-Corbyn media as a Trotskyite fifth column – was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family. So if we are led to believe that it is the newcomers to Labour who are especially antisemitic, then why are they also happy to get behind a man who passed through bar mitzvah and had previously seen himself as a Zionist?

The following is taken from an article entitled “Ex-kibbutznik who is Corbyn’s left-hand man” published in the Jewish Chronicle back in January 2016:

Mr Lansman is the founder of the controversial “Corbynista” pressure group, Momentum, which was set up to capture and retain the grassroots enthusiasm sparked by Mr Corbyn’s campaign, but whose opponents fear will purge the party of moderates. It is becoming, they say, a “party within a party”. […]

Brought up in a “typical Orthodox family” in Southgate, north London, Mr Lansman first went to Israel aged 16 just after the Yom Kippur War to visit an aunt who had made aliyah.

“I worked on a kibbutz in the Negev and my aunt lived in Beersheva. It was actually a very politicising experience. When I did my barmitzvah I saw myself as a Zionist and I think after I went there I felt it less.

“I was more interested in the kibbutz and what I liked about it was the pioneering spirit, the sense of community and radicalism of it.”

Interestingly, in the same article, Lansman is quoted saying:

“I have Zionist friends in the party. Jeremy supports the existence of Israel, he wants peace and co-existence. Why should Israel supporters not have a place in Labour? Of course they should. I’ve been arguing for two states long before it was acceptable within the Jewish community to argue for two states.

“I remember arguing with my great-aunt when I was 13 that there were Palestinians and they should have a homeland.

“What we are saying will strike a chord with people in the community and we absolutely need to mend and build bridges. For me it is a priority and that is why I am talking to the JC.

“Yes, of course the vast majority of British Jews are supportive of Israel as a Jewish state – and actually so is Jeremy – but they are far from supportive of all aspects of what is currently happening there. The Labour Party has to be concerned with a broad view, and the pursuit of peace.

“I don’t think you can fault Jeremy on his concern for peace. He is not a warmonger, he doesn’t want killing and death.” 5

But none of this matters, of course, because the relentless assault on Corbyn and the Labour Party has nothing to do with real concerns about actual antisemitism. Rather it serves two overlapping interests: those of the Blairites who remain intent on stalling all Corbyn’s efforts to democratise the party and reclaim it as a genuinely populist political movement, and those of the Israel lobby which seeks to deflect attention away from Israel’s apartheid state and its crimes against the Palestinians, and attacks Corbyn for his pro-Palestinian stance.

About eighteen months ago, the Israel lobby was in fact caught meddling in our political system to these ends and this is a topic I have already covered at length. The evidence was disclosed in a major four-part Al Jazeera investigation entitled simply “The Lobby”.

As I wrote then:

The [Al Jazeera] investigation came to wider public attention following the release of shocking footage of “Israeli diplomat” Shai Masot speculating about how to “take down” Deputy Foreign Minister, Sir Alan Duncan, and other senior politicians less than “solid on Israel”. After the story broke, the press were of course compelled to report on it: it was impossible to ignore such serious allegations that a foreign power was trying to subvert Britain’s democracy. Yet reaction both from the media and the government has been remarkably tepid since. There have been no sustained investigations and we see no push for an official inquiry – this in defiance of Labour demands that the government launch an immediate inquiry into what it rightly calls “a national security issue”:

As shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said in The Commons:

“The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”

Instead, however, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) promptly issued a statement:

“The Israeli Ambassador has apologized and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel.  The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

To which Thornberry in turn responded:

“It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. This is a national security issue.”

The altogether miserly extent and scope of British media coverage of a plot to subvert our democracy can be usefully measured against the unlimited column inches and headline space given over to unfounded allegations of Russian hacking of the DNC in America. But no less importantly, the plot against Tory ministers occupies a mere ten minutes of one episode of what in full amounts to two hours over four parts of broadcast material. The revelation is damning in the extreme but it should not have been allowed to totally overshadow the real focus of the documentary: a dirty tricks campaign against pro-Palestinian Labour party members and other efforts to subvert the party’s elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. This chicanery against Corbyn in the interests of a foreign power is something the media has helped to bury.

In the second episode (all four episodes of “The Lobby” are embedded in the previous post with link below), undercover reporter ‘Robin’ follows Shai Masot to the Labour Party Conference held in Liverpool where he is introduced to Joan Ryan at the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) stall. It is here when Masot tells Ryan that he has secured the approval for funds of “more than one million pounds… from Israel”. A million pounds to ply the backing of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. 6

Click here to read the full post entitled “Shai Masot, the Israel lobby, and its part in the ongoing coup against Jeremy Corbyn”.

The latest move by the Israel lobby is to force the Labour Party to adopt the four additional working “examples” of anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It is a McCarthyite initiative which, as independent journalist Jonathan Cook explains in his latest article, will result in “Labour activists find[ing] themselves, like Corbyn, either outed or required to out others as supposed anti-semites”:

Looking at my own work, it is clear that almost all of it falls foul of two further “examples” of anti-semitism cited in the full IHRA definition that Labour is preparing to adopt:

“Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

and:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

One hardly needs to point out how preposterous it is that the Labour party is about to outlaw from internal discussion or review any research, scholarship or journalism that violates these two “examples” weeks after Israel passed its Nation-State Basic Law. That law, which has constitutional weight, makes explict what was always implict in Israel as a Jewish state:

  1. that Israel privileges the rights and status of Jews around the world, including those who have never even visited Israel, above the rights of the fifth of the country’s citizens who are non-Jews (the remnants of the native Palestinian population who survived the ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948).
  2. that Israel, as defined in the Basic Law, is not a state bounded by internationally recognised borders but rather the “Land of Israel” – a Biblical conception of Israel whose borders encompass the occupied Palestinian territories and parts of many neighbouring states.

How, one might reasonably wonder, is such a state – defined this way in the Basic Law – a normal “democratic” state? How is it not structurally racist and inherently acquisitive of other people’s territory?

Contrary to the demands of these two extra IHRA “examples”, the Basic Law alone shows that Israel is a “racist endeavour” and that we cannot judge it by the same standards we would a normal western-style democracy. Not least, it has a double “border” problem: it forces Jews everywhere to be included in its self-definition of the “nation”, whether they want to be or not; and it lays claim to the title deeds of other territories without any intention to confer on their non-Jewish inhabitants the rights it accords Jews.

Demanding that we treat Israel as a normal western-style liberal democracy – as the IHRA full definition requires – makes as much sense as having demanded the same for apartheid South Africa back in the 1980s.

Entitled “Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail by Design”, Cook concludes the same piece:

The Labour party has become the largest in Europe as Corbyn has attracted huge numbers of newcomers into the membership, inspired by a new kind of politics. That is a terrifying development for the old politics, which preferred tiny political cliques accountable chiefly to corporate donors, leaving a slightly wider circle of activists largely powerless.

That is why the Blairite holdouts in the party bureaucracy are quite content to use any pretext not only to root out genuine progressive activists drawn to a Corbyn-led party, including anti-Zionist Jewish activists, but to alienate tens of thousands more members that had begun to transform Labour into a grassroots movement.

A party endlessly obsessing about anti-semitism, a party that has abandoned the Palestinians, a party that has begun throwing out key progressive principles, a party that has renounced free speech, and a party that no longer puts the interests of the poor and vulnerable at the centre of its concerns is a party that will fail.

That is where the anti-semitism “crisis” is leading Labour – precisely as it was designed to do. 7

I strongly encourage readers to click on the link to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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Israel’s ethnic nationalism

Another of Jonathan Cook’s articles that doubtless “falls foul… of anti-semitism cited in the full IHRA definition that Labour is preparing to adopt” was an excellent extended article entitled “How Israel helped to revive Europe’s ugly ethnic nationalisms” that he published back in July. By quoting it at length, I must be found guilty of the same charge.

Beginning from an historical perspective, Cook writes:

Its founding ideology, Zionism, was deeply opposed to civic nationalism and attendant ideas of a common political identity. Rather, it was a tribal ideology – one based on blood ties and religious heritage – that spoke the same language as Europe’s earlier ethnic nationalisms. It agreed with the racists of Europe that “the Jews” could not be assimilated or integrated because they were a people apart.

It was this shared ground with the ethnic nationalists that made the Zionist movement deeply unpopular among the vast majority of European Jews until the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. After the horrors of the Nazis, however, growing numbers of Jews concluded that, if you could not beat the ethnic nationalists, it was better to join them. A highly militarised, nuclear-armed Israel – sponsored by Europe and belligerent towards its new, relatively weak Arab neighbours – appeared the best solution available.

It is that shared ground that today makes Israel an ally and friend to Trump and his political constituency in the US and to Europe’s far-right parties.

In fact, Israel is revered by a new breed of white supremacists and anti-semites in the US known as the alt-right. Their leader, Richard Spencer, has termed himself a “white Zionist”, saying he wants the US to become a “secure homeland” to prevent “the demographic dispossession of white people in the United States and around the world” in the same way Israel achieved for Jews.

He then discusses how Israel’s dominant strand of ethnic nationalism leads to structural racism and an apartheid state:

In a handbook for further dispossession known as the King’s Torah, influential settler rabbis have justified the pre-emptive killing of Palestinians as terrorists, and their babies as “future terrorists”. This worldview explains why settlers massed outside a court in Israel last month taunting a Palestinian, Hussein Dawabshe, whose 18-month-old grandson, Ali, was among family members burnt alive by settlers in 2015. As the grandfather arrived, the settlers jeered “Where is Ali, Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”

Even more common, to the extent that it passes almost unnoticed in Israel, is the structural racism that keeps the fifth of the population belonging to a Palestinian minority apart from the Jewish majority. For decades, for example, Israeli hospitals have been separating women in maternity wards based on their ethnicity.  Last month, in a familiar pattern, it was revealed that a municipal swimming pool in the Negev was quietly segregating Jewish and Palestinian bathers – all citizens of the same state – by offering different hours.

At least the pool accepted Palestinian citizens. Almost all communities in Israel are segregated, with many hundreds using admissions committees to ensure they bar Palestinian citizens and remain exclusively Jewish.

There have been weeks of angry protests among Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula, after the first Palestinian family managed to buy a home in a neighbourhood. Deputy mayor Shlomo Malihi observed: “I hope that the house sale will be cancelled so that this city won’t begin to be mixed.”

He also confronts the fact that fears of racial contamination now straddle the old left-right divisions in Israel:

Last month Miki Zohar, a legislator in the ruling Likud party, observed not only that there is a “Jewish race”, but that it represents “the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending”.

At the same time, the government’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, noted that the future of the Jewish people in countries like the US kept him awake at night. “If we don’t act urgently, we’re going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

This is a common refrain on the Israeli left too. Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the supposedly socialist Labour party and the new chair of the Jewish Agency, shares Bennett’s tribal impulse. Last month he warned that Jews outside Israel were falling victim to a “plague” of intermarriage with non-Jews. He bewailed that on a visit to the US last year: “I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners”. He concluded: “We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.” 8

Today Israel leads the way in ethnic politics, and is not fussy when it comes to choosing bedfellows. I have no time for billionaire George Soros (as you can read in earlier posts) who is once again meddling in Britain’s politics (this time seeking to overturn the result of the Brexit referendum), but I do not accuse him, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán does, of trying to undermine the soul of European Christian society. But then, as Cook points out, Orbán has no qualms about inflaming racial tensions or evoking figures from Hungary’s recent fascist past:

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is among the new brand of eastern European leader brazenly stoking an ethnic politics at home through anti-semitism. He has targeted the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for promoting a civic nationalism, suggesting Soros represents a wider Jewish threat to Hungary. Under a recent law, popularly known as “STOP Soros”, anyone helping migrants enter Hungary risks a prison sentence. Orban has lauded Miklos Horthy, a long-time Hungarian leader who was a close ally of Hitler’s.

Nonetheless, Orban is being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu, in the same way the Israeli prime minister has closely identified with Trump. Netanyahu called to congratulate Orban shortly after he was re-elected in April, and will welcome him in a state visit this month. Ultimately, Netanyahu is angling to host the next meeting of the Visegrad group, four central European countries in the grip of far-right ethnic politics Israel wishes to develop closer ties with.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s complete article entitled “How Israel helped to revive Europe’s ugly ethnic nationalisms”.

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On July 18th, The Real News interviewed Moshé Machover, a Jewish member of the Labour Party who was expelled and soon after reinstated, who said:

“For those various parts of the Israel lobby and the conservative establishment inside and outside the [Labour] Party, the main point is to ringfence Israel and Zionist project of colonisation against criticism. They are not really interested in antisemitism per se. This is not why they have made all this immense public campaign, part of which is driven from Israel via the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, so called. They are not really interested in antisemitism, for example, they don’t argue with Israel’s relations with the most antisemitic regimes in Europe. At the moment, I think while we are speaking, [Viktor] Orbán, the antisemitic Prime Minister of Hungary, is visiting Israel on very friendly terms. They don’t criticise this… They are interested in using or abusing accusations of antisemitism only to ringfence Israel and its project of colonisation.”

[from 8:25 mins]

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Tommy Robinson is a fascist

Tommy Robinson is a racist and a fascist. A former member of the British National Party (BNP), he afterwards founded the ultra-right English Defence League (EDL) which he led from 2009 to 2013 before becoming involved with the formation of a British chapter of the German neo-Nazi group Pegida. The pseudonymous ‘Tommy’ is actually a petty criminal who was previously jailed for mortgage fraud, and a thug who once beat up an off-duty policeman who tried to intervene in a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend (current wife) Jenna Vowles. A common criminal and a conman, ‘Tommy’s real name seems to be Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon although even this is uncertain because he has previously travelled on false passports under names including Andrew McMaster and Paul Harris.

