Saturday, 16 March 2019

SUTR-Scotland unfit for purpose in failing to stand up against Israel front groups

Placards with the following message were being paraded today in Glasgow by Confederation of Friends of Israel - Scotland (CoFIS), and Glasgow Friends of Israel (GFI):

A Crime 

Let's briefly indulge the purported 'logic' behind this set of claims: in effect, anyone who challenges or criticises the ethno-nationalist ideology of Zionism is anti-semitic, expressing hatred or animosity towards Jewish people, and, therefore, acting in a criminal way. 

Where, one wonders, does that formulation leave basic notions of free and fair speech, never mind serious critical enquiry? Are we to believe that anyone who opposes Zionism and its principal manifestation, the creation of a Jewish national state at the murderous expense of Palestinians, is to be labelled a racist criminal?

Such claims are, of course, utterly facile. Yet, such is the prevailing McCarthyite witch-hunt that almost anyone daring to criticise Israel, or its founding ideology, can now be openly smeared and castigated in this way.     

But there's something even more outlandish  to consider here: these placards were not being carried today in the middle of Glasgow at some selective pro-Israel event, but at Scotland's 'main' anti-racist rally, run by Stand Up to Racism. 

How, some may reasonably ask, did we ever get to the point where an organisation supposedly out marching in support of discriminated peoples could walk and stand alongside another organisation proclaiming such ignorant, reactionary and racist messages?

What might it take for SUTR Scotland to finally understand that CoFIS/GFI have one primary interest: the defence and protection of Israel and its murderous apartheid and racist state. When will SUTR come to see that CoFIS/GFI are nothing more than evangelical front bodies for the state of Israel, whitewashing its crimes, and using civil spaces like anti-racism events to gain 'respectability'?  

The much-diminished numbers at today's SUTR rally, coupled with the conspicuous and growing absence of once-supportive political/civil organisations, now illustrates even more clearly the political and moral vacuousness of SUTR's position. By not only refusing to declare CoFIS/GFI unwelcome at their events, but in failing to campaign directly against such groups, SUTR-Scotland has shown itself definitively unfit for purpose.           

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Standing up to racism means standing up to Israel's racist state and all who protect it

Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign - statement

True solidarity means standing up to those who oppress, 
those who defend the oppressor, and those who shelter the defenders

In 2018, Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign (GPHRC) urged Stand Up To Racism - Scotland (SUTR) to issue an unequivocal statement denouncing the Confederation of Friends of Israel - Scotland (COFIS) and Glasgow Friends of Israel (GFI) as organisations which offer intensive and unapologetic support for Israel's illegal, apartheid and racist treatment of Palestinians, positions and views which should negate their welcome participation in any credible anti-racist community or event.

As this year’s SUTR march approaches, SUTR's executive body have still provided no such statement.

Consequently, GPHRC again call upon all left and progressive-minded organisations to condemn the views and positions of COFIS/GFI, relinquish their affiliation/association with SUTR, and take no part in any SUTR march likely to include COFIS/GFI until SUTR adopt a formal statement rejecting COFIS/GFI and declaring them unwelcome.

Any observation of COFIS/GFI campaign stalls, social media platforms, and public literature - notably that supplied by US right-wing/Christian Zionist lobby group StandWithUs - will confirm how readily these organisations openly defend and excuse Israel’s crimes, while showing unremitting disregard for occupied, besieged and suffering Palestinians. 

As part of a wide, well-funded and vociferous pro-Israel lobby, COFIS/GFI utilise the same normalisation agenda to disguise Israel's state crimes, adopting 'Brand Israel' and 'pro-peace' appeals as smokescreens for their true hasbara activities. 

COFIS/GFI insist that they are opposed to racism, and scorn the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. Yet, Adalah, a legal rights group for Palestinians in Israel, have a database of over 65 apartheid-related laws, showing how the state of Israel works to deny Palestinians equal political and civil rights. (1) 

Among a wide literature, Ben White (2) and Jonathan Cook offer notable accounts of Israel's apartheid state, racist-rooted laws, and discriminatory treatment of Palestinians. (3) 

COFIS/GFI's blatant denial of Israel's apartheid and racist system sits alongside its protective blindness to every human rights violation carried out by Israel. Just as Israel stands in brazen defiance of international law, COFIS/GFI dutifully defend the illegality of the West Bank settlements, fail to condemn the apartheid wall, deny that Gaza is under a brutal, inhuman siege, and ignore the multiple UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights. 

GPHRC have published a bullet-point leaflet helping to illustrate GFI's support for Israel's multiple human rights violations and reactionary positions, while exposing the deceit behind its 'pro Palestinian, pro-peace' claims. 

COFIS/GFI hold other distinctly right-wing positions. They have praised Donald Trump and his decision to site the US Embassy in Jerusalem, against the views of almost every UN member state. They have routinely lauded Netanyahu and his ugly provocations, including his close associations with far-right President Bolsonaro in Brazil, and fascistic, anti-semitic Prime Minister Orb├ín in Hungary. They have consistently backed Netanyahu's disturbing war games against Iran, and even commended the 'dose of reality' on the 'Iranian threat' issued by unhinged US Vice President Mike Pence. (4)

In addition to openly-approving Israel's criminality and its right-wing friends, COFIS/GFI indulge in a hate-infused and dehumanising language towards Palestinians and anyone supporting the Palestinian cause for justice.   

COFIS/GFI have maligned and vilified Palestinian child Ahed Tamimi as a 'terrorist', after she was imprisoned for nine months by an Israeli military court (West Bank settlers, in contrast, are subject only to mainstream Israeli courts) for mildly slapping an occupying soldier. 

