Sunday, 31 August 2014

Allyson Pollock: independence as an emergency operation to save NHS in Scotland

Please read and spread this vital article as widely as possible.


NHS expert: only a Yes will save the health service in Scotland from Westminster cuts

One of the UK's leading experts on the NHS and its funding has said a vote for independence is the "clearest way" to defend Scotland's health service.

Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London, warned reforms in the NHS south of the Border could result in "serious" consequences for Scotland by translating into reduced funding through the Barnett formula.

Her warning seriously undermines claims by Better Together spokesmen, including its leader Alistair Darling at last week's final TV debate with First Minister Alex Salmond, that devolution protects the Scottish NHS from the creeping privatisation south of the Border.

She said a Yes vote would free Scotland from the "stranglehold" of the Westminster Treasury by allowing politicians to control public finances and NHS policy.

Her comments support Salmond's assertion that any cutbacks in England could hurt the health service in Scotland. In last week's debate he warned that, while the Scottish Government has operational control of the health service, it was a "serious problem" to be without financial control of it. Darling accused the First Minister of "scaremongering".

Pollock, who is a leading authority on the implications of privatisation for public services, said: "In the absence of any reversal of neoliberal policies in England, the clearest way to defend and promote the principle of a public NHS is to vote for Scotland to have full powers and responsibilities of an independent country."

Government critics have raised concerns the NHS in England is on a path towards an American-style healthcare system. Central to this has been the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, dubbed one of the most radical plans in the history of the health service, which included encouraging greater involvement by the private sector.

Pollock told the Sunday Herald: "Although people find this extraordinary and can't believe it, the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 has abolished the NHS in England as a universal service. The NHS is reduced to a funding stream and a logo; increasingly all the services are going to be contracted in the marketplace.

"It abolished the duty on the Secretary of State for Health to secure and provide comprehensive healthcare; that is a duty that still holds in Scotland, but doesn't hold in England. If the basis for a national health service has changed so markedly in England - if there is no duty to secure and provide universal healthcare - then what will happen is (public) funding can be withdrawn, and private funding will take its place. If you are closing services and reducing them, people only have two choices - to go without care or pay privately."

Pollock criticised politicians in Scotland for not taking more of a stance in opposing the act when it was going through Westminster. She added: "Scotland is very vulnerable because of what is happening in England - and any reductions in funding for England will translate through the Barnett formula to Scotland."

The Scottish Government has stated that in the event of independence, NHS services will not change the way health services are delivered. Funding for health care in 2014-15 is £12 billion, which the Scottish Government says includes an increase in funding of around £285m as a result of Barnett consequentials arising from increased spending on health in England.

At the heart of the debate over the NHS is how this will look in the future - and the potential for increasing privatisation in England is not the only concern.

Dr Willie Wilson, chair of the pro-independence group NHS for Yes, which has around 300 members, said another issue was the £25 billion of cuts which Chancellor George Osborne has said will have to be made after the election next year to "balance the books".

"If we vote No, then we are faced with what Osborne has promised of £25bn additional cuts," he said.
"There is no way Scotland's voters can wait until the Westminster elections and think they can avoid getting these cuts."

Wilson also queried whether the Barnett formula would remain in place in the event of a No vote. Last December, David Cameron said a change to the formula was "not on the horizon", but in June, accountancy expert Professor David Heald of Aberdeen University told a committee of MSPs that debate over the amount of spending Scotland received would be likely to re-emerge if there were a No vote. Wilson added: "If Ukip and the Tories are forming the next government after 2015, I'll bet the Barnett formula will be swept aside."

Health unions in Scotland, which are remaining neutral in the referendum, were reluctant to directly comment. A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association, said: "The BMA has opposed reforms in England. The model of the NHS in Scotland is the closest to that of the BMA's own policy and we absolutely support the principles of an NHS that is publicly provided and publicly delivered."
However, a spokesman for Better Together said remaining part of the UK would ensure the "best of both worlds for our NHS". He said: "We benefit from the strength of the wider UK economy to pay for our NHS. If we leave the UK then the experts at the impartial Institute for Fiscal Studies say we would need tax rises or spending cuts worth an extra £6bn."