Oddly for a racist, and especially such a close associate of the fascist group Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), whose founder ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman looks like this…

His idea of a joke by the way

… Robinson says he is “a friend of the Jews” and has repeatedly proclaimed himself a Zionist. As he told Sandy Rashty in an interview for the Jewish Chronicle in March 2015:

“If Israel falls, we all fall in this battle for freedom, liberty and democracy. English people see it as their fight as well. The Islamists say, ‘Saturday come first, then come Sunday’ – the Jews first, then the Christians.

“The media would have us believe that everyone in this country hates Israel, that Israel is this big monster.

“That comes from this whole left-wing mindset, this whole victim thing with Palestine which is inbred into students at university. It’s not inbred into anyone I know – white working-class people.”

And if you wonder why the Jewish Chronicle “would give a racist a platform” as apparently others in the JC newsroom did, then the reason says Rashty is that:

Well, Robinson has apparently adopted the Jewish cause – whether or not his support is wanted. He has held up Israeli flags at EDL rallies; he has worn an “I am a Zionist” badge and he has condemned the rise in UK antisemitism. 9

As I have pointed out previously, Robinson and his EDL represent the re-emergence of a dangerous strain of ‘postmodern’ fascism that principally cloaks its own bigotry by saying it acts against the “religious intolerance” of Islam. In its current form the new fascism finds common ground with the far-right of Israel and so commits itself (for now) to “condemn[ing] the rise in UK antisemitism.” And some ‘friends of Israel’, as we shall see, are happy enough to sup with the devil.

Click here to read further thoughts on Tommy Robinson and the fascist abandonment of the old-style politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”.

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Update:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to accuse critics of Israel of being anti-Semites. But how does he explain his own glaring ties to anti-Semitic world leaders and Evangelical preachers, not to mention his defense of Adolf Hitler and his son’s attack on George Soros? Does defending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands make you immune from the charge of anti-Jewish hatred? In this video [uploaded on August 23rd], Mehdi Hasan asks whether the prime minister of Israel is part of the solution to rising anti-Semitism — or part of the problem:

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‘Robinson’ and the Alt-Right friends of Israel

‘Tommy Robinson’ isn’t just any old racist or any old fascist; his brand has powerful backers. Surprisingly, the best mainstream exposé I have come across so far is an extended article recently published by the Daily Mail. I encourage readers to follow the link below, since here is only a brief if relevant extract:

When it comes to the ‘monetising’ of the Robinson ‘brand’, appeals to individuals are only part of the picture, however.

For behind the scenes, an opaque and controversial network of U.S. billionaires and far-Right lobby groups are also funnelling cash his way.

Legal fees for the recent court case, for example, in which he instructed a high-profile QC, are being covered by the Middle East Forum, a controversial think-tank based in Philadelphia.

The Forum has previously bankrolled Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian once banned from the UK for anti-Islamic rhetoric, and has been described by the anti-racist Centre for American Progress as being ‘at the centre of’ a so-called ‘Islamophobia network’ of hard-Right groups.

Last month it paid the bill for Paul Gosar, a Republican member of the U.S. Congress, to fly to London to address a rally of Robinson supporters.

Then there is Robert Shillman, the billionaire founder of tech firm Cognex, whose clients include the supermarket chain Asda and drug company AstraZeneca.

He financed a ‘Shillman fellowship’ that last year allowed Robinson to be employed by the aforementioned Rebel Media site on what was said to be a ‘high five-figure salary’. The grant also allowed his three assistants to be paid a reported £2,500 a month.

Mr Shillman, a reclusive figure, uses income from the tech firm to channel funds to a variety of far-Right organisations, including the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a California-based ‘school for political warfare’ dedicated to defending conservative values from ‘attack by leftist and Islamist enemies.’ 10

Click here to read more on the seedy background and strange backers of the ‘Tommy’ brand – including the PayPal founder, Trump donor and Bilderberg steering committee member, Peter Thiel – in a remarkably insightful Daily Mail article written by Guy Adams.

Incidentally, there is little that is secretive here – many of Robinson’s backers are quite open about their funding. The aforementioned Middle East Forum in particular is very proud of its central role in the #FreeTommy campaign as its own disingenuous (in terms of the facts surrounding the legal case) press release amply shows. I have republished it in full simply to show how brazen their support is:

The Middle East Forum applauds the release of Tommy Robinson from prison this morning, after the UK anti-Islamist activist won his appeal over a contempt of court sentence.

In June, Mr. Robinson, a long-time target of UK authorities, was covering a rape-gang trial involving Muslim defendants in England when he was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to 13 months prison, and jailed – all in the course of five hours, all while denied access to counsel.

The full resources of the Middle East Forum were activated to free Mr. Robinson. We:

  1. Conferred with his legal team and made funding available to them;
  2. Funded, organized and staffed the large “Free Tommy” London rallies on June 9 and July 14 (see The Times, The Guardian, and the Independent);
  3. Funded travel by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) to London to address the rally; and
  4. Urged Sam Brownback, the State Department’s ambassador for International Religious Freedom, to raise the issue with the UK’s ambassador.

What precisely happened: In an extraordinary decision, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales – the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, roughly equivalent to the American chief justice of the Supreme Court – himself wrote a judgment rejecting the kangaroo-court verdict that had Tommy Robinson instantly thrown in jail for over a year because of an obscure Contempt Act that a UK media guide says “in practice … is not enforced.” Lord Chief Justice Burnett denounced what he called “a fundamentally flawed process” and in a further rebuff to the kangaroo-court judge, assigned Tommy Robinson’s case to someone else.

MEF president Daniel Pipes commented: “This validates the #FreeTommy campaign’s claim that Tommy Robinson, yet again, had been treated (in the words of his autobiography’s title) as an enemy of the state. We at the Middle East Forum are delighted by this turn of events and look forward to the charges against Tommy Robinson being considered in a sober, neutral, and un-rushed manner.”

Forum director Gregg Roman adds: “This is a win not just for Tommy Robinson, but for all those in the United Kingdom who publicly discuss Islam and related matters – including Islamism, jihad, and Islamic ‘charities.’ The UK authorities tried to shut down an important debate. They lost. The people won.”

The Forum will continue to support Mr. Robinson’s – and everyone else’s – right to speak freely about controversial topics. 11

What the Daily Mail article fails to delve into, however, are the close ties Middle East Forum has to the US-Israel lobby. For instance, the president of MEF, Daniel Pipes, is a neo-con with connections to the post-9/11 Bush administration, who later received the “Guardian of Zion” award from Bar-Ilan University’s Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies. His fealty to Israel and alignment with the current extreme right-wing government can be judged from an interview with Ruthie Blum of the Jerusalem Post, conducted at the time he picked up his award:

Over the course of the past 15 years, one has seen a host of proposals on how to manage the [Israel-Palestine] conflict. Some of these proposals became government policy; many others are simply proposals. What they have in common, from Left to Right, is that they see this conflict as unwinnable, as merely manageable.

The security fence is a case in point. I am for it. Clearly, it has had – and in the future, when it’s completed, will have even more – the effect of keeping out would-be murderers. But a wall is not the way to win a conflict. A wall is a tactical mechanism to protect oneself, not a strategic way of winning a war. Winning a war requires imagination – perspective – to impose your will on your enemy. That is classically what victory means: imposing your will on your enemy. It doesn’t mean massacring or impoverishing the enemy, but causing him to give up his goals. This notion is virtually absent from Israeli political discussion. 12

Likewise, the Daily Mail article fails to drill down into pro-Israel allegiance of Robert Shillman and the David Horowitz Freedom Center but rather briskly skirts the issue, adding only: “The Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent civil rights charity, has described the Freedom Center as a ‘hate group’ which publishes ‘anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant racist sentiment’.”

But even from Shillman’s Wikipedia entry we soon discover that he sits on the board of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Further down we also learn how in 2008, Shillman had accepted an invitation to be one of Bush jr’s special delegation and sit alongside Henry Kissinger; National Director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman; Paul “the Vulture” Singer; and Las Vegas casino mogul and major Trump donor, Sheldon Adelson; amongst fifty other luminaries gathered in attendance for Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations. 13

Incidentally, here is Sheldon Adelson (who gave $25 million to Trump’s campaign plus $5 million towards his inauguration – $82 million in total to Republicans) speaking in October 2013, at Yeshiva University, Lamport Hall, and calling on “anti-Israel” Obama (on whom he had previously spent $150m to unseat!) 14 to launch a first-strike nuclear attack against Iran:

“What I would say is, listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something. You pick up your cellphone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say okay let it go…” [from 5:25 mins]

Then we come to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, an “activist group with a $7 million annual budget that helps promote some of America’s loudest pro-Israel and anti-Muslim voices” 15 to which Shillman is intimately connected. The “Freedom Center” also happens to employ Robert Spencer (who once claimed that a video of an Egyptian ‘die-in protest’ from Egyptian newspaper El Badil was a Hamas video deliberately faking the number of casualties killed by Israel) as well as hawkish Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, who we learn from its “About” page is “a former captain of the Israel Defense Forces and onetime Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, [and] is the director of the Israel Security Project.”

Then we come to David Horowitz himself, yet another pro-Trump, right-wing tub-thumper and a Breitbart contributor, who said in an interview with Niram Feretti published in translation by Truth Revolt:

Anti-Zionism is another name for Jew hatred. There is no other ethnicity or religion in the world that would be the target of such hatred as the Jewish state, and no other antagonism – except that against America – that would forge an alliance between the progressive left and the Nazis of Islam, who unlike Hitler who concealed his plans for the Final Solution, shout from the rooftops that their goal is to finish the job that Hitler started.

Continuing:

Obama has thrown his support to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the fountainhead of Islamic Nazism and terror, and is the source of the Palestinians’ genocidal campaign to push the Jews into the sea. Although conservatives are still intimidated from saying the truth about Obama because he is black, Obama is an American traitor who has delivered nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to the Iranians who openly proclaim that their goal is “Death to America,” and “Death to Israel.”

And:

It is crucial to winning the global war that the Islamists have declared against us. The Prophet Mohammed called for the extermination of the Jews and a holy war to be waged against infidels – Christians, Hindus, atheists and anyone who will not submit to the Muslim faith. Islam is the only religion, which has been spread by the sword at the specific behest of its prophet. 16

Robert Shillman, David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes are prominent voices of today’s pro-Israel lobby; disturbingly, they are also some of the most outspoken voices for extreme ring-wing bigotry and the new fascism. Their appeal is to those firmly on the right, especially the Christian-right, urging them to rally to the cause of Israel; meanwhile there is another offensive as they and others harangue the left on the false premise that, as Horowitz puts it, “Anti-Zionism is another name for Jew hatred.”

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Final thoughts

Crying wolf about antisemitism is not only a strategy fraught with diabolical dangers but deplorable for so many reasons, yet sadly it works – particularly when, as now, it is cynically deployed against a committed anti-racist like Corbyn. Like a judo move it turns all of his greatest strengths – his integrity and true compassion – against him. But those who wield the charge of “antisemitism” as a blunt weapon, whether in defence of Israel or merely to attack Corbyn, evidently care very little about the untold repercussions of their own insincerity: that it directly undermines the anti-racist cause and may yet cause a terrible backlash is never considered. Nor do they apparently care if they themselves desecrate the memory of real victims of antisemitism including the millions who perished during the Holocaust. Indeed, Norman Finkelstein, whose parents were both Holocaust survivors, tells the story of an encounter with one of Corbyn’s fiercest accusers Jonathan Freedland, which fully exposes the hypocrisy behind these constant attacks:

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family.

We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game? 17

It behoves the Left to speak out against intolerance and injustice wherever we encounter it, and irrespective of whether or not the Labour Party finally adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism and thereby pursues a McCarthyite crackdown on free speech, we must feel free to criticise Israel as we might reasonably criticise every other government or nation on earth. If the words on my blog result in my later expulsion from the party then I shall treat this as a badge of honour and fight on. Unless found to be factually inaccurate (in which event I apologise in advance), I retract nothing. We must not allow ourselves to be cowed into submission.

As Kenneth Surin, Professor of Literature and Professor of Religion and Critical Theory at Duke University in North Carolina, wrote in an article published by Counterpunch a few weeks ago:

The 2017 Democracy Index used 4 categories to assess countries –  full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime, and authoritarian regime.

The following countries were ranked by the Index as full democracies: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

Israel was listed as a flawed democracy, as was the US.

Israel’s leaders have always touted their country as “the only democracy in the Middle East”, as if their country stood on a par with the 19 countries ranked as full democracies by the 2017 Democracy Index. 

Is it “antisemitic” to hold Israel to a standard deemed to be achieved by Mauritius and Uruguay?

Or to say that Israel is really an “ethnocracy”, as opposed to being a democracy?

The Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel argued in his 2006 book Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine that an ethnocracy is a regime promoting “the expansion of the dominant group in contested territory … while maintaining a democratic façade”.

When it comes to drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, it all depends on the basis used in making the comparison between Israel and the Nazis.

Having gas chambers for mass exterminations, then certainly not.

However, nearly everyone who believes that comparing Israel with the Nazis is “antisemitic” invariably takes the concentration-camp gas chambers as the implicit norm, whether out of bad faith or ignorance, for making such comparisons.