COFIS/GFI have consistently defended the mass shooting of defenceless Palestinian protesters along the illegal Gaza fence, condemned the peaceful protests as 'terror actions', and mocked the injured as 'Pallywood' actors. They also suggested that Palestinian paramedic Razan al-Najar, murdered by an Israeli sniper while assisting injured others, had been raped and coerced by Hamas to be a human shield. (5)

COFIS/GFI even peddle the deeply racist claim that 'Israeli children are taught to love. Sadly Palestinian children are only taught to hate.

COFIS/GFI are also engaged in virulent social media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, damning him as an 'anti-semite'. (6)

One particular GFI retweet, suggesting his intention to 'kick out all the Jews', provides an indication of the outright lies and animosity directed at Corbyn, a long-time campaigner against all forms of hateful racism. (7)

Aiding the witch-hunt, COFIS/GFI has now given its outright backing to the ‘Independent Group’ of Labour defectors - including Joan Ryan, a proven fabricator of anti-semitism charges - and endorsed the Tom Bower/Daily Mail gutter piece on Corbyn. (8)

Whatever one's party/political affiliations, or none, such endorsements, mendacious language and repeated slandering of Corbyn as ‘a racist’ (9) should, in itself, invalidate COFIS/GFI as a legitimate participant in any serious anti-racist event.   

Such smears also reflect the many observed and reported instances of COFIS/GFI’s malicious denigration and intimidation of opponents on the street and across social media.   

GPHRC also note the dark irony of having GFI campaign close to a Glasgow landmark honouring Nelson Mandela, a resilient advocate for Palestine, and the particular shame of COFIS/GFI attempting to march in a city that stood with Mandela against decades of apartheid. It is even more embarrassing that, having gained apparent 'approval' this year, they will now 'walk shoulder-to-shoulder with SUTR', a grouping supposedly dedicated to opposing all forms of racism.

How shameful that we should even be having this kind of discussion while suffering Palestinians ask for our support.    

In cringing mitigation, SUTR insists that it 'does not take a position on the Middle East'. This staggering claim will be news to all those refugees who have fled Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and other lands devastated by Western invasion and interference. 

Is the vast colonial crime visited by Britain and the West on Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 by Zionist forces, and the ongoing plight of occupied Palestinians also 'outwith the regional concern' of SUTR? Are we really being told that this imperialist history and continuing human calamity does not fall within SUTR's moral or political 'remit'? 

GPHRC have long-admired the fraternal support and sponsorship offered by the Fire Brigade Union - Scotland to Palestinian firefighters. We recall, in particular, the welcome visit of Nablus firefighters, accompanied by FBU colleagues, to our stall in Glasgow.

Before last year's SUTR march, we witnessed the indignity of SUTR asking other visiting Palestinian firefighters to join the same demonstration as COFIS/GFI, organisations which were flying the very flag of their oppressors. They, of course, refused.

Following SUTR's failure to issue a statement opposing the presence of COFIS/GFI on last year’s march, every Palestine solidarity group in Scotland, including GPHRC, formally boycotted the SUTR rally, as did the Muslim Council of Scotland, Communist Party - Scotland, and many other political/civil groupings. That position was backed by the UK-wide Palestine Solidarity Campaign. 

Similar statements have again been published by Scottish Friends of Palestine, Palestine Alliance, Scottish Jews Against Zionism, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, and Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, while Fight Racism Fight Imperialism - Glasgow, and West Dunbartonshire Supports the People of Palestine have, once more, taken active roles in challenging SUTR and organising a counter-demonstration against COFIS/GFI’s participation on their march. (10)  

Repeated reference should also be made here to another open statement signed by various artists (including Ken Loach and Paul Laverty) in 2017 urging a boycott of COFIS/GFI's 'International Shalom Festival' as an exercise in Brand Israel whitewashing. (11) 

As GPHRC advised in 2017, a similar kind of statement could have been made by SUTR, condemning CoFIS/GFI and declaring it unwelcome at its event, thus removing SUTR from responsibility for any subsequent COFIS/GFI appearance. Why, we must ask, has SUTR still refused to heed such advice? 

As leading voices within SUTR, particular note should be made here to the role of the Socialist Workers Party - Scotland (SWP) in its ongoing failure to challenge and exclude COFIS/GFI.

The SWP have published a statement (12) which includes the following: 

"The SWP is anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian rights. We think Israel is a racist state. We are proud of our record in playing a significant part in building solidarity with the Palestinians over many decades. It is not antisemitic to criticise the Israeli state's treatment of Palestinians. We oppose the adoption of the IHRA and slanderous accusations that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. These accusations are designed to undermine and weaken Palestine solidarity and the left."

All seemingly solid. Yet, if the SWP are so "pro-Palestinian", why aren't they listening to what Palestinian civil and solidarity organisations are saying on this matter? If they really "think Israel is a racist state", why are they unwilling to partake in any formal statement resisting and seeking to exclude a body which does everything in its power to defend and promote that racist state? And if they are so determined to oppose the "slanderous accusations" against Corbyn, how could they fail to condemn and exclude COFIS/GFI as a grouping actively engaged in that smear campaign? 

The SWP claim: "by insisting that they [COFI/GFI] are excluded from participating on 16 March and constantly playing up their supposed “links” to Stand Up To Racism, sections of the Scottish left are simply willingly falling into a carefully laid bear-trap."

This is a remarkable inversion, blaming those prepared to stand up to entities openly supportive of Israel's racist state as helping to subvert left anti-racism. It is also, by association - and very typical of COFIS/GFI's own ugly deflections - blaming Palestinian victims for drawing attention to their own victimhood.

The SWP further argue that "sections of Jewish people may be sympathetic to Israel but still want to oppose the fascists. We may see the contradictions. But it is only by uniting that we can win a space to debate and argue. This in no way means dropping or curbing support for the Palestinian people."