He added: "The SNP's scare stories on the NHS are the biggest lie of the campaign. The health service in Scotland is fully devolved. Only the First Minister can privatise the NHS here or cut the budget. Spending on health has increased in recent years. Even SNP Health Minister Alex Neil has now admitted that."

Figures from the UK Government show the proportion of the NHS budget spent on private providers in 2013-14 was 5.9% - compared to 2.8% in 2006-07. It claims increasing competition is focusing on who can provide the best quality of care and includes not just private providers - with the NHS and charities also able to tender for contracts.

The Scottish Government spends the equivalent of around 1% of the NHS budget on private healthcare, which it has said is used mainly to help meet waiting list targets. Concerns have been also raised the NHS across the UK could be impacted by a new EU-US trade deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would allow public services to be open to private competition.

Alex Neil has said he has written to the UK Government to make it clear the health service must be excluded from the negotiations. A UK Government spokesman said: "The NHS is a national treasure for the UK, which will always be there for everyone who needs it, funded from taxation, and free at the point of use. There is an NHS constitution for England which sets out that health services are based on clinical need and not an individual's ability to pay."

He added: "Spending on healthcare from private-sector providers only equates to around 6% of total NHS expenditure -only 1% more of the NHS budget now than in 2010. NHS funding in England has increased by £12.7bn over the past four years. Over the whole of this Parliament the increase to Scotland's health spending is more than £1.3bn as a result of Barnett consequentials from increases to health spending in England."


Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Honourable Woman - facile drama while world watches real Palestinian pain

Note: spoiler alert (in more ways than one ).

Just a passing mention of the BBC series The Honourable Woman, which is about all this dishonourable nonsense should really merit.

I watched it throughout, keen to observe its 'sophisticated' content and to confirm just why the BBC came to commission it. 
And, sure enough, it's everything the BBC would 'daringly' permit as 'nuanced drama' and 'challenging' thought on the Israeli-Palestinian 'conflict'; all consistent with its own 'critical', safely-moderated 'two-sides' news framing.    

This was Spooks in 'Tinker-Tailor' costume, posing as serious artistic commentary. At least Spooks dispenses with the pretention.

From first instalment to facile finale, Hugo Blick's 'cutting-edge' script, evoked every cliched baddie in the book: the malign, scar-faced Palestinian rapist and assassin, his chilling, mastermind father, and the double-crossing, but ultimately 'renewed', femme fatale, Atika, always destined to die so that fragrant-but-troubled 'peace-maker' Nessa could live. Well, you just can't trust those brooding, scheming Arabs - except the ones who go along with the Stein Foundation's vision of Israel-Palestinian harmony. 

It was also good to see 'Hebron' - after my own visit there - now so 'free' of all those Israeli soldiers, and the settlers they relentlessly protect while they're stoning Palestinian kids on the way to school.  Who needs all that tedious occupation stuff, anyway? Instead, we had placid Palestinians gazing endearingly at Nessa's benevolence in bringing internet wires to their lives. Life must be just great now down on Shuhada Street.

While the occupation is nowhere visible, Israel is portrayed as deviously defensive, but never lacking in good intent. It's not in any way culpable for the principal villainy - the kidnapping of the boy, or the killing of the Palestinian ambassador, or the bomb carnage in Hebron.

Rather, we're to believe that the US was actually behind all of this entangled plot, in cahoots with - wait for it - the Palestinians, all, we're asked to swallow, so that Washington could engineer false-flag incriminations against Israel as the pretext for - wait for this - making a clean break and supporting a Palestinian state. Ah well, who needs Obama and Kerry. They'll be stopping all those $3 billion yearly cheques next.

I gave up even trying to figure out the rest of the plot contortions after the dark-but-decent British intelligence heads - played to shallow Le CarrĂ©-esque effect - took it upon themselves to rescue Nessa from the West Bank, the sand-swirling, gun-toting action all duly completed at Israel's safe and welcoming wire fence - well, they couldn't really show the actual apartheid wall, could they?