The Nazi “final solution”, vast as it was, had many strands, with horror piled upon horror.  This multiple-layering must be considered when making the Israel-Nazi comparison.

Encircling and starving-out an entire community in a ghetto (Warsaw?), then yes, the comparison is valid – this is precisely what is taking place in Gaza.

The Nazis confiscated Jewish property wholesale; the Israelis are doing the same to Palestinian houses and land in order to “clear” them for the expansion of the illegal settlements, and for alleged military purposes.  B’Tselem, Israel’s human rights watchdog, confirms this on their website.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

Jews were prevented from leaving German-occupied Poland by the SS. Similarly, Palestinians are prevented from leaving Gaza (even for medical treatment) by the combined efforts of Israel and the Egyptian dictatorship.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

German Civil Police K-9 Units were used by the SS to assist in the roundup and deportation of Jews in WW2.  Similarly, the Israeli army uses attack dogs on unarmed Palestinians when raiding their homes, and when arresting peaceful demonstrators.  So, yes, in this case the comparison between Israel and the Nazis is valid.

It is difficult to see why comparing Israel to the Nazis on these latter bases, while scrupulously eschewing the gas chambers as a basis for comparison (the Palestinians have not been sent to gas chambers en masse), necessarily makes one an “antisemite”.

The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé describes Israel’s policy regarding Gaza as “incremental genocide”, in contrast to the Nazi’s absolute genocide. The final outcome however is not in doubt. 18

Click here to read Kenneth Surin’s excellent article entitled “The UK’s Labour Party and Its ‘Anti-Semitism’ Crisis”.

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Addendum: Open letters from Jewish defenders of Jeremy Corbyn

As I wrote last March, during the last sustained media offensive to spuriously tar Corbyn as an anti-Semite:

It is tiresome to have to defend Corbyn time and again when all charges against him are so easily shown to be baseless and when only the most simpleminded can possibly remain unaware that he is the victim of a carefully coordinated smear campaign that has been running even before his election as Labour leader.

I also republished an official statement released by the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) entitled “Oppose antisemitism and malicious accusations by supporters of the Tory Party” which noted:

Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies, was one of the first to congratulate Donald Trump on his election as President of the United States on behalf of the Board. This action was harshly criticised by many Jews he claims that the Board represents. He also gives unqualified support to Israel’s pro-settler Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who enjoys good relations with the very far right political forces in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic who are fanning bigotry against minorities, including Jews.

Until very recently the Jewish Leadership Council was chaired by Sir Mick Davies, who was appointed Tory Party treasurer in February 2016 and is now the Chief Executive of the Conservative Party.

And concluded:

We have worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years, and we have faith that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour-led councils across the country, will be best placed to implement serious measures against all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry.

Click here to read the full statement on the JSG website.

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Here are further letters of support and statements by prominent Jewish individuals who have spoken out on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn.

In August 2015, just a month after being elected leader of the Labour Party in a landslide victory, nearly 50 prominent Jewish activists including included Laurence Dreyfus, Selma James, Miriam Margolyes, Ilan Pappé, and Avi Shlaim, Tony Greenstein, Prof. Haim Bresheeth, Abe Hayeem, and Michael Rosen, signed an open letter to the Jewish Chronicle. It reads:

“Your assertion that your attack on Jeremy Corbyn is supported by ‘the vast majority of British Jews’ is without foundation. We do not accept that you speak on behalf of progressive Jews in this country. You speak only for Jews who support Israel, right or wrong.

“There is something deeply unpleasant and dishonest about your McCarthyite guilt by association technique. Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary record over 32 years has consistently opposed all racism including antisemitism.

“Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to apologise for in his meetings with representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah. Hamas was democratically elected in Palestinian elections generally accepted as fair, and Hezbollah also has strong electoral support in Lebanon.

“You report Paul Eisen as saying that Jeremy Corbyn donated to Deir Yassin Remembered. So did many people before discovering the existence of antisemites and Holocaust-deniers in the organisation. Many people attended the occasional fundraising concert that DYR organised, without either knowing of or sympathising with Mr Eisen’s views.

“As supporters of Israel, perhaps you agree with the racist statements of Israeli government ministers such as Eli Dahan that Jews have higher souls than non-Jews? Or Miri Regev’s belief that asylum seekers are a ‘cancer’? Or, would this be guilt by association, as in your character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn?” 19

Click here to read the same letter published in The Jewish Chronicle.

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In April 2016, this number of prominent outspoken Jewish activists increased to more than eighty when a letter published in the Guardian included the signatures of Miriam David, Ivor Dembina, Professor Stephen Deutsch, Selma James, Stephen Marks, Charles Shaar Murray, Ian Saville and Lynne Segal:

We are Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party and of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, who wish to put our perspective on the “antisemitism” controversy that has been widely debated in the last few weeks (Labour’s antisemitism crisis as Livingstone suspended, 29 April). We do not accept that antisemitism is “rife” in the Labour party. Of the examples that have been repeated in the media, many have been reported inaccurately, some are trivial, and a very few may be genuine examples of antisemitism. The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism. We, personally, have not experienced any antisemitic prejudice in our dealings with Labour party colleagues.

We believe these accusations are part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week. As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties. We dissociate ourselves from the misleading attacks on Labour from some members of the Jewish community. We urge others, who may be confused or worried by recent publicity, to be sure that the Labour party, under its present progressive leadership, is a place where Jews are welcomed in a spirit of equality and solidarity. 20

Click here to read the same letter published in the Guardian.

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In April 2018, more than forty senior academics wrote another letter in the Guardian condemning anti-Corbyn bias in mainstream media coverage:

One of the main concepts in journalism education is that of framing: the highlighting of particular issues, and the avoidance of others, in order to produce a desired interpretation. We have been reminded of the importance of framing when considering the vast amounts of media coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged failure to deal with antisemitism inside the Labour party. On Sunday, three national titles led with the story while news bulletins focused on the allegations all last week. Dominant sections of the media have framed the story in such a way as to suggest that antisemitism is a problem mostly to do with Labour and that Corbyn is personally responsible for failing to deal with it. The coverage has relied on a handful of sources such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and well-known political opponents of Corbyn himself.

Yet where are the Jewish voices who support Corbyn and who welcome his long-established anti-racist record? Where are the pieces that look at the political motivations of some of Corbyn’s most vocal critics? Where is the fuss in your news columns about the rising tide of antisemitism in Europe, such as in Hungary, where the Fidesz government has used antisemitic tropes to bolster its support, or in Poland, where the government is attempting to criminalise revelations about the country’s antisemitic past? Where are the columns condemning the links between Conservative MEPs and rightwing parties across Europe in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group which trade on antisemitism?

It is not “whataboutery” to suggest that the debate on antisemitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponise it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections. We condemn antisemitism wherever it exists. We also condemn journalism that so blatantly lacks context, perspective and a meaningful range of voices in its determination to condemn Jeremy Corbyn. 21

Click here to read the same letter published in the Guardian.

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1 From a pre-recorded Novara Media interview with Norman Finkelstein [at 43:50 mins] conducted via video link to New York, broadcast as part of a live-streamed discussion with Barnaby Raine on Monday 6th:

2 From an exclusive story entitled “Jewish News editor slams his paper’s front page attack on Corbyn: ‘It’s repulsive. This is a lifelong anti-racist we’re trashing’ written by Kerry-Anne Mendoza, published in The Canary on August 6, 2018. https://www.thecanary.co/exclusive/2018/08/06/exclusive-jewish-news-editor-slams-his-papers-front-page-attack-on-corbyn-its-repulsive-this-is-a-lifelong-anti-racist-were-trashing/

3 From an article entitled “The fact that Corbyn didn’t yell abuse at a holocaust survivor definitely makes him anti-Semitic” written by Mark Steel, published in The Independent on August 2, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/antisemitism-labour-party-jeremy-corbyn-jewish-holocaust-survivor-abuse-a8474846.html

4 An article entitled “How Corbyn’s Critics Use the Accusation of Anti-Semitism as a Weapon to ‘Embarrass the Left’” written by Michael Barker, published in Counterpunch on August 2, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/02/how-corbyns-critics-use-the-accusation-of-anti-semitism-as-a-weapon-to-embarrass-the-left/

5 From an article entitled “Ex-kibbutznik who is Corbyn’s left-hand man” written by Rosa Doherty, published in the Jewish Chronicle on January 28, 2016. https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/interviews/ex-kibbutznik-who-is-corbyn-s-left-hand-man-1.58391

6 Quote from Al Jazeera Investigations – The Lobby Part 2: The Training Session at 7:55 mins

7 From an article entitled “Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail by Design” written by Janathan Cook, published in Counterpunch on August 20, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/20/corbyns-labour-party-is-being-made-to-fail-by-design/

8 From an article entitled “How Israel helped to revive Europe’s ugly ethnic nationalisms” written by Jonathan Cook published in Middle East Eye on July 13, 2018. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2018-07-13/how-israel-helped-to-revive-europes-ugly-ethnic-nationalisms/

9 From an article entitled “Wat makes the EDL’s former leaders, who says he is a friend of the Jews, tick?” written by Sandy Rashty, published in the Jewish Chronicle on March 5, 2015. https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/features/what-makes-the-edl-s-former-leader-who-says-he-is-a-friend-of-the-jews-tick-1.65493

10 From an article entitled “GUY ADAMS asks why British hatemonger Tommy Robinson is being funded by American Billionaires” written by Guy Adams, published in the Daily Mail on August 11, 2018. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-6049325/GUY-ADAMS-asks-British-hatemonger-Tommy-Robinson-funded-American-billionaires.html

11 An article entitled “Tommy Robinson Free – MEF Heavily Involved”, published by Middle East Forum on August 1, 2018. https://www.meforum.org/articles/2018/tommy-robinson-free-mef-heavily-involved

12 From an interview with Ruthie Blum, published in the Jerusalem Post on June 9, 2006. http://www.danielpipes.org/3667/interview-i-watch-with-frustration-as

13 From an article entitled “Bush Visit May Boost Olmert” written by Eli Lake, published in The New York Sun on May 13, 2008. https://www.nysun.com/foreign/bush-visit-may-boost-olmert/76303/

14 Figures taken from an article entitled “The UK’s Labour Party and its ‘Anti-Semitism’ Crisis” written by Kenneth Surin, published in Counterpunch on August 7, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/07/the-uks-labour-party-and-its-anti-semitism-crisis/

Here is the passage in full:

The casino mogul Sheldon Adelson donated $25 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign ($82 million in total to Republicans in 2016), and $5 million towards his inauguration.   Earlier this year Adelson donated $70 million to Birthright, the organization that brings young Jews to Israel for nothing (he’s donated $100m in total to Birthright).  He also donated $30 million to Republicans after Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran.  Adelson spent $150m in the 2012 election in a futile attempt to unseat the “anti-Israel” Barack Obama.

Adelson’s aim in all of this is to swing Trump behind his friend Netanyahu’s “Greater Israel” political agenda.  To this end Adelson pushed hard for the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, appointing the arch-Zionist John Bolton as a Trump adviser, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (in contravention of international law), and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  Adelson has succeeded in all of these objectives.

15 Quote taken from an article entitled “7 Things About David Horowitz, the Right-Wing Polemicist Who Coined ‘Renegade Jew’ Slur on Bill Kristol” written by Josh Nathan-Kazis, published by Forward magazine on May 17, 2016. https://forward.com/news/340852/7-things-about-david-horowitz-the-right-wing-polemicist-who-coined-renegade/

16 From an article entitled “Hammer Blows: The Left, Israel, Obama – an Interview with David Horowitz” based on an interview conducted by Niram Feretti, originally published on the Italian news site L’Informale here, translated and republished by Truth Revolt on March 16, 2016. https://www.truthrevolt.org/commentary/hammer-blows-left-israel-obama-interview-david-horowitz

17 From an interview with Jamie Stern-Weiner on May 3, 2016. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda

18 From an article entitled “The UK’s Labour Party and its ‘Anti-Semitism’ Crisis” written by Kenneth Surin, published in Counterpunch on August 7, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/07/the-uks-labour-party-and-its-anti-semitism-crisis/ 

19 From an article entitled “Anti-Israel activists attack JC for challenging Jeremy Corbyn” written by Marcus Dysch, published in The Jewish Chronicle on August 18, 2015. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/anti-israel-activists-attack-jc-for-challenging-jeremy-corbyn-1.68162

20 An open letter published under the title “Labour, antisemitism and where Jeremy Corbyn goes from here” by the Guardian on April 29, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/apr/29/labour-antisemitism-and-where-jeremy-corbyn-goes-from-here

21 An open letter published under the title “Stop Jeremy Corbyn’s trial by media over antisemitism” published in the Guardian on April 2, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/02/stop-jeremy-corbyns-trial-by-media-over-antisemitism

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“Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies” – Norman Finkelstein lambasts the international community for its blind spot on Israel

Following the announcement that Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, Democracy Now! invited Finkelstein into their studio to give an extended interview.

Click here to watch the first section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. A leading scholar on Israel-Palestine and veteran political activist, Finkelstein is the author of many books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. His latest book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.

The full interview lasts more than 90 minutes and was broadcast in two parts [January 10th and 19th] – it is embedded below with all sections kept in the original sequence. For the purposes of clarity, however, I have decided to republish a selection of what Finkelstein said under three separate headings: criticisms of human rights organisations, of the UN and Ban Ki-moon in particular, and of recent US administrations. For the same reason, sections from the interview are cut and pasted not always in the original sequence. I very much encourage readers to watch to the full interview.