Alas, it is that very contradiction the SWP patently fail to see. And by refusing to stand resolutely against COFIS/GFI, SWP/SUTR have most certainly undermined the Palestinian people. 

No one for a moment is suggesting any kind of prohibition or ban on any Jewish people. The issue here is not about individuals, of any religion or belief, it's about whether SWP/SUTR are willing to stand up to COFIS/GFI as an organisation.  

In terms of any statement, SUTR could clearly say: 'We, as a collective anti-racist body, find the positions and views of COFIS/GFI antithetical to our own core principles, and, therefore, unwelcome as a formal organisation at any of our events.' 

Again, having made their rejection plain, SUTR/SWP would be under no obligation to 'police' any unwanted COFIS/GFI appearance at their march.

Yet, instead of any such statement, the SWP offer the spurious excuse that it "cannot build a united anti-racist movement if the politics of the Middle East are imported into the movement. Divisions exist over Israel/Palestine."

This is a particularly disgraceful evasion, again completely contradicting the SWP's "pro-Palestinian" claim. Nor does it say much for the SWP's 'internationalism'. The excuse that "divisions exist over Israel/Palestine" also panders to the worst kind of liberal hand-wringing and 'two-sides' normalisation. 

Other such appeasement here includes an SWP member asking COFIS/GFI if they could "come on the demo without the Israeli flags". Yet, while the flag of Israel at such an event would, indeed, be deeply offensive, such lamentable appeals only highlight further the SWP's failure to oppose COFIS/GFI outright. 

Another SWP backer argues that "to officially exclude, and try to police [COFIS/GFI's] exclusion, would directly play into the hands of those pro-Israel activists who want to expand the current campaign of slandering left-wing anti-Zionists as anti-Semites."

On the contrary, it should be obvious to any serious leftist that this position is playing precisely into the hands of COFIS/GFI and the wider pro-Israel lobby. The SWP are sadly deluded in trying to placate and accommodate a body not only dedicated to protecting Israel's racist state, but to the destruction of the left itself. 

Rather than take a decisive stand against COFIS/GFI, SWP engagement has only emboldened such forces. How do SUTR/SWP intend to 'police' that growing problem? How can SUTR/SWP reconcile giving political shelter to such organisations?   

For the last sixteen years GPHRC's street campaign has sought to advance the Palestinian case direct to the public, by encouraging support for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and other practical forms of solidarity. Unlike COFIS/GFI, we stand resolutely with the oppressed, not the oppressor. We march for the occupied, not with those helping to prolong their occupation and suffering. We do not see it as our task to 'engage' or 'embrace' organisations which serve to perpetuate Israel's colonial-settler state and institutional racist system. Like other serious solidarity groups, we see through the whole 'peace-process' charade, a specious and contrived 'two-sides' narrative, long-used by Israel and its supporters as a stalling device and cover for international inaction while even more Palestinians are murdered, imprisoned and displaced. And we see, quite clearly, COFIS/GFI's own pretence part in this 'pro-peace advocacy', serving to obscure the issues and sanitise Israel's crimes. 

It is equally obvious that COFIS/GFI are running with the same establishment smear campaign being waged against Corbyn, joining with Blairite coup-makers and other right-wing forces in charging anyone even nominally critical towards Israel of 'anti-semitism'. 

How dispiriting to see SUTR succumb to such McCarthyite fear and blackmail, rather than stand in honest, resilient rejection of this malign campaign.  Like the entire pro-Israel network, COFIS/GFI will never be satisfied with any 'concessions'. As we've seen with the assault on Corbyn, the aim is to inhibit, intimidate and eliminate all opposition to Israel. 

COFIS/GFI's ambitions and methods with regard to SUTR are similarly calculating: to court attention, gain entrance, and utilise SUTR as a 'respectable' platform for proclaiming its 'anti-racist credentials', while advancing its real pro-Israel agenda. 

It is no attack on any person's race, religion or beliefs to say that Israel is a racist endeavour, and that any organisation which supports and promotes that racist, apartheid state must also be confronted and exposed. 

By the same token, we have a duty to call-out any supposedly anti-racist organisation giving such racist-supporting bodies political cover. 

True solidarity with Palestinians means standing up to all those responsible for, and complicit in, their suffering. 

GPHRC will continue, in good conscience, to challenge those who oppress, those who protect the oppressors, and those who shelter the protectors.


Notes and references

1. Adalah: The Discriminatory Laws Database: 

2. Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (second edition), Pluto Press (2014).

3. Jonathan Cook, Why Israel is an apartheid state, March-April 2018,

As Cook comments: 
"Not surprisingly, Israel’s supporters have been keen to restrict the use of the term “apartheid” to South Africa, as though a political system allocating key resources on a racial or ethnic basis has only ever occurred in one place and at one time. It is often forgotten that the crime of apartheid is defined in international law, as part of the 2002 Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court at The Hague. An apartheid system, the statute says, is “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. In short, apartheid is a political system, or structure, that assigns rights and privileges based on racial criteria. This definition, it will be argued in this essay, describes the political regime not only in the occupied territories – where things are actually even worse – but in Israel itself, where Jewish citizens enjoy institutional privileges over the 1.8 million Palestinians who have formal Israeli citizenship. These Palestinians are the remnants of the Palestinian people who were mostly dispersed by the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of their homeland. These Palestinian citizens comprise about a fifth of Israel’s population." 

8.  See Tommy Sheridan's discussion of such slander against Corbyn:

Scottish Jews Against Zionism: 

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities:

FRFI - Glasgow: 

Friday, 11 January 2019

Brexit is not the central issue for leftists, socialist opportunities are

As the the parliamentary Brexit vote approaches, and its implications unfold, people on the left should be reflecting carefully on what kind of political projects truly matter.