Who knows the propaganda effect of The Honourable Woman. But in a popular TV media so devoid of authentic Palestinian voices and wider Arab experiences, this series does nothing to encourage - even with dramatic licence - any credible comprehension of issues in the Middle East.

Unsurprisingly, the Guardianista are falling over themselves in Bafta predictions.
But, damningly for Blick and the BBC, it got scheduled just as the world watched the real horrific drama of Israel's mass slaughter of Gaza, and got more insight on the darker truth of US/UK complicity.  

As Diane Langford's searing review notes: 
'In this series, the ongoing occupation and massacres are not depicted. The shallowness, inauthenticity and grandiose claims of Blick’s drama is blown to bits by the latest round of invasion, bombing and destruction perpetrated by the Israelis and watched in horror by millions on their TV screens [...] Imagine making a TV series about South Africa through the lens of white racists without reference to apartheid? The founding of the State of Israel, the dispossession of the Palestinians, the endless occupation, siege, land theft and killings, cry out for authenticity in the telling, fiction or not. Peter Kosminsky’s four-parter, The Promise, turned down by the BBC and eventually made for Channel 4, was exemplary by comparison.'
If you haven't seen The Honourable Woman, do avoid, and occupy your time instead in that much more honourable drama.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

BBC on Gaza - 80 seconds of concentrated distortion

There's been some good discussion (h/t 'scrabb') at the Media Lens message board over a BBC online video entitled Gaza Strip's troubled history - in 80 seconds.

And, like that 'how many elephants in a Mini?' question, it is, indeed, worth viewing as an illustrative reminder of just how much blatant distortion even the BBC can squeeze into an 80 second film. 

The two-sentence introduction is immediately instructive of the bias to come:
Israel has said it will not stop its offensive in Gaza until the tunnels constructed by Hamas have been destroyed. It began Operation Protective Edge on 8 July and since then more than 1,400 people have died.
Intercut with incriminating scenes of Hamas 'militants', Hamas rockets and fleeing Israeli shoppers, alongside the supposed 'balancing' images of Israeli 'strikes', Palestinian casualties and UN food piles, the film takes the viewer through a crass chronology of headline events and loaded messages:

Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt in 1967...
There's no mention here of 1948 as the formative event, the Nakba, which saw many Palestinians flee to Gaza as an escape from Zionist terror. There's no mention either that the capture of Gaza from 1967 was a violation of international law, or that Gaza continues to be held under Israeli occupation, making Israel subject to the laws of occupation.

1.2M of Gaza's 1.7M Palestinian residents are refugees
A bland statement of fact, with not even a cursory explanation of how those 'residents' were forced to become refugees.

They live in one of the world's most densely populated areas
They are, in fact, illegally contained and imprisoned in one of the world's most densely-populated areas.

Israel pulled out settlers and soldiers in 2005
False. Israel remains the occupying power as defined by Article 47 of the Hague Regulations. Why did Sharon order the 'pull out'? Because it was easier to control Gaza by other military means, while concentrating settler occupation on the West Bank. Israel's expedient motives are not even intimated here.

Islamist group is dominant in Gaza
The BBC's way of shielding the truth of Hamas, which is actually the democratically-elected government in Gaza. Would the BBC ever say: 'Jewish group is dominant in Israel'?

It wants to eradicate Israel and replace it with an Islamic state
A gross distortion, with no hint of the realpolitik. Hamas is, in practice, a national liberation movement with little hope or intention of realising an Islamic state. Indeed, Islamic State (IS) now fighting in Iraq and Syria regard Hamas as a sworn enemy for putting Palestinian liberation before a caliphate.  

It is seen as a terrorist group by EU, US and Israel
Repeated here as an 'authoritative' view.  Israel, America and Britain are seen as terrorist states by Palestinians and many others. Why no mention of this? There's no mention either that Israel once supported Hamas as a counterpoint to Fatah.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza since 2007
It's an illegal blockade/siege, as defined by the UN, imposed after Palestinians approved Hamas in a fair election. 

Gaza militants have stockpiled weapons...
In contrast to crude rockets, Israel, one of the world's strongest militaries, has mass stockpiles of the most devastating weaponry, supplied by US/UK and other Western states. No mention here either of the $3 billion military assistance the US gives to Israel annually. So why highlight the stockpiles of 'Gaza militants' in this way?  