Click here to watch the second section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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The big lies

The Big Lie about Gaza is that it’s an aggressor, that Gaza is aggressing against Israel, and Israel is reacting in self-defense. It’s a double lie. The first lie is, most of the Israeli attacks on Gaza don’t even have anything to do with Gaza. So, if you take Operation Cast Lead, in 2008, ’09, why did Israel attack Gaza? Not because of Gaza. Not because of anything Gaza did. The Israelis were very honest. This is revenge for Lebanon. In 2006, Israel suffered a major defeat in Lebanon against the Hezbollah, the Party of God. And then Israelis began to panic. They’re losing what they call their deterrence capacity. And their deterrence capacity simply means—it’s a fancy, technical term for the Arabs’ fear of us. […]

The second big lie is, what does Gaza consist of. When you read the official reports, even when you read the human rights reports, they talk about this big arsenal of weapons that Hamas has accumulated. Number one, how do you know how many weapons they have? If you knew how many weapons they had—have, then you must know where they are. And if you know where they are, then Israel would preemptively strike. If it’s not preemptively struck, it’s because it doesn’t know anything about the weapons. Israel plucks numbers out of thin air, and then all the official media, and even the critical human rights organizations, repeat these numbers. They talk about Grad missiles and Fajr missiles.

What is Gaza? What are its weapons? What is its arsenal? Let’s take the last attack. We have exactly—we know exactly how much damage was done by these weapons. There were 5,000 so-called rockets and 2,000 mortars fired at—mortar shells fired at Israel. So, altogether, that’s 7,000 projectiles. You know the damage done? Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it had a diary, listing all the damage done each day. Five thousands rockets, 2,000 mortar shells. One house was destroyed. One house. How is it possible that 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells can only destroy one house? Because they’re not rockets. They’re fireworks. They’re enhanced fireworks.

Click here to watch the third section of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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On justifications for the 2014 military offensive

Well, Benjamin Netanyahu says two things: Number one, Israel had no option, and, number two, that it used the minimum amount of force. Well, let’s look quickly at those two points.

Point number one, everybody agreed that the reason they went—once the fighting began, Hamas had one goal. The goal was to end the siege of Gaza, to lift the siege. Under international law, that siege is illegal. It constitutes collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. The siege has been condemned by everybody in the international community. He had an option. He didn’t have to use force. He simply had to lift the siege. And then there wouldn’t have been a conflict with Gaza.

Number two, he claims he used minimum force. There’s a lot to say about that. You can decide for yourself whether it’s minimum force when Israel leveled 18,000 homes. How many Israeli homes were leveled? One. Israel killed 550 children. How many Israeli children were killed? One. Now, you might say, “Well, that’s because Israel has a sophisticated civil defense system, or Israel has Iron Dome.” I won’t go into that; I don’t have time now. But there’s a simple test. The test is: What did the Israeli combatants themselves see? What did they themselves say?

We have the documentation, a report put out by the Israeli ex-service—ex-combatant organization, Breaking the Silence. It’s about 110 pages. You couldn’t believe it. You know, I’ll tell you, Amy, I still remember when I was reading it. I was in Turkey. I was going to a book festival. I was sitting in the back of a car and reading these descriptions of what the soldiers did. My skin was crawling. I was like shaking. Soldier after soldier after soldier. Now, bear in mind, you want to say they’re partisan, the soldiers? Read the testimonies. They’re not contrite. They’re not remorseful. They’re just describing what happened. There’s no contrition. These aren’t lefties, supporters of BDS. What do they describe? One after another after another says, “Our orders were shoot to kill anything that moves and anything that doesn’t move.” One after another after another says, “Israel used insane amounts of firepower in Gaza. Israel used lunatic amounts of firepower in Gaza.”

Click here to watch the final section of the first part of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Human rights organisations

In my opinion, Israel has a problem, has always had a problem. The problem is, it keeps getting bad press, because when it keeps carrying out these massacres or these shootings, it gets bad press. And so, obviously, what’s the solution? Eliminate the press, eliminate the witnesses. So, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, they prevented any reporters from coming in. So, for three weeks, it was a free-for-all. Then, after Operation Protective Edge, they didn’t let any human rights organizations in, so they couldn’t see what was the damage done. So, then the human rights organizations, what they did was, in my opinion, crazy. They said, “If Israel doesn’t let us in, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t commit the war crime.” But that just incentivizes Israel not to let human rights organizations in. You get an agnostic verdict rather than a guilty verdict. […]

There were no human rights reports. Human Rights Watch published—for Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, it published seven quite substantial reports. After Operation Protective Edge, it published one tiny report, one tiny report of 15 pages. Amnesty International was the only major human rights organization that published major reports, but they were all whitewashes of Israel. They were a disgrace. I go through them systematically. The Amnesty chapter is one of the longest chapters in the book. Just going through it, as I said, Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies.

Blame on both sides? Look at the numbers…

And the main propaganda, even—or especially by the human rights organizations, is the pretense that there’s blame on both sides, there’s blame—there’s death and destruction on both sides. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, it’s just ridiculous to put them in the same category. I gave you a chart, you know, to illustrate the numbers in Operation Protective Edge. Civilians killed, roughly 1,600—1,600 to six, civilians killed. Houses destroyed, 18,000 to one. Children killed, 550 to one. You go down the list. How can you create balance out of a balance sheet like that? You know? Out of a grotesquely imbalanced balance sheet like that? And what the human rights organizations do is they simply inflate what happened on the Israeli. So, for example, you take Amnesty International. One child was killed. One child was killed. They describe the child’s death over two pages. So, you say, “OK, you know, it’s a child’s death. What’s wrong with two pages?” Well, then let’s have balance. Five hundred fifty Palestinian children were killed. Did you give that 1,100 pages? […]

You take Operation Protective Edge. Again, there is no evidence. I’ve read through all the human rights reports. None of them finds any evidence of human shielding. What they do claim they find is—there’s a technical term under international law that when you’re engaging in a military combat, you have to take feasible precautions to protect civilians, and that if you fighting in the vicinity of civilians, you are then guilty of a violation of international law. It’s not a war crime. It’s a violation of international law. They claim Hamas fired or attacked Israel in the vicinity of civilians, so is guilty of not taking all feasible precautions, which is different than human shielding, which is a conscious practice of, as it were, inserting a human being between you and the enemy, for which there’s no evidence. […]

But then, Amnesty says something outrageous—in my opinion, outrageous. You know what it says? It says that Hamas should go to open areas and fight in the open areas of Gaza. Now, on its face, that might sound reasonable, except for, number one, there are very few open areas in Gaza; number two, the law does not say you have to do that. The law does not say you have to relocate all your troops in an open area. But then, number three, Gaza is not occupied internally by Israel. Gaza is surrounded by Israel, and it’s an occupation that is executed externally. So, here’s the problem. […]

Now, international law—according to these human rights organizations, they all say all of Hamas’s weapons are illegal under international law, because they’re indiscriminate. The law is, you can’t use indiscriminate weapons. Hamas’s weapons are very primitive, to say the least. So, international law says its so-called rockets are illegal, its so-called mortar shells—its mortar shells are illegal. Now, what are you left with? Amnesty says to Hamas, “You have to go into an open space, but you can’t use any of your weapons.” But if you can’t use any of your weapons, because they’re indiscriminate, how do you defeat an externally controlled occupation? The only thing Amnesty didn’t tell them to do was to line up like ducks and let the Israeli airplane come in and mow them down.

Now, you might smile at that, but that’s literally—that’s where you’re left. That’s where you’re left, with what these human rights organizations are saying. It’s not to defend Hamas. It’s just to look at the law objectively, rationally, and ask yourself, “Is what—are what the human rights organizations saying fair? Is it true?” All the human rights organizations, they’ll always say Israel used disproportionate force. They’ll say Israel used indiscriminate force.

But there’s one thing they’ll never say. You know what they’ll never say? Israel targeted the civilians. Because that’s the no-no. You see, under international law, indiscriminate attacks are war crimes. Disproportionate attacks are war crimes. Targeting civilians are war crimes. That’s the law. But then there’s public opinion. Public opinion, it’s willing to turn a blind eye to disproportionate attacks. Actually, how can you even prove an attack is disproportionate? It’s almost impossible. They’ll even say, yeah, indiscriminate attacks, because it’s hard to separate civilians from soldiers. The one thing public opinion won’t tolerate is the targeted attack on civilians. That’s exactly what Israel does in every one of its massacres, and that’s exactly the thing that the human rights organizations—now, not during Operation Cast Lead, now, after the Goldstone debacle—that’s the one thing they all shy away from. They don’t want to say Israel targets civilians. […]

Israel is always targeting children. You have so many cases, like you have children playing on a roof. Right? A drone comes in. Human Rights Watch says—its report was called “Precisely Wrong,” after Operation Protective Edge—excuse me, Operation Cast Lead. The drone comes in. Human rights report says the drone can see very clearly what it’s targeting. The drone, it could—up to the very last minute, very last minute, it could divert. Goes right for the kids.

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UN and Ban Ki-moon

In 2014 there was a more notorious incident when an Israeli gunboat targeted a group of children playing games on a beach. The murders were carried out directly in front of a hotel packed with reporters.

So, what does the U.N. Human Rights Council report say, the one by Mary McGowan Davis? “Israel didn’t take all feasible precautions.” All feasible precautions? There was no battle going on. There was no—there was no combat. There were only children there. “We don’t know why Israel mistook these children for militants.” […]

Yeah, when [Ban Ki-moon] was U.N. secretary-general, he does all the bidding for the United States when it comes to Israel-Palestine. I don’t want to go through—I can’t go through this whole sordid record, but the—Israel attacked seven U.N. shelters, which were housing civilians during Operation Protective Edge. And then, on August 3rd, finally, Ban Ki-moon has to say something. And he says, “This is a disgrace, this is outrageous, attacking civilian shelters.” August 3rd, Obama, he no longer has a fig leaf. Ban Ki-moon backed out.

And now—and now Obama is alone on the world stage. So, August 3rd, the same day, Obama attacks Israel for the shelters, bombing the shelters. And now, Netanyahu, the day before, August 2nd, he says, “I’m not leaving Gaza.” After Obama says, “You can’t do this,” he leaves. Same day, August 3rd. Now, it is true, it did go on for another three weeks. It went on for another three weeks because you entered into the negotiation period, where Israel always brings in its most force to try to extract the best terms.

Click here to watch part two of the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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US administrations past and present

On the bipartisan support for Israel

Well, it’s a little complicated question, how U.S.-Israeli policy works. But in general, you could say, when major U.S. national interests are at stake, the Israel lobby has very little power. We saw that, for example, during the negotiations over the agreement with Iran. That was a major U.S. international interest. The lobby was dead set against it. Netanyahu was dead set against it. But the agreement went through. And many of Israel’s strongest supporters—Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, the whole gang—they supported the agreement.

But when a major U.S. interest is not at stake, the lobby is quite powerful. So you take, in this particular case, it was clear the Saudis, which is a U.S. major interest, didn’t care what the U.S. did with Jerusalem. They gave the green light: “If you want to give it to Israel, that’s fine with us. We don’t care.” So, no U.S. natural interest is at stake, and so Trump does what anybody does: He rewards his donors. In this case, it was Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, who was strongly supporting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

But we have to bear in mind, it wasn’t just Trump. You know, sometimes the media wants to pile up on Trump. And they forget it’s not just Trump. Charles Schumer, the current Senate minority leader, Schumer was constantly attacking Trump, right after he got elected: “Why aren’t you recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital?” When Trump did recognize it, Schumer, Charles Schumer, he said, “He did it because of me. I was the one that urged him to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” So that’s the Senate minority leader speaking. And for the same reason—if you look at Schumer’s money, he gets it mostly from conservative, right-wing Jews and from Wall Street, the same sources of income as Trump, the same streams of income.

And on these questions, a lot of the Democrats, including Schumer—or especially Schumer, I should say—are worse than Trump. So, for example, after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israel killed the passengers aboard the humanitarian vessel, the Mavi Marmara, killed 10 passengers, Charles Schumer, he went before a group of Orthodox Jews, and he said, “The people of Gaza voted for Hamas. They voted for Hamas, and therefore economic strangulation is the way to go.” Now, bear in mind what that means. We’re talking about a population, more than half of which are children, who are living under a medieval siege. And what he’s effectively saying is we should continue starving them, until they vote or get rid of Hamas. Now, what do you say about something like that?

Under Obama

Look, the Obama administration was—played a really wretched role in all this. Let’s just take the obvious examples. Operation Cast Lead, it ends on January 17th. Now, remember, Obama was elected in November 2008. Operation Cast Lead ends January 17th, 2009. Obama didn’t say anything after he was elected. Do you know why it ends January 17th? Because Obama signals to the Israeli government, “Don’t mess up my inauguration, January 20th. I don’t want any distractions. You’ve got to end the operation.” That’s why they ended.

Now, you go to Operation Protective Edge, 2014. Every day, Obama or one of his officials said, “Israel has the right to protect itself. Israel has the right to protect itself,” as Israel is leveling Gaza. There was no—actually, there was no comparison between Protective Edge and Cast Lead. It was so much worse.

Under Trump

They’re using this moment—with Trump in power, they’re using this moment to try to eliminate as many witnesses as they can, keep everybody out. They want to do to the West Bank what they did to Gaza. It’s very hard for an outsider to get into Gaza. And now, the Israelis are carrying on in a very brazen way—the land grabs, the merciless killings of civilians, the brutal killings of civilians. And so, they want to clear the field of any witnesses. And they’re using the Trump presidency as a moment to seal off Gaza from any—excuse me, seal off the West Bank from any potentially hostile witnesses, to turn the West Bank into what they turned Gaza into. It’s hermetically sealed. There’s no way to witness the crimes as they unfold in real time.