And they should understand that, whatever the outcome and ramifications, Brexit is not the critical issue we've been conditioned into believing. Instead, meaningful socialist change, and any serious openings towards it, should be the key focus of leftist attentions.

Many left-liberal Remainers insist that they are only interested in protecting the poorest of society, workers' rights and the status of migrants. But they should really be asking whether a deeply-neoliberal, business-protecting, fortress-minded EU has ever shown any genuine interest in advancing the lot of the poor, workers or immigrants.

Beyond nominal liberal sensibilities, one suspects here a more insular set of middle class Brexit concerns, rather than serious class empathy: for example, how exiting the EU might inconvenience middle class education, travel, and rights of abode in Europe, concerns not immediately exercising a mass part of the population simply struggling to get by.

A recent UN report has revealed the scandalous extent of multiple deprivation in the UK. Foodbanks abound. Homeless souls lie cold and withering on our streets. One in eight people in work are now living in poverty. Government austerity is now responsible for over 120,000 excess deaths. And, as the brilliant I Daniel Blake film has so accurately shown - despite ugly Tory dismissals - many thousands of people are dying after being hounded by a cruel and callous 'benefits' system.

This is the face of brutal Britain, generations of wicked neglect, capitalist ordained, both Tory and Labour inflicted.

But this misery also prevails despite the supposed 'protections' of the EU. For all its 'social guarantees', the EU acts primarily at the behest of a banker class intent on prohibiting the very state-led economic interventions required to break structural poverty and inequality.

Just look at the rocketing death rate and other grim statistics for Greece, where the EU has imposed its harsh austerity 'medicine' just as ruthlessly as the UK, if not more so. Look also at the painful experiences of Spain, Ireland, Portugal and other 'errant' states which felt the EU's wrath for trying to deviate from its punitive neoliberal rules.

As Yanis Varoufakis, a political victim of Greece's 'transgression', so acutely understands, this is a doctrine that the EU's technocracy and banker class will brook no discussion with.

And, despite Varoufakis's own DiEM 25 stay-and-reform agenda, there appears no plausible prospect of turning this institutional autocracy around. Even sympathetic voices for a new pan-European left now harbour "serious doubts about the extent to which such a system of supranational democracy could be made truly representative and respectful of the needs of the weaker states of the Union."

There's also a fundamental difference between 'improved' EU parliamentary representation and true popular control, given the even greater potential for elite lobbies and "oligarchic capture" of the parliamentary process at the supranational level.

With extremely limited prospects for any progressive overhaul of the EU monolith, why would already impoverished and marginalised people in Britain rally to such a detached, elitist and uncaring Union?

With hopes of real alternative policies, it is long-standing hostility to this rigid EU orthodoxy that's exercising Jeremy Corbyn. It also informs his legitimate reticence over any second EU referendum, something that won't resolve public division, would only alienate much of his base, and, despite heightened liberal media claims to the contrary, augurs no good electoral benefit for Corbyn and the left. 

In supportive spirit, leftists should be primarily concerned with projects and movements which show real progressive worth. The EU isn't remotely in that category. We're living in an age of rapid climate calamity, rampant militarism, mass death and human dislocation from Western-made wars, and stratospheric wealth for the greedy few, all driven by psychopathic corporate interests. These are the big issues, the vital forces to be resisted, domestically and globally. Against this emergency backdrop, liberal protesters wrapped in EU flags is really a descent into the absurd, a kind of Brexit bathos.

The mass political hype and media frenzy over Brexit should be a clue in itself as to the elite narrative we're being fed. From big City bankers to Blair and his co-war criminals, an entire establishment and its liberal managers are now on emergency footing trying to reverse an outcome they smugly assumed could never happen. 

In desperate mitigation, much of the Guardian commentariat are also crying foul over Vote Leave's campaign shenanigans. Yet, much less is being said by the Guardian class about the corporate elites and political associates behind 'People's Vote'. As the Morning Star reveals, this exclusive, big business-led cash-cow is not only determined to stop Brexit, but any prospect of a socialist government.

Meanwhile, British deep-state-funded groups Integrity Initiative and Institute of Statecraft are conducting a systematic smear campaign, reminiscent of A Very British Coup, against Corbyn and the official opposition, again with barely a word from the 'mainstream' media.   

If the stakes are high here for the corporate and political establishment, it also shows how important critical questioning of its deeper Remain agenda must be.

Membership of an unaccountable and privileged EU club is no 'hill to die on' for leftists. Indeed, the vote for Brexit - in large part an instinctive backlash against system-safe liberals, the same liberal crisis that's delivered Trump - should be viewed as a useful upheaval, a welcome impasse, and set of opportunities for real radical change.

Instead of Remain and a top-down EU, two real political causes are worthy of our foremost attention and support: independence for Scotland, and a Corbyn victory at Westminster. And, yes, we most certainly can have both.

People on the left should be focused on the need for a radical independent Scotland, and a Corbyn-left government for the rest of the UK. That's a realisable set of progressive outcomes worth pushing for, rather than any constitutional-stifling or market-first unions. 

Those liberal centrists calling for a second EU referendum - spun in specious Blairite fashion as a 'People's Vote' - have no true interest in either of those socialist projects. For them, Corbyn and Scottish indy are dire threats to the same UK-EU neoliberal, liberal-protecting status quo.

A seething cabal of parliamentary pro-EU Labourites are still determined to bring Corbyn down. A similar ragtag of Labourite centrists in Scotland have also been playing the Remain card to shrill effect, warning that the electorate 'just couldn't face' another indy ref - but could, of course, handle another on the EU. In short, Brexit is being pitched as 'the crisis of our age', and used as a political diversion to contain real leftist change.