Including rockets with a range of 160km
No reference to the much greater range and destructive capacity of Israeli firepower, or its nuclear holdings. The BBC's essential message: Hamas is the initiating problem, terrorising Israel, not the other way round, and Israel's 'Operation Protective Edge', unlike those Hamas rockets, is a 'responsive' act.

There have been bouts of cross-border violence in recent years
A truly shameful evasion, even for the BBC. Having consistently violated every ceasefire, Israel has murdered thousands of Palestinians, many of them children, in air attacks, with remote-mounted guns along its perimeter wire, and through the daily effects of the siege.

Conflicts in 2008-09 and 2012 killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and 17 Israelis
Actually, over 1400 in 2008-09 alone. And why the term 'conflicts'? This is not a 'conflict' or a 'war' on Hamas, it's a calculated aggression against the entire Palestinian people.

There have been hundreds of rocket attacks and air strikes in recent weeks
Note the prioritised placing of 'rocket attacks' before 'air strikes'. The terms used are also selectively loaded to suggest the more offensive act by Palestinians.

By the end of July more than 50 Israelis had been killed
As always, the most significant loss of life for the BBC.

And at least 1,300 Palestinians, mainly civilians
And that tail-end tally of dead Palestinians - how 'truthful' of the BBC to note that they are mainly civilians.

So much more could be said about this pernicious little piece. The BBC would likely reply that it's just a 'snapshot' or introductory visual to their wider news and 'analysis'. Given the limited attention span many people have for news and current affairs, this abbreviated form perhaps shows the BBC at its most deceptive, in trying to pass such brazen, facile points off as 'basic neutral background' and 'impartial facts'. But whatever the output or scale, the same distortion by context, language and omission applies.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Gaza's suffering - don't mention 1948

This rare 1950 documentary film, Sands of Sorrow, shows the desperate plight of mass refugees across Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, Jordan and other parts of the region.
It's a remarkable piece of footage, illustrating the grim reality of an uprooted and oppressed people after fleeing their homes in 1947/48.

Yet, watching these moving images and listening to the empathy-laden commentary, one might have no idea that all these people were escaping from Zionist militias.

Despite the film's clear humanitarian intent, there's a notable absence of any reference to the actual perpetrators, such was the still carefully-calibrated reportage. 

As Gaza is being bombed, with ongoing mass murder and the misery of a displaced people, how much clearer is the depiction of that suffering in 2014, not just in imagery but in the framing of 1948 as a key reference for current Zionist crimes?

Beyond what's coming from a leftfield, independent media, it's still badly obscured by mainstream news and liberal discussion. 

Much of the problem lies with liberal Zionism, a boundaried mindset that wants to condemn the 'disproportionate killing' in Gaza and speak about the 'moral case' for a two state solution, but avoids any serious invocation of Al Nakba (catastrophe), ethnic cleansing, or Palestinians' historic right of return.

Rania Khalek  provides a helpful illustration of this carefully-avoided reality in her account of a recent debate led by Sarah Wildman, "an American journalist and progressive Israel supporter".

Wildman had criticised a virulent article by Yochanan Gordon in The Times of Israel which suggested that the genocide of Palestinians was a legitimate price to pay for the protection of Israel from Hamas rockets. In her response at The Jewish Daily Forward , 'Genocide is always wrong', Wildman wrote: “We must stand up now and be counted and we must say: We revile this thought. We must say: We reject your demand for destruction”.