And on the threat of the U.S. cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA

First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza—let’s just call them Gazans—70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they’re all classified as refugees. So that’s 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza’s population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be—it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let’s look at the numbers. We’re talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA’s expenses, American—the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all U.S. expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the U.N. expense—UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times.

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anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: Jewish voices against the pro-Israel witch hunt

Ask yourself a simple, but serious, question. You go for a job interview. Which trait is most likely to work against you: if you’re ugly, if you’re fat, if you’re short, or if you’re Jewish? It’s perhaps a sad commentary on our society’s values, but the trait most likely to elicit a rejection letter is if you’re ugly. Then fat; then short. The factor least likely to work against you is, if you’re Jewish.

says American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, who is the son of holocaust survivors, a leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a fierce opponent of Zionism, was replying to questions about Labour’s alleged “antisemitism problem”. Asked about the current campaign against Corbyn, he continued:

The question you have to ask yourself is, why? Why has this issue been resurrected with a vengeance, so soon after its previous outing was disposed of as a farce? Is it because of a handful of allegedly antisemitic social media postings from Labour members? Is it because of the tongue-in-cheek map posted by Naz Shah? That’s not believable. The only plausible answer is, it’s political. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual situation; instead, a few suspect cases of antisemitism – some real, some contrived – are being exploited for an ulterior political motive. As one senior Labour MP said the other day, it’s transparently a smear campaign.

Finkelstein has chosen to break his silence on this latest pro-Israel witch hunt by giving an interview to Jamie Stern-Weiner. A transcript published May 3rd is available here.

He concludes the interview as follows:

Labour has now set up an inquiry that is supposed to produce a workable definition of ‘antisemitism’ – which is to say, to achieve the impossible. It’s been tried countless times before, and it’s always proven futile. The only beneficiaries of such a mandate will be academic ‘specialists’ on antisemitism, who will receive hefty consultancy fees (I can already see Richard Evans at the head of the queue), and Israel, which will no longer be in the spotlight. I understand the short-term political rationale. But at some point, you have to say, ‘enough already’. Jews are prospering as never before in the UK. The polls show that the number of, so to speak, hard-core antisemites is miniscule. It’s time to put a stop to this periodic charade, because it ends up besmirching the victims of the Nazi holocaust, diverting from the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and poisoning relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities. You just had an antisemitism hysteria last year, and it was a farce. And now again? Another inquiry? Another investigation? No.

In order to put an end to this, there has to be a decisive repudiation of this political blackmail. Bernie Sanders was brutally pressured to back down on his claim that Israel had used disproportionate force during its 2014 assault on Gaza. He wouldn’t budge, he wouldn’t retreat. He showed real backbone. Corbyn should take heart and inspiration from Bernie’s example. He has to say: no more reports, no more investigations, we’re not going there any more. The game is up. It’s long past time that these antisemitism-mongers crawled back into their sewer – but not before humbly apologising to Naz Shah, and begging her forgiveness.

It is true that Bernie Sanders’ response is an exemplary one, but we should of course bear in mind that he is a Jewish candidate. This provides immunity (at least to some extent – though not entirely as we shall see) from spurious charges of antisemitism.

Incidentally, the published interview was afterwards appended with the following clarification:

Readers have expressed shock at the scandalous remarks attributed to Jonathan Freedland. Finkelstein decided to amend the paragraph so as to quote Freedland word-for-word. Readers will now perhaps be even more shocked.

Here’s what Finkelstein said that caused such a furore:

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family.

We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game?

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkelstein’s scathing rebuke of all accusations of latent racism within the Labour Party, including those levelled at Ken Livingstone.

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Naz Shah has been hung out to dry today. She has confessed, recanted and repented. Her shame is absolute. She has had the Labour Party whip withdrawn and people like the rapidly moving rightwards airhead, Owen Jones, was in the vanguard of the witch hunt calling for her suspension John McDonnell was right to swiftly force Naz Shah’s resignation – but now the party has to suspend her. All we need is the scaffold and then she could literally be hung out to dry.

writes founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Tony Greenstein, who has also written a number of articles for the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’, before “being censored because he rejected the idea that comparing Zionism and the Israeli State to the Nazis was anti-Semitic.”

Greenstein continues:

Indeed Naz Shah has confessed to her comments being anti-Semitic. Isn’t that enough proof? No. The defendants in the Stalin purge trials also confessed to being Trotsky’s agents and more. It is perfectly possible to create a psychological atmosphere such that people will confess to all manner of things, even though they are not guilty. Police interrogators have, throughout the years, been quite skilled in obtaining false confessions without the need to beat people up or torture them.

So let me say it here – there is nothing anti-Semitic in what Naz Shah has said. She made what was quite a flippant humorous joke in the midst of something that was anything but funny – the merciless use of American planes, white phosphorous and the most modern missiles and rocket technology against a people who had nothing except pea crackers to fire back with (the ‘rockets’ that Israel used as a pretext for the bombardment and invasion). Let us not forget that 2,200 people were murdered in Gaza including 551 ‘terrorist’ children.

He adds:

The anti-Semitism talked about today is nothing more than an attempt to defend Israel. It has nothing to do with actual anti-Semitism. Zionists (no it’s not a term of abuse it means those who defend the State of Israel – they do after all have a World Zionist Organisation) find it difficult to defend incarceration and torture of children as young as 12 (if they are Palestinian). Jewish children of course can’t be locked up unless they are at least 14 and they have social workers and parents accompanying them unlike Palestinian children who are kept in solitary confinement, beaten and worse. It is difficult defending a system where 93% of Israeli land is reserved wholly for Jewish use. It is much better to cry ‘anti-Semitism’ and attack the messenger rather than the message.

What is happening is that the millions of pounds that the Israeli government has devoted to propaganda is being spent now to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn and the new Labour leadership.  They are hunting down every tweet, email etc. in order to create an atmosphere of permanent instability. I know because tweets I have issued have been taken totally out of context to suggest I am anti-Semitic. If someone calls me a ‘self-hater’anti-Semite’ etc. I will accuse them of being ‘zio scum’ or whatever. Anti-Semitic? Get a life.

Greenstein is another to have been caught up in the recent witch hunt, when he was prominently featured in an article published by The Telegraph on April 1st entitled “Activist who derides critics as ‘Zionist scum’ admitted to Labour in latest anti-Semitism scandal to hit the Party”. The piece very studiously avoids any mention of the rather glaring fact that Greenstein is from an Orthodox Jewish family, although at the end a clarification has since been added that “we have been asked to make clear that we had not intended to imply that Tony Greenstein is anti-Semitic. We are happy to do so.”

Click here to read more from Tony Greenstein’s extended piece entitled “Naz Shah – More False Allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ – British Jews are NOT oppressed: This is a Bogus Campaign Worthy of Stalin’s Purges”

*

As the witch hunt gathered pace, the Jewish Socialists’ Group issued a formal statement. Thanks to social networking forums it quickly gathered a sizeable audience across the internet. However the corporate media turned an immediate blind eye instead.

I recommend reading the full statement, but here is a flavour:

Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally. […]

The attack is coming from four main sources, who share agendas: to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour; to defend Israeli government policy from attack, however unjust, racist and harmful towards the Palestinian people; and to discredit those who make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or Zionism as a political ideology. As anti-racist and anti-fascist Jews who are also campaigning for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, we entirely reject these cynical agendas that are being expressed by:

  • The Conservative Party
  • Conservative-supporting media in Britain and pro-Zionist Israeli media sources
  • Right-wing and pro-Zionist elements claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community
  • Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour party.

[…]

The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.

We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.

*

Concluding remarks:

Back in March, as the current witch hunt was just brewing, I posted an extended article entitled “anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: playing the race card cannot diguise Israel’s guilt”. As an epigraph, I quoted a dictionary definition of the word ‘racism’. My idea was to encourage readers to reflect on the strict meaning of the word so as to reach an appreciation that this has significantly drifted and, more importantly, been diluted.

On reflection the use of such a device was gauche and may have appeared sententious, although in light of what has since transpired my concern was surely a justifiable one. Indeed, the need to reclaim the word ‘racism’ is becoming an urgent one. Casually brandished by those whose sole purpose is to blacken the name of their opponents, its proper meaning is cheapened. This is an exceedingly dangerous game. For words very often act as safeguards against the gravest of our errors: ‘racism’ serves as just such a safeguard. We undermine its correct meaning at our collective peril.

*

Update:

Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of the grassroots movement Momentum that helped Jeremy Corbyn become party leader, is another Labour activist who was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments posted on social media.

Walker, who is a black activist of Jewish heritage and lifelong anti-racist campaigner as well as a signatory to Jews For Justice For Palestinians was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground on March 21st:

 

On May 21st, Walker was invited back on the show to speak about the charge of antisemitism against her and how the suspension has affected her life:

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel

Oh, what a lovely war…! Gaza, ISIS and Ukraine

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits.

An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.

The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by historical standards. Some of the recent headlines about Iraq or South Sudan make our world sound like a very bloody place, but today’s casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Even the Vietnam War had many more deaths than any recent war involving an affluent country.

So says Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen, writing an opinion piece for The New York Times.

Not enough war! – at first glance Cowen’s argument might appear not just shocking, but plainly nonsensical (or “counterintuitive” as Cowen puts it), although that’s mainly because ordinary folk (such as you and I) are in the habit of forgetting how war is extremely good business – if only for those in the business of war. What Cowen’s article reveals above all, therefore, is a cold calculating detachment that has always been secretly preferred by those moving within select circles. A moral relativism that has come to dominate in our degenerate age of coldly calculating neo-liberal orthodoxy. Cowen is unabashed in telling it like it (i.e., as he wishes to find it), because the vision of a better, saner alternative has been totally abandoned by his type.

He writes:

It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth.1

Reading Cowen’s case for war causes me to remember Orson Welles’ famous speech in The Third Man:

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

It reminds me too of the less celebrated scene that leads into Orson Welles’ most famous soliloquy. When high over postwar Vienna, gently rocking in a cabin on that famous old Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (played by Welles), who is racketeering in penicillin, justifies his actions to his old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), saying that he really shouldn’t worry so much about what happens to ‘the dots’:

Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

*

Gaza

The Gaza Strip is tiny. Twenty-five miles long and less than ten miles wide, yet home to nearly two million Palestinians. Unsurprisingly then, it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It also happens to be one of the poorest.

Since 2007, Gaza has been blockaded on all sides. And with its air space tightly restricted and regularly patrolled by Israeli fighter jets and drones it is not so much a reservation for Palestinians, the majority of whom are forced to live in refugee camps composed of concrete shacks and open sewers, but also their de facto internment camp. For Gaza as a whole might better be thought of as the world’s largest prison:

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

So begins Noam Chomsky in an article he entitled “Impressions of Gaza” published in late 2012. Chomsky continues:

Punishment of Gazans became still more severe in January 2006, when they committed a major crime: they voted the “wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world, electing Hamas. Demonstrating their passionate “yearning for democracy,” the US and Israel, backed by the timid European Union, at once imposed a brutal siege, along with intensive military attacks. The US also turned at once to standard operating procedure when some disobedient population elects the wrong government: prepare a military coup to restore order.

Gazans committed a still greater crime a year later by blocking the coup attempt, leading to a sharp escalation of the siege and military attacks. These culminated in winter 2008-9, with Operation Cast Lead, one of the most cowardly and vicious exercises of military force in recent memory, as a defenseless civilian population, trapped with no way to escape, was subjected to relentless attack by one of the world’s most advanced military systems relying on US arms and protected by US diplomacy.2

The Gaza War, as Operation Cast Lead is also known, cost the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians at least 900 of whom were civilians. Over 4,000 homes were destroyed and more than 50,000 residents displaced. On the Israeli side, ten soldiers were killed (four due to friendly fire) and three civilians also lost their lives. These figures alone show how this previous “Gaza War” was actually no war at all, but a one-sided, single-minded slaughter.

Then, in 2012, there was Operation Pillar of Cloud (sometimes translated, presumably to heighten the absurdity, as Operation Pillar of Defense). A blitzkrieg of aerial bombardment that ended with more than a hundred Palestinian civilians dead. Pillar of Defense – hardly. Pillar of something most definitely… and yet another tissue of lies.

And now, less than two years on, we are in the midst of another massacre being carried out under the even more risibly named Operation Protective Edge. To date more than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed (a number that grows by the hour), the majority of whom are again civilians, and predominately women and children.

For what happens every few years is simply this: the Israeli generals, at the behest of their government, make the decision to “mow the lawn”. Meanwhile, the official pretext remains, that the escalating spiral of violence is solely the fault of Hamas and that hostilities will end only once the firing of Hamas rockets on Israel is stopped. The fact is, of course, that Israeli hostilities are never-ending. That those hostilities will end once Gaza is no longer a prison camp, which is a decision only Israel can make. Meanwhile, the regular collective punishment of the Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas can neither be morally nor legally sanctioned, and from a strategic point of view it is inexpedient in the extreme – presuming that the long-term aim really is to bring an end to the cycles of violence. For whilst clearly in violation of international law, this current outrage is not just extremely damaging to Israel’s international reputation, but also, and inevitably, it is bolstering support for Hamas, and just as their influence was beginning to wane. We must conclude therefore that those in charge of Israel are either remarkably stupid, or that they are more intent on keeping the conflict going, as well as keeping Gaza under siege, rather than seeking any offers of lasting peace.