Alas, an SNP hierarchy seem to be acting in effective unison. If the SNP leadership actually want independence, they really should be talking about it, instead of spending so much time agonising over Brexit - as well as lauding Nato and bashing Russia - in apparent collusion with the establishment, Unionist order.

Nicola Sturgeon has now intimated that a decision on indy ref 2 may be pending, once the Westminster fallout from Brexit is finally clearer. This may yet prove to be smart political holding. But, in its Brexit obsession, the SNP has lost much valuable time and energy in failing to prioritise and advance the indy case, risking alienating a mass and growing Yes street in the process. 

Many Remainers are naturally repulsed by the array of shire Tories, narrow British nationalists and plain xenophobes among Leave. The 62 per cent Remain vote in Scotland is clearly a legitimate refutation of that mindset. A younger demographic also, understandably, incline towards notions of a 'more open European identity'.

Leave does, of course, have its far-right and reactionary elements, brooding over immigration and 'foreigner rule'. But this shouldn't blind progressive-thinking people, at large, to the much deeper discontent afoot, the right to question all elite rule, and the need for citizens to take greater control over their own affairs.

We face a propaganda system that works to limit our very political horizons, to manage the boundaries of discussion, in this case by crafting the very narrative of Brexit as, essentially, 'our collective problem', rather than an internecine establishment conflict.

The parameters of that 'debate', thus, become narrow 'choices' about 'who we trade with', or whether we adopt 'EU or WTO rules'. Note the persistent use here of 'we'. It's a false context. In effect, these are all neoliberal rules, all from the same elite playbook, all to be resisted whether 'we're' inside or outside the EU.

Instead of their rules, we need to build our own equitable rules, ones that place greater value on democratic participation, economic justice and fair, sustainable trade.

That would include a truly compassionate set of immigration and asylum policies, not least in recognition of the plunder, war and suffering visited on the world by an imperialist British state, past and present. We need no more Empires, British, European or other.

We should also be resistant, in this regard, to rising EU militarism. Invoking Putin and 'looming Russian threats to our borders', leading EU figure Guy Verhofstadt has now been joined by Macron and Merkel in calling for a European Army, disturbing ultra-liberal, drum-beating for more threatening Nato escalations across Eastern Europe.

The real question here is about how people take meaningful command of decisions in their own situations; positions and aims that are not founded on corporate rules, fortress mentalities and market imperatives.

That, in essence, means bringing political decision-making down to the most 'localised' levels possible, not obediently handing them up to supranational entities underwritten by corporate sovereignty.

It means securing safe distance from an EU that's now economically unyielding, politically autocratic and worryingly militaristic. That doesn't negate our exposure to wider neoliberal, corporate and oppressive forces. But it certainly suggests a more progressive and promising direction of travel.


Thursday, 4 October 2018

Propaganda Blitz - a review

Propaganda Blitz, the latest book from Media Lens editors David Edwards and David Cromwell, offers penetrating insights and radical new perspectives for those increasingly distrustful of 'mainstream' media.

It should also be required reading for many liberal-minded journalists still deeply conditioned and compromised by institutional notions of 'impartiality' and 'media freedom'.

The authors' special dedication to John Pilger provides immediate notice about the kind of truly independent, fearless and power-challenging journalism Media Lens have spent the last two decades trying to promote.

Pilger, in turn, offers a glowing foreword, praising ML's "remarkable" efforts: "My impression is that they have shattered a silence about corporate journalism."

In an excellent context-setting chapter, "Anatomy of a Propaganda Blitz", the authors consider the formation, timing, intensity, and outright vehemence of such "fast moving attacks", waged not only by the usual right-wing platforms, but, crucially, by those we might look to for more 'rational authentication' of a story or cause - the Guardian, BBC, Independent, Channel 4 News, and other 'dependable' left-liberal media.

Usefully, the authors list six key components of such propaganda assaults, typically based on: "allegations of dramatic new evidence"; "communicated with high emotional intensity and moral outrage"; "apparently supported by an informed corporate media/academic/expert consensus"; "reinforced by damning condemnation of anyone daring to question the apparent consensus"; "often generated with fortuitous timing"; and "characterised by tragicomic dissonance".

From Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Syria and Yemen, our corporate-establishment media has provided a mask for high state criminality, while launching indignant tirades against those 'guilty' of no higher 'crime' than resisting such wicked wars and mass deception. For Media Lens:   
"It is astonishing but true that, time and again, in the pages ahead, you will see corporate journalism judging the mere words of the likes of [Russell] Brand and [Jeremy] Corbyn as far more morally despicable than the actions of 'mainstream' politicians that result in mass death. How can words that offend be worse than action that kill?"
In effect, they ask, "why are the US and UK - authors of truly historic crimes - forever depicted as ethical agencies with a moral 'responsibility to protect' suffering people in other countries?"

This "illusion of informed consensus" is vital in serving to normalise the abnormal - the calamities of neoliberal economics and corporate-driven climate change; in helping people to think the unthinkable - that 'intervention', perpetual war and mass killing of 'others' is morally justifiable; and in keeping the most bounded of society even more safely boundaried - 'listen to higher reason', to an 'all-knowing us', there can be 'no realistic change' under radical left leaders.   

Much of what purports to be authentic news, analysis and comment would be rejected outright by an increasingly suspicious public were it not for that all-important liberal consensus, not only serving to normalise the establishment line, but in relentlessly demonising and caricaturing serious dissenters like Chomsky, Pilger and, of course, Media Lens themselves.

Indeed, the virulent responses of many liberal journalists towards ML's consistently rational writing and courteous challenges helps illustrate the increasingly threatened 'status' of the entire liberal media estate.

