Tag Archives: Pegida

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.”

*

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”.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Israel, USA

another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

*

When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

*

Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

*

Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

*

I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

*

Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

*

1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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