Yet, notes Khalek:
While the sentiment is laudable, Wildman struck a much different tone two weeks earlier when she participated in a panel discussion on Israel’s Gaza onslaught hosted by The New America Foundation, a Washington, DC think tank that focuses on national security. As panel moderator, Wildman banned the used of the term “ethnic cleansing” and repeatedly told the two Palestinian panelists to stop connecting Israel’s Gaza slaughter to the Nakba — the premeditated dispossession and displacement of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948, a crime Wildman referred to as “the original sin or original blessing of Israel’s creation,” implying that the verdict is still out.
Citing other participants - notably, Naomi Paiss, vice-president of the New Israel Fund, and Lisa Goldman, director of the Israel-Palestine Initiative at New America - Khalek goes on:
The ninety minute-long panel was a remarkable display of Israel’s most progressive supporters obscuring the genocidal desires of Israeli settler colonialism, demonstrating that the only difference between liberal and right-wing Zionists is the degree of violence they are comfortable inflicting on Palestinians to maintain Israel as a Jewish state.
On Gaza, the framing reference was 2005/2006 as the 'starting point' of the 'conflict', not 1948:
Wildman opened the discussion by asking panelist Lisa Goldman to explain Gaza’s history, beginning with Israel’s unilateral “disengagement” from the coastal enclave in 2005. The four non-Palestinian panelists repeatedly invoked 2005 as the starting point for the latest round of massacres in Gaza. Goldman proceeded to offer an incomplete history, saying “Hamas took over Gaza in 2006” and then “kicked Fatah out of Gaza.” She left out that Hamas was democratically elected to represent the Palestinian people and removed Fatah from Gaza in a counter-coup after learning that the US and Israel had armed members of Fatah to overthrow Hamas. Wildman followed Goldman’s revisionism by emphasizing that “both sides feel that they are under siege.”
Despite Wildman's repeated insistence on this 'two-sides perspective':
Palestinian-American human rights attorney Noura Erakat pushed back. “With all due respect, though both sides may feel that they are under siege, one side, 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip … are indeed under siege,” said Erakat.
The point was pursued by Samer Badawi, of 972 Magazine:
“Eighty percent of [the people of Gaza] are refugees from the creation of the state that is dropping the bombs on them today,” explained Badawi. “The real policy agenda behind Israel’s attacks today is to try to wipe out the memory of that injustice from 1948. It is a sore festering memory for Israel and it cannot be undone,” he added. “Until you reckon with the fact that 80 percent of the people, 1.2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip today, don’t belong there because of Israel’s creation, you will not have justice and you will not have peace and you will not have a ceasefire.”
All crucial context. Yet, at every stage Wildman tried to close down discussion of 1948, pushing the safer 2005/2006 'narrative' and keeping deferentially to 'Israel's security' and the 'two state solution'.

As Khalek concludes:
By conflating Israelis and Palestinians as equally culpable in the conquest of Palestine and whitewashing the original sin of Israel’s creation, liberal and progressive Zionists like Wildman, Paiss, Goldman and Duss are enabling these genocidal impulses. They might condemn the occupation and even criticize Israel’s military aggression, but their refusal to back any meaningful efforts to pressure Israel, combined with their unwavering support for a Jewish state in a land inhabited by millions of non-Jews, is an endorsement of the violence required to maintain it, which makes them no better than the right-wingers and fascists they claim to deplore.
Much of that same indictment can be levelled at liberal journalists. Many are eager to show the suffering, even to express empathy, but rarely willing to explore the roots of why these things are happening.  

This is how liberal Zionists - politicians, academics, 'peace' activists, journalists - help maintain the 'basic integrity' of Israel and uphold its capacity for 'self-correction'.

Such voices will readily deplore Israel's humanitarian violations, but usually equate them with those of Hamas, their comments loaded with 'two-sides-to-blame' implication, repetitions on Israel's 'right to exist' and anxieties over the 'stalled peace process'. 

Where, beyond the 'missing text' of that grainy 1950 film and the evasions of liberal Zionism, are the true accounts bearing witness to the human crisis and its vital background?

From the carnage, we've seen some fine reporting from a few Western journalists, such as Channel 4's Jonathan Miller, and a notable Channel 4 News investigation into Israel's ruthless killing of Salem Shamaly as he picked through the devastation in search of his kin.

But while laudable, does any of this bear fuller contextual witness to Israel's longer historical crimes?  

Thus, could Jon Snow go to Gaza, see the horror, feel the emotion, express the compassion, but still fail to amplify the core, historical context.

Shujaiya 2014
Six-and-a half decades on from Sands of Sorrow, Gaza's Shujaiya district displays all the same effects, and much worse, of Israel's mass murder, state brutality and forced removal.