Having set out their contextual stall, the authors proceed with detailed case studies of the propaganda blitz.

In "Killing Corbyn", we see how a Guardian and wider liberal elite went from indulging Corbyn as 'token left muse' in 2015, to casting him as dangerous, toxic liability. Never, as ML show, has there been a more vociferous campaign to tarnish, undermine and break a prospective British prime minister.

At one point, senior correspondents "virtually queued up to smear Corbyn", acting like "trophy hunters" in their quest to hunt down the damning story of his unsuitability.

Readers will also appreciate here ML's reminders of the tortured u-turns Guardian-styled leftists like Owen Jones and George Monbiot were forced to perform in recognition of Corbyn's astonishing performance at the 2017 general election. 

Ugly attacks by the same "intellectual herd" have been launched against other 'dangerously outspoken' figures, like Julian Assange, Hugo Chavez and even Russell Brand. This chapter tracks the gloating amusement of lofty Guardianista like Luke Harding, Jonathan Freedland and Suzanne Moore over Assange's painful incarceration, their petty sneering at Brand's 'cranky' radicalism, and superior soundings on  Chavez's 'narcissism' - the latter, a much-used totem, note ML, for smearing other 'out-of-the-box' dissidents.

Here we see the "staggering toxicity and irrationality of the 'mainstream' press". Would "all-knowing" Guardian 'stars' like Martin Kettle and Hadley Freeman ever use such terms in describing Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Tony Blair? 

In one of a series of 'intermissions', the authors ask us to contrast the visceral hatred reserved for people like Assange, a true journalist who exposed mass Western crimes, with that of historic war criminal George W Bush, recently celebrated by the Guardian as a "paragon of virtue".

And the dissonance only continues. "For the BBC, it simply does not register as in any way controversial that Obama bombed seven Muslim countries. That's just what US presidents do." This is just simple understanding that 'our' states and leaders are still the default 'good guys'.

Dutiful media silence over 'our' crimes is, likewise, riddled with complicit omission over the crimes of murderous allies. A searing chapter, thus, asks why so much of the public still knows so little about the basics of Palestinian suffering.

Where, the authors ask, is the core context noting the historic removal of 750,000 people in 1948, "the continuation of Plan Dalet's ethnic cleansing", and the multiple violations of international law being imposed on an occupied, bombed and brutalised people by a colonial, apartheid state?

"All such truth is absent from BBC reporting, despite [Jeremy] Bowen's claim that it is being repeatedly reported." The "taboo fact" rarely discussed here is the "intense pressure...brought to bear on the media by the powerful pro-Israel lobby", and the ease with which such media fail to resist.

Also included here are ML's telling exchanges with ITN's Bill Neely in which he wavers in calling Israel's mass assaults on Gaza terror attacks.

Another example of cautious liberal service was the Guardian's removal of investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed after writing an impressively detailed piece on Israel's appropriation of Gaza' off-shore gas resources.

One of the central strengths of this book is its efforts to connect the interacting forces of imperialist geopolitics, rampant militarism and corporate appropriation, showing how a timely propaganda blitz serves to 'validate' invasion, conquest and resource theft.

The ensuing chapter on Libya, thus, draws on the prior subterfuge of Iraqi 'WMD' as the pretext for invasion and control of oil, with the repeated willingness of a liberal interventionist media helping to legitimate the same terror, larceny and anarchy visited by Nato upon Libya.

Were no lessons learned here from Iraq? It seems not. The same mass media blitz, by then well exposed, was, shamelessly, re-launched, with Guardian stalwarts like Simon Tisdall and Andrew Rawnsley leading the way for interventionist duty in 2011.

As with Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy, no journalist has ever been called to account for propagating this media blitz, this assistance in mass killing, civil destruction and human upheaval.

Even after a 2016 Commons Report, concluding that there was no actual evidence of Gaddafi's 'mass rape orders', or 'genocidal intent', and thus not even any pretext 'case' for invading, a supplicant media can still make coy references to 'Hillary's war' as some kind of noble cause, and without the slightest pause for critical self-reflection. 

And so it has been with Syria. From the outset of this conflict, the same liberal circle have feigned outrage over 'our interventionist failings'. All this, note the authors, while the US and UK, joined by proxy Gulf allies, have poured billions into arming jihadi 'rebels' and running clandestine campaigns to effect regime change.

No part of the media has played the instant blame game more zealously than the liberal press. The authors cite three key cases - Houla, Ghouta and Khan Sheikoun - where liberal journalists moved into "classic propaganda blitz mode", refusing to await corroboration, or countenance the idea that jihadi forces may well have produced/used chemical weapons or/and staged such 'attacks' for propaganda purposes. It's here we find particular value in the earlier noted 'six key features of a propaganda blitz'.

ML also chart a notable BBC 'Today' discussion where World Affairs Editor John Simpson and presenter Nick Robinson joined former State Department official Dr Karen von Hippel in lamenting Obama's 'failure to intervene', a key mythical line in how this particular blitz has played out.

It's also useful to consider how this fits the wider propaganda blitz on Putin and 'our growing weakness' against Russia, a McCarthyite narrative helping to inhibit critical questioning and disguise the vast extent of Western crimes.

Which brings us to Yemen. Here, the authors lay out the whole sinister scale of Britain's arms supplies and political support for a Saudi regime waging genocidal terror and starvation on Yemeni civilians. "Is there any clearer sign of the corrupt nature of UK foreign policy?" 

The continued flow of UK cluster bombs, killing Yemeni children, is but one example of a state determined to put military profit before human suffering.