*

After writing this, I came across an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, Head of the Israeli Institute of Strategic Studies, and published in the Jerusalem Post. In the piece, Sherman unflinchingly calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip. He writes:

Mowing the lawn’ won’t cut it

The reluctance to face unpalatable realities has spawned new terminology to paper over intellectual surrender, and mask unwillingness to accept the need for regrettably harsh but essential policies.

First, we were told that since there was “no solution” to the Israel-Arab conflict, we should adopt an approach of “conflict management” rather than “conflict resolution.”

Now we have a new term in the professional jargon to convey a similar perspective: “mowing the grass.” This is the name for an approach that entails a new round of fighting every time the Palestinian violence reaches levels Israel finds unacceptable.

Its “rationale” – for want of a better term – was recently articulated by Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, as: “The use of force, not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather [as a] long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities.”

Sadly, what we have seen is that far from “debilitating the enemy capabilities,” because said enemy keeps reappearing, spoiling for a fight, ever bolder with ever-greater capabilities.

It is an open question just how many more rounds of “mowing” the residents of southern Israel will endure before losing confidence that the government will provide adequate protection and choose to evacuate the area.

No, periodically mowing the lawn is not a policy that can endure for long – it simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.3

Click here to read Martin Sherman’s full article.

*

ISIS

Where did ISIS come from?” a friend asked a few months ago. Well, although they first spread their obscene wings in the war on Syria, I reminded him, and in common with all factions within al-Qaeda, you can actually trace their ugly origins right back to Saudi Arabia. Then there is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was al-Baghdadi who officially founded the group he called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – now translated, for reasons unknown to me, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or ISIS) – during April last year. Back then, ISIS were closely affiliated with another al-Qaeda faction known as Jabhat al-Nusra but soon afterwards bloody factional infighting caused a rift and a formal separation from the rest of al-Qaeda.4

More recently again, in fact just a month ago, al-Baghdadi called on other Muslims to rush to the aid of his pan-Islamic caliphate, now simply called ‘Islamic State’, whose caliph is, somewhat unsurprisingly, al-Baghdadi himself.5 At the time indeed the news was full of it – constantly repeating those promotional videos for ISIS. There is a growing concern that British Muslims may be attracted to the Jihadist cause by these glossy new commercials, we kept hearing… like a commercial.

Aside from having generous sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and fingers have been pointed toward Saudi Prince Adbul Rahman al-Faisal in particular6 – many in the ranks of this latest batch of Islamists were also more directly assisted with training courtesy of the British, French and US across the border in Jordan. This is denied, of course, since officially we only trained “ the moderates”. But then prior to the well-advertised emergence of ISIS, western powers had become remarkably candid in their disinterest when it came to making careful distinctions between the various “rebel forces”. Any enemy of Assad was a friend of ours.

And, in reality, the moderates in the Syrian conflict had been rather quickly squeezed out (as I pointed out in a number of previous articles), so that when groups like al-Nusra and then ISIS moved in to spearhead the continuing offensive, the West had knowingly continued to back them (I refer the reader again to previous posts and recommend following the “al-Nusra” tag).

Not that this feckless approach to foreign policy is particularly novel. Al-Qaeda was always an American formulation, having been purpose-built to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since which time, its growth has been encouraged less directly thanks to power vacuums which followed in the wake of attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria. Added to which, weapons and forces from Libya were more deliberately transported into Syria as Seymour Hersh, amongst others, has since exposed. So, and to answer my friend’s question more fully, ISIS is to a very great extent our own monster. For it is western foreign policy that has allowed ISIS to establish itself, and without continued support from the Gulf States – our allies – ISIS might now be rather promptly eradicated.

If the aim is to stop al-Qaeda in their tracks (or at least their latest branch, ISIS), then it would be very much more profitable to pull the whole operation out by its roots – roots that lie fully exposed in Saudi Arabia. So instead of drone attacks or air strikes on Iraq (and in the likely future Syria), why aren’t we sending our ultimatum to the Saudis?

*

Ukraine

The conflict over Palestine goes back some seventy years to the very formation of Israel, and whilst the rise of al-Qaeda across wide expanses of Iraq and Syria can easily be traced to the illegal Iraq War that was ignited by Bush and Blair more than a decade ago (and which has never properly ended), the immediate origins of today’s escalating “crisis” in Ukraine take us back just a few months.

Divisions between East and West regions, pro- and anti-Russia, that had been festering but were mostly dormant found a new expression. What was then widely presented as a grassroots pro-European uprising in fact turning out to be nothing other than a EU-inflamed and US-coordinated colour revolution ending in a bloody coup. Not a glorious liberation from oligarchy, but simply the replacement of one oligarchical coterie with another, more western-oriented oligarchical coterie. Worse, for this new clique were openly affiliated with leading members of the extreme right. The fascist party Svoboda now linked arms with the even more odious Right Sector as both sought a share of power; grabbing the chance of appointing one another into office.

Embedded below is an uncharacteristically candid BBC report about who really seized power in Kiev. It was broadcast in February on Newsnight:

Has the subsequent election (which was not even recognised as legitimate in many Eastern regions) of chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko as President of Ukraine helped to reign in the extremists? Well, this is the situation as it currently stands: three members of the cabinet including Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych are Svoboda representatives, whilst the speaker of parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov, more recently announced the complete dissolution of the Communist Party faction in the Verkhovna Rada. The banning of political parties is one measure of how far Ukraine is from functioning like a democratic state. Another being the monthly fist fights that take place inside the Rada.

This was April:

And this happened just a few weeks ago:

There is also President Poroshenko himself. The following is taken from a Guardian report published on Sunday July 13th , little more than one month after he had assumed office:

Over the weekend there was an escalation of both military action and rhetoric in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian jets carried out air strikes against separatist positions. On Friday, 23 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in an attack using Grad missiles.

“For every soldier’s life, the militants will pay with dozens and hundreds of their own,” said Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, after Friday’s attack.7 [bold emphasis added]

Hardly the voice of reconciliation. And lastly, a more recent report, this time from BBC news, which delves into who exactly is fighting on the pro-government side of the conflict:

Mikael Skillt is a Swedish sniper, with seven years’ experience in the Swedish Army and the Swedish National Guard. He is currently fighting with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Ukrainian volunteer armed group in eastern Ukraine. He is known to be dangerous to the rebels: reportedly there is a bounty of nearly $7,000 (£4,090; 5,150 euros) on his head. […]

As to his political views, Mr Skillt prefers to call himself a nationalist, but in fact his views are typical of a neo-Nazi. […]

Mr Skillt believes races should not mix. He says the Jews are not white and should not mix with white people. His next project is to go fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because he believes Mr Assad is standing up to “international Zionism”.

Leaving Mr Skillt’s sordid opinions to one side, what are the thoughts of his comrades in arms?

Not all of Mr Skillt’s views are widely shared in the Azov Battalion, which is about 300-strong in total.

He says his comrades do not discuss politics much, though some of them may be “national socialists” and may wear swastikas. On the other hand, “there is even one liberal, though I don’t know how he got there”, he adds, with a smile in his voice.8

So much for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, an already latest benighted region suffering from an extreme economic crisis, and now deeply fractured by a terrible civil war from which, the UN reports, a hundred thousand refugees have already fled9, and where another thousand civilians have so far lost their lives.10

*

For months, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, regions heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults on cities, captured on video, are generating intense pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.” Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased even more since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, intensified its artillery and air attacks on eastern cities defenseless against such weapons.

The reaction of the Obama administration—as well as the new cold-war hawks in Congress and in the establishment media—has been twofold: silence interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans (notably, the scholar Gordon Hahn) have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that have risen to the level of war crimes.11

So writes Stephen Cohen, who is professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, in an article published by The Nation magazine on June 30th. A few weeks later, on July 18th, Cohen appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the ramifications of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and the loss of all 298 lives on board. Asked: “what do you think we should understand about what has taken place?”; Cohen began:

The horror of it all, to quote Conrad, watching your reports on Gaza, knowing what I know but what’s not being reported in the mainstream media about what’s been going on in eastern Ukraine cities—these cities have been pounded by Kiev—and now this. “Emeritus,” as you call me, means old. I’ve seen this before. One function of cold war is innocent victims. The people who died, nearly 300, from many countries, are the first victims, nonresidential victims, of the new Cold War. This crash, this shootdown, will make everything worse, no matter who did it.

There are several theoretical possibilities. I am not a conspiracy buff, but we know in the history of the Cold War, there are provocations, people who want to make things worse. So, in Moscow, and not only in Moscow, there are theories that somebody wanted this to happen. I just can’t believe anybody would do it, but you can’t rule anything out.

The other possibility is, because the Ukrainian government itself has a capability to shoot down planes. By the way, the Ukrainian government shot down a Russian passenger jet, I think in 2001. It was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia. It was an accident. Competence is always a factor when you have these weapons.

Another possibility is that the rebels—we call them separatists, but they weren’t separatists in the beginning, they just wanted home rule in Ukraine—that they had the capability. But there’s a debate, because this plane was flying at commercial levels, normally beyond the reach of what they can carry on their shoulders.

There’s the possibility that the Russians aided and abetted them, possibly from Russian territory, but I rule that out because, in the end, when you don’t know who has committed a crime, the first question a professional investigator asks is, “Did anybody have a motive?” and the Russians certainly had no motive here. This is horrible for Putin and for the Russian position.

That’s what we know so far. Maybe we’ll know more. We may never know who did this.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Most of the news media went into a rapid and sustained feeding frenzy after the downing of flight MH17, but the question of whether or not it was the Russian separatists who shoot down the plane using “Putin’s Missile” remains hanging. One very laudable exception to the rule was tenacious Associated Press reporter Matt Lee. Here is Lee questioning US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, about the lack of evidence being presented. His main question: is there anything besides those uploads on social media? Her flustered answer can be summed up succinctly as no:

In defending the inherent flimsiness of the US position, which is that it’s suddenly common sense to trust in social media, Marie Harf told Lee that the State Department does have other evidence which proves the separatists were responsible, though she intimates that it is too sensitive to be released. But then the same US State Department made identical claims a mere twelve months ago, and had they been believed, we might have been rushed to launch air attacks against Damascus. As it turned out, however, the White House was lying and deliberately exaggerating the evidence they really held about the sarin attack on Ghouta. Contrary to what Marie Harf asserts, therefore, it is common sense to presume that the State Department would be prepared to deliberately lie again.

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s subsequent disclosure of the US evidence relating to the gas attack on Ghouta.

As the civil war in Ukraine worsens, we have been constantly reminded that this is Putin’s war. Just as the cause of the tragedy of MH17 was “Putin’s missile!” Not that Putin organised the overthrow of an elected government in Kiev, nor that Putin ordered a missile strike against a passenger plane, nor even that Putin’s “separatist” forces are deliberately shelling homes in Eastern Ukraine – the shelling of homes, as in Gaza, is the work of government forces. Putin is not presumed guilty on any of these counts even by his most vehement opponents, but he is found guilty on the grounds that he is covertly backing the anti-Kiev rebels (as we might alternatively call them), and arming them. Guilty, in other words, of doing what the West have done and are very likely still doing in Syria.

I take no pleasure in defending Putin, who is rightly vilified on so many other counts, but the facts remain and should speak for themselves. And it is Russia, not Putin, that we should be talking about in any case. For Russia has her own interests, and so long as Nato continues its encirclement, whoever holds office in the Kremlin will be held to account for protecting those interests. But we are being encouraged to obsess over Putin. What was once Bin Laden, Bin Laden, Bin Laden… is now Putin, Putin, Putin!

Meanwhile, the facts surrounding the crash of MH17 are still unclear. Not only do we not know which army fired the missile, but, with absolute certainty, we still do not know whether it was a missile that brought down the plane. Until a full and independent forensic investigation can establish the truth of what happened, we will continue remain in the dark.

Click here to read an article by Jason Ditz, writing for antiwar.com [July 22nd], which outlines the flimsiness of the evidence thus far presented by the US State Department.

*

Final thoughts

I was exploring the byways of the web recently, scrolling across old territory and keeping a careful eye out for neglected news stories and offbeat opinions, when I came across a Guardian article from a decade ago that firmly arrested my attention. The article began as follows:

Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected Anglo-American claims that Saddam Hussein already possesses weapons of mass destruction and told Tony Blair that the best way to resolve the conflict of evidence is not war, but the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

With a tense Mr Blair alongside him at his dacha near Moscow, the Russian president took the unusual step of citing this week’s sceptical CIA report on the Iraqi military threat to assert: “Fears are one thing, hard facts are another”.

Times were rather different then, of course – as the closing statement in the same article reminds us:

Mr Blair called Mr Putin “a critical partner for ourselves and the whole of the western world.”

And times were different in another way too:

In his remarks Mr Blair, very much the bridge between the hawks in Washington and wider global scepticism, again said that “conflict is not inevitable” but that the international community must give a “strong and clear signal” to Baghdad to comply with its demands.12

Conflict was indeed not inevitable, but it happened anyway. And as the leakedBush-Blair memo later revealed, only months after meeting with Putin, Blair had been scheming with Bush on plans to launch their invasion – including a discussion of ways they might provoke Saddam Hussein into a confrontation. In the finish, however, no provocation was needed; barefaced lies would be enough.