Across The Times, Telegraph and Guardian, "armchair warriors" like David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm and John Rentoul scorn 'misty-eyed leftists' who 'fail to live in the real world' of such 'necessary intervention'. The very prevalence of such apologists says so much about the reactionary state of the British press.

But it's the stark silence of the BBC that's been most vital in keeping UK crimes in Yemen safely shielded from the public. While government ministers squirm and deceive to keep British-Saudi links protected, the BBC has failed to provide any serious or consistent coverage of Britain's dark role. Such are the specious claims to BBC 'impartiality'.

Citing research by historian Mark Curtis, ML also point to the 'revolving door' between the BBC and major arms companies. For example, Sir Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems was Vice Chair of the (recently discontinued) BBC Trust. How, they ask, could this not suggest a major conflict of interest?

As both Curtis and ML note, the number of BBC reports on Yemen has been risible, in contrast to Syria, an official enemy. And where Yemen is 'reported', the issue of UK arms exports is studiously avoided.

It's truly remarkable to think that the UK is deeply engaged in this savage conflict without most of the population even knowing. Britain is, effectively, at war in Yemen, murdering civilians and starving children, and its not even major daily news. This is the real service of British state media.

These damning indictments lead neatly into a more detailed review of the BBC as a propaganda machine. The authors relate here how BBC directors have become evermore wary of ML's own probing work. 

Long-standing ML readers will, of course, be familiar with the ludicrous dismissals, Kafkaesque complaints system, and almost farcical BBC-speak described here. Proclaiming noble purpose, ex-Head of News Helen Boaden, thus, memorably claimed: "I always think that impartiality is in our DNA - it's part of the BBC's genetic make-up." 

Yet, as consistently shown, the BBC's true purpose is to support power, most notably Western foreign policy. Indeed, as noted here, there's no essential difference between the BBC and Murdoch's Sky News, in terms of editorial values and the hierarchy of news.

BBC directors, senior editors and like-minded appointees ensure continuity of an entrenched establishment network, upholding the military, monarchy and a resolute class system. As one insider at BBC News comments, "when you walk into a BBC newsroom you can see and hear the privilege."

Hailing the same lofty 'BBC values', North America Correspondents Jon Sopel and Nick Bryant also help reinforce accepted notions of US exceptionalism in their gushing reports. John Simpson, likewise, believes that the US is the 'consensually accepted global policeman'.

British militarism itself has no greater advocate than the BBC. One highly revealing example here describes how a report by Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale virtually echoed British Army Chief of Staff, General Sir Nick Carter's 'fears' of a looming 'Russian threat', and amplifying Carter's calls for increased resources.

Beale's "raw propaganda" doesn't even bother to note "an 'alleged threat posed by Russia'; simply the 'threat posed by Russia.' This subtly insidious use of language occurs daily on 'impartial' BBC News."

The corruption of BBC language is matched only by routine omission of public information. In a further case study, we see how the media failed to convey the dark implications of The Health and Social Care Act (2012), Tory legislation which paved the way for systematic dismantling of the National Health Service in England.

Denounced by 27 leading medical organisations, as complex, costly and a serious threat to life, the government, nonetheless, 'opened the market' for profit-driven companies like Virgin Care. Many corporate-connected Lords and MPs also stood to benefit financially. Yet, where did the BBC do its public duty in covering the calamity, the multiple protests, or exposing this network of vested interests?

Here, ML reveal some interesting interconnections between top BBC executives and the private healthcare system. A more prosaic reason for the BBC's apparent indifference to the story may be that "many senior BBC staff do not themselves depend on the NHS", such is the extent of private healthcare perks. It's also likely that the BBC, in answering to government ministers and fearing the repercussions of cuts, carefully refrained from making this the leading story it should have been. Whatever the case, suggest ML, the country's main broadcaster failed in its supposed remit to inform the public on a critical issue.

The BBC also played its full establishment part in a propaganda blitz to halt Scottish independence in 2014. "Centralised power hates uncertainty, especially any threat to its grip on the political, economic and financial levers that control society." 

Thus, as the 'alarming prospect' of a Yes victory in the 18 September referendum became clear, an entire UK media, including the Guardian, went on emergency alert, lamenting the possibility of a broken Union. In the course of this media 'blitzkrieg', Scotland's voters were, both, 'love-bombed' with appeals to stay, and bombarded with headline 'warnings' about the 'dire consequences' of leaving.

An academic study by Professor John Robertson, demonstrating the extent of the bias, was, likewise, "subjected to a concerted BBC attempt to rubbish both the work and its author." ML provide an insightful account here of the BBC's intimidation of Robertson, as aired during a subsequent Scottish Parliamentary Committee hearing over media coverage of the events.

Many pro-indy readers will also appreciate ML's efforts to record the squalid political-media moves to buy-off voters with a late 'promise' of 'enhanced powers': "This was establishment sophistry and a deeply cynical attempt at manipulation of the voting public."

The lamentable 'journalism' of the BBC's Nick Robinson, including his disgraceful misreporting of a press conference exchange with Alex Salmond, is also neatly dissected here. 

Amid all these examples of establishment-media service, there is no greater problem for corporate-compliant journalism than the "inconvenient emergency" of climate collapse.

In a truly alarming chapter, ML lay out the brutal realities of gathering climate chaos: the record temperatures, rapid melting and increasingly catastrophic weather events.

There is no room for doubt. The science is now emphatically in. Emergency action is required. And yet, the very organs of information that should be leading in this momentous task have been found hopelessly wanting:
"To put this in stark perspective, Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world's leading climate scientists, observes that 'the difference between two degrees and four degrees' of warming is human civilisation'. We are literally talking about the end of human life as we know it. And the corporate media, politicians, business and modern society carry on regardless. If this doesn't equate to madness, we don't know what does."
And the madness driving this apocalypse, the specific two words our mighty media consistently fails to mention? Neoliberal capitalism, the most rampant system of planetary and human destruction in recorded history.

With the Doomsday Clock sitting at two minutes to midnight, now signifying not only nuclear but climate catastrophe, warn ML, this should be dominant, daily news.

Yet, beyond token mentions, the BBC has failed to give climate change "the prominent coverage it deserves." Again, the public interest has been subverted in dutiful deference to higher power: "In effect, the BBC is firmly on the side of the state and corporate forces that have been fighting a decades-long, heavily funded prevent the radical measures needed to avoid climate chaos."   

ML also question the BBC's prioritised coverage of climate events, such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, while much greater flood devastation swept South Asia, leaving 1400 dead and 41 million displaced. 

And this relegation of the world's poorest as a news item reflects the much more systematic issue of how climate chaos must be framed: "Tackling climate change means tackling global inequality. This means a deep-rooted commitment not just to 'a redistribution of wealth, but also a recalibration of global power'."

That's not an option for big business. Humanity must be sacrificed for profit. Neoliberal 'realities' must prevail. So, corporate elites go on burning the planet. And a powerful US-centred propaganda lobby ensures that little changes.

Here the authors highlight a rare, bravura speech by US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, describing a "carefully built apparatus of lies" peddled by sleek public relations firms spouting phoney-fronted climate denial 'science'. ML also note evidence of increased "dark money" lobby funding, as traditional conservative donors seek to avoid negative publicity.

How, in an age of such technological 'know-how' and assumed 'progress', could the human race find itself so humbled by nature and facing literal extinction? This existential question posed by ML takes us to another more basic query: why, with a now 97 percent scientific consensus on climate change, is there an actual decrease in the level of climate change reporting?

Again, the authors point to strong evidence of 'mainstream' suppression of the climate issue. While the actual science may be reasonably covered by some of the 'better' media, the systematic causes of climate failure - neoliberal-driven 'growth' and consumption - remain a taboo area for critical media attention.

How likely are many journalists even ready to think about how the media employing them form part of the very same corporate system that's killing the planet? "The media are, in effect, the public relations wing of a planetary-wide network of exploitation, abuse and destruction."

And the liberal wing of that media network are playing a particularly vital part in keeping the core causes and modes of resistance safely contained. Until organs like the Guardian dispense with hypocritical green-washing, and abandon their own structural links to big business, such 'eco crusaders' will only continue fuelling climate collapse.                 

This sobering illustration of liberal complicity takes readers to a final chapter on the backlash against citizen journalism, hyped claims of 'fake news', the disturbing pretext this all provides for the purging of progressive sites by social media corporations, and the case for a truly independent media.

As the authors point out, 'fake news' is really a propaganda meme, a promoted construct, a means of reinforcing the 'mainstream's own 'status' and clamping down on alternative 'pretenders'.

More often, and much more dangerously, fake news is really power-fed and elite-serving 'news', essentially spoon-fed "talking points" from "controlled sources" which corporate media routinely pass off as 'credible' information.

Another neat 'intermission' here shows how "salaried corporate dissidents" like Owen Jones, George Monbiot and Mehdi Hasan still stand up for the 'mainstream'. So often, such writers are more ready to castigate honest campaigning outfits like Media Lens than challenge their own culpable employers. 

Where, ML ask, is their critical questioning of the corporate media system, most notably its liberal-management front? "By using their very real media corporate power to undermine our credibility, corporate dissidents protect their own reputations and that of their employers - it is good for their standing and sits extremely well with their editors."

Are Media Lens, some may ask, being unrealistic here? Wouldn't a 'more pragmatic', 'play the game', work 'with and within' approach yield better results? Commendably, the authors "strongly disagree."

Yes, with resolute attempts to expose dominant media comes the likelihood of greater counter-attacks. Yet: 
"this is no bad thing. In the process of attacking, supposedly liberal corporate media like the Guardian, the Independent and the BBC are forced to drop the pretence that they are independent, impartial and progressive. They reflexively leap to the defence of the establishment and thus reveal their true role as powerful supporters of the status quo."
This is what such media really mean by "objectivity." Thus, note ML, if asked to describe the Iraq war as a 'mistake' or a 'crime', the BBC's Andrew Marr can't say the latter, "but he can say", after the fall of Baghdad, "that Tony Blair 'stands as a stronger prime minister as a result'....Journalists are allowed to lose their 'objectivity' this way, but not that way - not in the way that offends the powerful." 

As damning other examples of power-serving bias in this brimming book show, we are, ultimately, faced with this crucial reality: that "the corporate media system is the key obstacle to progressive change.

Liberal notions of 'insider reform' are not only an illusion, but a vital hegemonic conceit. The prevailing corporate system is incapable of delivering real human progress. And its liberal media arm is only helping to maintain the delusion.

Indeed, the current #BoycottTheGuardian campaign, encouraged by ML, is one manifestation of that growing realisation.   

What's required, ML conclude, is a media rooted in a real politics of compassion, a media that doesn't place 'our' lives, interests and well-being above 'theirs'. In that pursuit, as the authors have admirably demonstrated, the primary motivation should not be about career, reward, ego, status, approval or even 'duty', it should be about "joy in itself", an activism "genuinely rooted in a desire to share with others, to support others, to increase their happiness and relieve their suffering."  

In reading this absorbing text, it's hard to understate the contribution Medial Lens, a small two person operation, has made in raising the bar of critical media enquiry, and in providing an example to others in this field. John Pilger's fine words at the start of this book should be read, thus, not only as a prized commendation of their work, but as an illustration of their invaluable stimulus to a greater, caring, sharing and truly independent media.