Today marks a moment precisely a hundred years since the western world first went mad for war. The centenary of the start of that “war to end all wars”. Which didn’t happen: the wars go on. The blood-drenched mud of the trenches providing fertile ground for the rotten fruit of fascism to grow upon. The interwar period turning out to be just a lull before the still greater storm of carnage which was the Second World War – the bloodiest war that the world has ever known. Since when, with a Cold War promptly established against our former ally Russia, conflicts have constantly flared up in places far and wide. For sadly, no other century in history can compete with this last one when it comes to war.

It appears that pressure is rising again, with the many on-going regional wars worsening and spreading, and so one wonders with horrible trepidation where all this might be leading. Especially now that we are giving a “strong and clear signal” not to Baghdad but to Moscow. For what is the West’s real objective when it comes to tightening sanctions on Russia? Is the aim simply to pressure Putin with the hope of unseating him (an unlikely outcome given his current popularity), or will this eventually lead to a full-blown economic war. Sanctions in the past have opened the way for military conflict, so does war against Russia remain unimaginable… well yes, for the sane it does!

But there are also those who dream along the lines of Tyler Cowen. They view war as an opportunity, more than a threat, because they know that war is good for business. “Victims?” says Harry Lime, “Don’t be melodramatic.” Lime is a villain, but he knows the score.

War is a Racket is a pamphlet that was written by America’s most highly decorated soldier, General Smedley Butler. In it Butler explains, in painstaking detail, who actually won the First World War. The major corporations and financiers were its only real victors, he tells us, pointing out how the same can be said for all of the many other wars he helped to fight in. And so, as today we solemnly remember the sacrifice of the millions who laid down their lives a century ago, let this be the lasting lesson we take from that war. “War is a racket. It always has been.” Lest we forget.

*

Update:

Israel’s month-long assault has so far left at least 1,865 Palestinians dead. As Israel pulled its ground forces from the Gaza Strip under the 72-hour ceasefire, Democracy Now! spoke with Jewish author, historian and political activist Norman Finkelstein, to discuss the events of the last month, and what in light of the new ceasefire, the likely outcome of talks will be. He began:

Well, the first thing is to have clarity about why there is a ceasefire. The last time I was on the program, I mentioned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, he basically operates under two constraints: the international constraint—namely, there are limits to the kinds of death and destruction he can inflict on Gaza—and then there’s the domestic constraint, which is Israeli society doesn’t tolerate a large number of combatant deaths.

He launched the ground invasion for reasons which—no point in going into now—and inflicted massive death and destruction on Gaza, where the main enabler was, of course, President Obama. Each day he came out, he or one of his spokespersons, and said, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Each time he said that, it was the green light to Israel that it can continue with its terror bombing of Gaza. That went on for day after day after day, schools, mosques, hospitals targeted. But then you reached a limit. The limit was when Israel started to target the U.N. shelters—targeted one shelter, there was outrage; targeted a second shelter, there was outrage. And now the pressure began to build up in the United Nations. This is a United Nations—these are U.N. shelters. And the pressure began to build up. It reached a boiling point with the third shelter. And then Ban Ki-moon, the comatose secretary-general of the United Nations and a U.S. puppet, even he was finally forced to say something, saying these are criminal acts. Obama was now cornered. He was looking ridiculous in the world. It was a scandal. Even the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was now calling it a criminal act. So finally Obama, the State Department said “unacceptable,” “deplorable.” And frankly, it’s exactly what happened in 1999 in Timor: The limits had been reached, Clinton said to the Indonesian army, “Time to end the massacre.” And exactly happened now: Obama signaled to Netanyahu the terror bombing has to stop. So, Obama—excuse me, Netanyahu had reached the limit of international tolerance, which basically means the United States.

The youtube clip embedded above is a slightly truncated version of the original. Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Tuesday’s [Aug 5th] Democracy Now! also interviewed Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security at MIT and a leading missile expert, who believes there is no convincing evidence that Israel’s much-vaunted missile interception system Iron Dome is effective. This has not stopped President Obama signing a bill on Monday which grants an additional $225 million in emergency funding for Israel to replenish its arsenal of interceptor missiles for Iron Dome. American “foreign aid” that will be transferred directly into the pockets of one of America’s largest weapons companies, Raytheon. Postol doesn’t describe this as a racket, but if the Iron Dome is really as unreliable as he claims, then what else can such an enormous transfer of money from public to private hands be called…?

Click here to read the same interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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To hear more about the rise of ISIS, I also recommend the following Democracy Now! interview with Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, speaking on August 13:

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1 From an article entitled “The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth” written by Tyler Cowen, published by The New York Times on June 13, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/upshot/the-lack-of-major-wars-may-be-hurting-economic-growth.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1

3 From an article entitled “Into the fray: Why Gaza must go” written by Martin Sherman, published in The Jerusalem Post on July 24, 2014. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Into-the-fray-Why-Gaza-must-go-368862

7 From an article entitled “Ukraine’s shelling could have irreversible consequences, says Russia” written by Shaun Walker, published by the Guardian on July 13, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/13/ukrainian-shell-russian-border-town-donetsk

8 From an article entitled “Ukraine conflict: ‘White power’ warrior from Sweden” written by Dina Newman, published by BBC news on July 16, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28329329

9 “Since the start of 2014, approximately 110,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Russia – with only 9,600 requesting asylum – while more than 700 others went to Poland, Belarus, Czech Republic and Romania.”

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48159#.U96_7qOg6Uk

11 From an article entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities” written by Stephen F. Cohen, originally published in The Nation magazine on June 30, 2014 (revised on July 7 and July 17). http://www.thenation.com/article/180466/silence-american-hawks-about-kievs-atrocities#

12 From an article entitled “Putin demands proof over Iraqi weapons” written by Michael White, published in the Guardian on October 12, 2002. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/oct/12/russia.politics

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Remember, remember… the Occupy movement

Tonight is November 5th and in Britain that means it’s “bonfire night”, or “fireworks night”, or, perhaps more properly, “Guy Fawkes Night”. Fireworks are exploding all around me as I write, and yet strangely most people in Britain have very little idea who Guy Fawkes was, or what the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” was really all about. And I must confess that I am similarly ignorant when it comes to the important details of the case.

When younger, I even believed that Guy Fawkes was being celebrated on November 5th; the British being a people renowned (or at least believing themselves renowned) for cheering on the valiant underdog who presses forward in spite of the incredible odds stacked against them – Scott of the Antarctic’s misguided adventures making him the very model of a modern British hero – and what better underdog than Fawkes himself, taking it to the entire British establishment with just a few barrels of gunpowder and a damp tinderbox? Attempting the impossible with only the covert support of a merry band of trusty but evidently suicidal comrades!

So fireworks night, when I was a child, had naïvely appeared like a tribute to Fawkes’ audacious and so nearly successful (if we accept the propaganda) overthrow of the ruling authorities, that ended in his martyrdom. Fawkes being sentenced to be publicly hanged, drawn and quartered – which happens to be the other part of the story that just about everyone in Britain still knows. For some reason it simply didn’t occur to me that the burning of his effigy on bonfires throughout the land was actually a celebration, not of his doomed but gallant attempt, but of his capture (along with his fellow co-conspirators) just in the nick of time – the fireworks bursting not in mimicry of the gunpowder in the plot, but in mockery of Fawkes’ failure to ignite it.

Had I been born and raised in Northern Ireland, where sectarian tensions between Protestants and Catholics still persist – instead of in a sleepy Shropshire village close to the Welsh border – I would undoubtedly have understood the real significance of November 5th a good deal better and much earlier than I did. A very close friend who had lived in the province later pointing out to me that “Burning the Catholic Night”, as he preferred to call it, was something perfectly well understood by those on both sides of the religious divide.

And then there is the famous rhyme:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

This was something I, like most Britons of my age, had once committed to memory. Learning the lines in school whilst also hearing them so often repeated outside of school. And since we are free from committing ourselves to any daily pledge of allegiance in Britain, this is just about as close as we ever collectively came to swearing any kind of national oath. A verse with an underlying message that is both stark and abundantly clear, at least when you stop to think about it: reminding us all that once upon a time, long, long ago, a few desperados attempted to overthrow the government and look where it got them.

So why mention any of this? Well, exactly twelve months ago to the day, something remarkable was happening in my home city of Sheffield. A small band of disillusioned strangers were getting ready to set up a makeshift protest camp outside the cathedral. Thus the Occupy movement that first sprang into being with the Spanish Los Indignados in Spring, re-emerging in Wall Street in mid-September, before spreading so rapidly from city to city and state to state, had suddenly sparked a response across the pond in Britain. A global protest movement was beginning to take shape, and not before time.

For some weeks, I deliberated. Keen to support those taking to the streets, but reluctant to camp down in the bitter cold and join in the overnight vigils. Instead, I visited the camp on a number of occasions, especially in the early stages, although as the weeks wore on, began to feel that my visits were more like intrusions. My lack of all-out commitment turning me into an outsider, whilst inside the canvass enclave, a shared hardihood was quickly bonding the 24/7 occupiers into what increasingly felt like a clique. Not that I blame the people living on the camp for this, since it must have been extremely hard for them dealing with the cold and discomfort whilst others like myself occasionally came by and then, just as quickly, departed again. Rushing back to the warmth and security of our homes.

But as time passed, I also wondered what it was that the mainstay of the Occupy Sheffield camp thought their continued presence on the city streets would ultimately achieve. Certainly, it showed that they had tremendous conviction and were deeply committed to the cause, proving their mettle by battling against the worsening elements day and night, but in the face of mixed public opinion was this really the best way to spread the bigger message and bring others on-board. I never really thought so.

And the message exactly? Everyone understood very well that the demand was for ‘change’ – and so probably the majority in Sheffield were already broadly sympathetic to that stated aim. Change has rarely been so urgently required and for this reason there are a great many people, especially as you move North in this country, who have long been crying out for a more radical change in political direction – but precisely what kind of change were those in the Occupy protests calling for? This was simply never made clear enough, as it so easily could have been, with no programme outlined nor strategy agreed. All of these important details being considered too much of a straight-jacket apparently. But then, as I wrote at the time, there were many problems with the whole approach taken by the Occupy movement.

The Occupy Sheffield encampment lasted little more than a couple of months, snuffed out by cold weather and, I think it is fair to conclude, a disappointing lack of progress. Which was really the way with the Occupy movement more widely: starting off as a genuine grassroots uprising, it would soon become partially co-opted (certainly this was attempted in America) but mostly, was either crushed by police assaults (again this was very evidently the case in America) or else it simply fizzled out due of its inherent looseness of structure and lack of obvious, purposeful direction. So the steady demise of Occupy has been saddening, but only what we all should have expected.

If, in future years, the Occupy movement is remembered in any popular historical context, it will only be because a far stronger movement arose from its ashes. In such an event, one feature of those future accounts, aside from descriptions of the tent cities themselves, will probably include mention of the Guy Fawkes masks. And it’s strange to think that such a quintessentially British anti-hero somehow became imported back to us from America, albeit radically shape-shifted after his silver-screen renaissance in the film “V for Vendetta”.

Already used as a disguise by hackers in the group Anonymous, the Fawkes mask was quickly adopted as representing the anonymous 99% percent and worn by many on the streets in the Occupy protests. And it lent the movement a somewhat more subversive air than it truly warranted; Fawkes, in the film, having been recast as the faceless man in the mask who, though righteous, is more or less entirely nihilistic in his comic book rampage against a despotic future government. His first act being to blow up the Old Bailey, and his last (here comes a major plot spoiler – so be warned… because you’d probably never guess!) to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Two well-aimed strikes that entirely obliterated our national emblems of Justice and Democracy, which are, after all, still the only places where those of us in the 99% get any representation at all.

Was this the kind of revolution those within Occupy were really seeking… no, of course it wasn’t! But, if not, then why adopt the masks? Symbols being of utmost importance, as those with real power understand very well – and the reason our culture is altogether saturated with flags, banners and logos of every description.

So although powerfully evocative, I regard the adoption of the Fawkes mask as a mistake, and as a mistake, one that accidentally revealed a deeper truth about the movement itself: that from the outset the Occupy movement was, like the man in the mask, suffering from an excess of anarchism. Seeking to rebuild the whole of society from the ground upwards, and yet without offering any real alternatives. That like Fawkes and his rag-tag gang of four hundred years earlier, Occupy hadn’t stood the ghost of a chance in any case. In its methods, rather than in its aims, Occupy having been poisoned by a terminal dose of utopianism. And that unlike Fawkes, the Occupy protests never properly got beyond the stage of wishful thinking.

Not that I am advocating violence of any kind, because I certainly do not – believing for both moral and also more pragmatic reasons that violence should only ever be a last resort in any situation, political or otherwise. Indeed, violence of different forms is what we are all confronted by – the direct violence of pepper spray and taser, or the more insidious violent assaults against our hard-won economic rights and individual freedoms. Our adversary (the same one that Eisenhower famously referred to as the military-industrial complex, although perhaps better renamed the financial-military-industrial complex) having armed itself to the teeth and constantly ready to resort to violence at the first hint of any trouble. So the struggle we face will become near impossible to win if it ever means trying to fight fire only with fire. Fire being the element ‘the powers that be’ always understand best.

It is, however, imperative that we directly confront the corruption we increasingly find all around us. So Occupy was important and if only because it first galvanised and then channelled our growing dissent – aiming it more precisely at the unfettered power brokers in Wall Street and the City of London. It was mistaken, however, in imagining that such widespread public outcry alone might somehow be enough. This was always the biggest fault with the original Occupy movement, and the reason I think that it never grew above a certain size, and will never, in its current form (since pockets of the movement still exist), develop into the full-blown mass movement that is required.

This November 5th happens to fall on the eve of the US elections, elections that amply illustrate not only how desperate the immediate situation is becoming, but also how badly the Occupy protests (not to mention the thoroughly co-opted Tea Party protests) have failed in the longer term. Now you may say, as many in Britain do say to me, that we should leave it to the Americans to worry about America, and trouble ourselves with what’s happening closer to home. My primary objection to such a disinterested position being straightforward: that whatever is happening today in America will come home soon enough. Britain more than any other country (Israel excepted) marching to the beat of the American drum – or more correctly the Anglo-American (aka Wall Street and the City of London) drum. Full-steam ahead and with the rest of the western world expected to follow – and destined to follow, if we all continue to allow our destiny to be decided for us.

So what can we expect this time around in the US election pageant? Well, neither Obama nor Romney are about to change anything of significance, or at least not in any helpful way. They are both well known sell-outs to the same special interest groups that have taken control our societies, and for this reason their stated policies are so inherently similar that there has been little worth debating at all – the presidential debates serving mostly to debase the proper meaning of the word ‘debate’.

Whatever happens in tomorrow’s election, those in Wall Street and the City of London will continue to be very well served because, as Nomi Prins wrote recently, “Before the Election was Over, Wall Street won”:

Before the campaign contributors lavished billions of dollars on their favorite candidate; and long after they toast their winner or drink to forget their loser, Wall Street was already primed to continue its reign over the economy.

For, after three debates (well, four), when it comes to banking, finance, and the ongoing subsidization of Wall Street, both presidential candidates and their parties’ attitudes toward the banking sector is similar – i.e. it must be preserved – as is – at all costs, rhetoric to the contrary, aside.

Obama hasn’t brought ‘sweeping reform’ upon the Establishment Banks, nor does Romney need to exude deregulatory babble, because nothing structurally substantive has been done to harness the biggest banks of the financial sector, enabled, as they are, by entities from the SEC to the Fed to the Treasury Department to the White House.1

Click here to read more of Nomi Prins thorough-going analysis.

That said, I don’t doubt that Romney, if elected, will be more dangerous than Obama, since Romney has candidly told us as much. Intent to push harder and faster in the same old directions, Romney becoming president will be much like a return to Bush, but this will be like Bush after a decade of Bush.

Coming in as a fresh face and determined to push on again with a freshly laundered neo-con offensive of more wars and less freedom. And whereas Obama was bad in pretending to be different from Bush, Romney will be worse again, and if only because he won’t be burdened by having to pretend so much: “hope and change” having ceased to be any part of the mainstream political discussion now taking place in America.

Of course, the ballot box has ultimately failed in America largely because the political system is stitched up between two parties. Third candidates being almost totally excluded from entering the debate, and not just because of the relative lack of financial backing (the big money having already been spent on the Obama–Romney spectacular), but also more directly in that access to the televised debates is tightly controlled by a non-profit organisation called the Commission on Presidential Debates:

To qualify for the debates, candidates must “have demonstrated a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate, as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results [as of September 21].” Of course it’s almost impossible to earn the support of 15% of the electorate if you don’t have regular access to network television or to the debates themselves.2

Click here to read more about why you probably didn’t hear anything from Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. All three had qualified for the ballot in enough states that they could, at least technically, have won the election, but whatever alternative they may have been offering was easily suppressed by other means. And when the ordinary course of democracy has been captured so completely in this way, then mass dissent becomes the only answer.

But if we, the 99%, are to successfully resist what is happening to us then we must learn very quickly from the failures of Occupy to help us move forward to the next stage. And we have to recognise that up to now all of the major protest movements have failed, or at least stalled (I gather that Syriza may still offer some small hope of a rescue of Greece).

Iceland stands out as the only exception to the rule. In Iceland the people won the day and the banks were prosecuted, but then Iceland is such a tiny place that, at least in terms of setting any precedent, it may very easily be disregarded as a uniquely special case. We ought nonetheless to applaud their victory, rather than (as I sometimes hear) deriding their people for not settling up on their debts – the debts were never theirs in the first place – which is perhaps the most important point that many still fail to appreciate about this crisis we face.

We must endeavour to turn this tide quickly, or we will soon lose everything that we still hold precious. The screws are about to be seriously tightened, and not just economically, since the ongoing economic collapse marks (and to some extent masks) what is really the trigger for the greater oppression to come – and if you still doubt this, then please take a moment to meditate on the implications of the NDAA indefinite detention bill that Obama so deceitfully passed into law late last December.

As the people are forced ever deeper into debt by banker bailouts and QE-infinity (as QE3 is also known), we will, by degrees, also be forced into servitude by other means. Compelled in the name of national security to give up on the rest of our inalienable rights and freedoms. And if we fail to resist by peaceful means, then eventually we will be left with only gunpowder and plot (and both in rather short supply I imagine) – a very messy and unreliable means for the re-establishment of any system of fair democracy and true justice.

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Additional:

On August 25th, James Green, a community producer for Occupy Brooklyn TV, interviewed Norman Finkelstein, political dissident and world renowned scholar on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. They discussed his new book about Gandhi, which he has dedicated to the Occupy movement, and also talked about the Occupy movement more broadly. Here is an extract from the interview as transcribed in the late September edition of CounterPunch:

Like any good movement, the Occupy movement has to conduct a serious self criticism and look at what it did right and what it did wrong. At this point it’s pretty much disappeared. And that’s just a fact. I pass Union Square nearly every day and it’s a very sad sight now. When I go to Union Square the main occupants of the square now are the Hare Krishnas again. Well with all due respect to Hare Krishnas it was much more inspiring when the center stage was occupied by the Occupy movement. And that’s no longer the case. Last night when I passed it was the Hare Krishnas on one side and it was the young fellows doing their gymnastics to music on the other side surrounded by crowds of people. Well the Occupy movement is gone. And there has to be some serious reflection on what went wrong. Serious self criticism.

I think that people like Bloomberg, they’re complete thugs. No question about it. But on the other hand it must be said that they are politically savvy. They don’t get into those positions of power, in the case of Bloomberg both economic and political power, by being anybody’s fool. And they recognized that the Occupy movement had reached a point of extreme fragility. And that you can go in with the bulldozers, knock out the whole thing, and effectively eliminate it. They recognized, which I have to say I did not, that the fruit was ripe for the picking. They could get away with it at that point. And then the question is why. What happened? What went wrong? And I think there are two things, speaking as a strict outsider – and I always have to enter that caveat, two things which seemed to be wrong.

Number one, Gandhi’s great skill was as an organizer. He dug very deep roots in the Indian masses. He was not speaking from the outside. He was among them. He lived like them. He dug deep roots and he was careful, methodical, to the point of tedium, organizer of every detail of his movement. Most of his collected works consist overwhelmingly of letters. And he’s watching where every nickel and dime goes. This is the people’s money. Nothing is going to be wasted. Nothing is going to be squandered, let alone no one is going to be cheated. No one is going to get away with thievery. So the first rule is you have to dig very deep roots in your constituency. I’m not sure how successful the Occupy movement even initially was at that. I got the impression – it’s a superficial impression but nonetheless even surfaces tell something about reality – let’s say when you were in the Boston Occupy. There seemed to be a sense of “We the encampment.” Us versus them. Namely the world outside. We were the enlightened ones and surrounded by the corrupt society. That’s not how you build a movement. It has to be among the people. The moment it becomes us versus them you then become an easy target for the bulldozers because nobody cares.

The second thing which everybody said, [former editor of CounterPunch, Alexander] Cockburn put it as the – I don’t remember the exact adjective he used – something like the incessant speechifying. That the Occupy movement never got beyond the speechifying to Where’s the Beef? The ability to not just synthesize a slogan [i.e., “We are the 99%”], which was brilliantly done. But then we have to move from synthesizing a slogan to synthesizing a demand or a series of demands with the same criteria. Where is the consciousness of people? What’s the furthest you can reach them with, or their incipient consciousness? What are their demands. Obviously a demand like, nationalize the banks, no – people were no where near there. But demands like, if you had four demands. One, a moratorium on student loans. Two, a public works program. Three, a major increase in taxes for the rich. And four, something on the mortgage crisis which is hitting so many people badly.

If they had synthesized four simple demands and worked from there I think there were prospects. But they never made the transition from the slogan, which was excellent, to the demands. OK, what do you want? And it felt like we were stalling there. Exactly why it didn’t happen I don’t know. I’m not on the inside. Exactly why it didn’t happen, I can’t say. But I think personally the least significant factor by a wide margin was the police repression. The police repression was relatively minimal. And it didn’t require more than minimal. Because they wisely assessed that now was the moment to strike. It would work, and it did. The movement vanished. It is a source of wonder how it so quickly disappeared from sight.

Click here to read the full article in CounterPunch.

1From an article entitled “Before the Election was Over, Wall Street won” written by Nomi Prins, published on her own website on October 23, 2012. http://www.nomiprins.com/thoughts/2012/10/23/before-the-election-was-over-wall-street-won.html

2From an article entitled “Why are there only 2 Candidates in the Presidential Debates?” posted on October 3, 2012 by allgov.com http://www.allgov.com/news/top-stories/why-are-there-only-2-candidates-in-the-presidential-debates-121003?news=845846

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Obama reaffirms US stance on Israeli control of West Bank

From Democracy Now! headlines for Monday 23rd May:

“President Obama has confirmed his administration is continuing longstanding U.S. policy of rejecting a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Speaking before a gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama addressed what he called “misrepresentations” of his call last week [May 19th] for a peace deal based on the 1967 borders. Mirroring the stance of his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama suggested he would back Israel’s retention of its settlement blocs in the West Bank.”

President Obama: “By definition, it means that the parties themselves—Israelis and Palestinians—will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”

“Obama also renewed his opposition to a Palestinian campaign to seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations.”

President Obama: “I firmly believe, and I repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment. That is my pledge to all of you.”

“Obama’s speech last week had been billed as a major breakthrough in U.S. recognition of Palestinian rights to a state in the Occupied Territories. But speaking on Democracy Now!, the author and historian Norman Finkelstein said Obama had effectively endorsed ongoing Israeli control of the West Bank.”

Norman Finkelstein: “The formula has to be exactly as the International Court of Justice said in July 2004 and as the U.N. General Assembly says every year with near-unanimous support. The Palestinians have the right to self-determination in the whole of the West Bank, the whole of Gaza, with East Jerusalem, the whole of East Jerusalem, as its capital. That’s the Palestinian right. That’s not subject to negotiations. Rights are enforced; they are not negotiated. The moment you say it has to be mutually agreed upon means Israel has a veto over Palestinian rights.”

Previously, on May 20th, Democracy Now! had hosted a  roundtable discussion on the implications of Obama’s May 19th speech involving author Norman Finkelstein, Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the lobby group J Street. The full debate is in three parts:

Norman Finkelstein: Well, if you were to juxtapose the two speeches [Obama’s and Bush’s speech from three years ago], you would see not only is there no difference in content, but there’s actually no difference in form. It’s the same wording: mutually agreed land swaps based on the June 1967 borders. That’s basically been the position of the United States since, you could say, the last 20 or 25 years. There was no new ground in President Obama’s speech. And frankly, there’s no recipe there, there’s no formula there, for resolving the conflict.

Norman Finkelstein: The U.N., every year, has this resolution called “Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question.” It’s every year in the United Nations, in November of each year. And every year they outline the principles for resolving the conflict. We don’t need Mr. Obama to conjure up new principles any more than we needed President Bush to conjure them up. We have the platform or the basic principles based on international law. And those principles have been ratified every year not only by the U.N. General Assembly; they’re ratified every year by all 22 members of the Arab League. They’re ratified—they were ratified by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Noura Erakat: Israel has the right to defend itself, but it also has the obligation to respect the laws of war that limit the deliberate attack on civilians and their targeting. What happened in Gaza is unacceptable. And any solution requires Obama not to map out and reiterate these same principles over and over. What the U.S. needs to do is to apply pressure to end the settlement expansion…

Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on the Gaza Strip led to the deaths of about 1,400 Palestinians. Last month, the chair of the United Nations’ inquiry into the assault, Judge Richard Goldstone, retracted his key finding that Israel deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians in its three-week assault.

On April 2nd, Goldstone wrote in the Washington Post:

“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”1

Israel, with U.S. backing, has seized on Goldstone’s comments and called for the United Nations to retract the report.

Goldstone came under criticism from his co-panelists who co-wrote the original report. In a statement, the three—Hina Jilani of Pakistan, Desmond Travers of Ireland, and Christine Chinkin of Britain—wrote:

“[We] find it necessary to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission’s report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate.”

They continued, “Had we given in to pressures from any quarter to sanitize our conclusions, we would be doing a serious injustice to the hundreds of innocent civilians killed during the Gaza conflict, the thousands injured, and the hundreds of thousands whose lives continue to be deeply affected by the conflict and the blockade.”

Colonel Desmond Travers, a retired Irish soldier and peacekeeper, explained his misgivings on Democracy Now!:

Well, basically, the report is an inquiry. I mean, it has limited legal status. It is an inquiry designed to determine whether events took place of sufficient gravity, which were proven to have occurred, which would justify causing the parties to the conflict to examine the actions of their combatants and their military units. That’s what the purpose was. And that was the limit. It wasn’t a legal document in the absolute sense of the word. It couldn’t generate punishments, for example. And that’s the limit to it. And that’s the intention that was behind its creation, if you like.

1 From an article entitled “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes”, published on April 2nd in the Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/AFg111JC_story.html

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