Max Blumenthal has also been in Gaza gathering accounts of the horrific massacres, the testaments of residents now despairingly displaced from their homes, the slaughter of entire families, and the clinical execution of Salem Shamaly.

Alongside Palestine-based journalist Dan Cohen, Blumenthal's reports, images and tweets from Gaza are a vital record of that suffering.   

But the pain recorded here is not just about the present murder, physical calamity and mental health crisis. It also encapsulates the enduring decades of genocide, oppression and trauma. The Nakba is ongoing, an internal part of their accounts, photos and discussions, a vital reminder, as Blumenthal asserts: "that every day for Palestinians is another 1948".

Cohen tweets:
1948 continues in Beit Hanoun today

Snow and his colleagues may say it's 'not our job' to 'do the history'. Why not? John Pilger has done so, setting the bar through his landmark reporting and films, notably Palestine is Still the IssueMax Blumenthal has done so. Dan Cohen has done so. Ben White does so. Jonathan Cook does so.

Is it really about 'I'm just being a reporter'? Or is it that most journalists are, in fact, conditioned to believe in their own 'impartial' roles and 'independent' status? Is it that most are severely limited in their corporate and institutional situations from ever daring to make such independent comment, or take committed positions?

Just imagine if the Nakba, like the Holocaust, was a regularly-used term, a media-adopted signifier of 1948 and the roots of the killing we're seeing today in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Everyone will be familiar with standard references to persecuted Jews who fled Nazi terror. Yet, try finding any such common reference to terror-fleeing Palestinians.

Try finding, as noted in a rare piece by Robert Fisk, regular truths about where all those people now living in Gaza's squalor originally fled from, such as the village of Huj - stolen, built-over and re-named Sederot.

How difficult would it be for the BBC or Channel 4 News to run regular lines like: 'A large section of Gaza's population fled there as refugees during the 1948 Nakba'?

Or, how about: 'The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has continued since the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948'?

Or, more simply : 'Millions of Palestinians remain UN-defined refugees since the Nakba in 1948'?

Variations abound. But those kind of sentences would be entirely factual, informative and in the public interest. Yet, think of the conformist 'context' and loaded language we get instead from the BBC and other elite-serving media.

Texts like Ilan's Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine should be required reading for all liberal journalists who profess concern for the Palestinian oppressed, yet lamentably fail to disseminate the central cause of their oppression. Alas, even acknowledgement of such forensic truths probably wouldn't be enough to see them mentioned or reflected in most journalistic output, such are the cautious understandings and constraints.

Without addressing the primary historical issue of Palestinian rights in this land of mass dispossession, without recognising both the formative and ongoing process of ethnic cleansing, and without comprehending a future where all people must have equal rights, rather than living under occupation, siege and apartheid rule, there will never be any true resolution.

Until then, those either too afraid or uninformed to mention these core truths in their reports or discussions are merely helping to make it yet another 1948 day for Gaza and all suffering Palestinians.  

Monday, 18 August 2014

While Israel kill Gaza's children, media shield the truth about Hamas

As the people of Gaza find momentary respite to survey the impact of Israel's brutal terror, our 'leading' media show no let-up in its selective demonisation of Hamas.

You don't have to support Hamas to see the way in which its vilification is being used to mitigate Israel's mass crimes and justify Western support.

Nor do you need approve armed violence at all to recognise that a people being murdered and imprisoned will rightfully fight back, just as resilient Jews did in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Yet, despite the most graphic evidence of Israeli war crimes, and a unified mood of Palestinian resistance, our liberal media still display an inverted hubris in castigating Hamas rather than Israel.

Last week, the Guardian decided to carry an advert by Elie Wiesel and other Israel-supporting figures depicting Hamas as biblical equivalents of sacrificial child killers.

Posing as vanguards of 'free speech', it was a disgraceful act by the Guardian, condemned by Stop the War and many others. 

The Guardian familiarly proclaim 'comment is free, but facts are sacred'.  Yet what, in their invocation of Zionist CP Scott, was remotely 'sacred' or 'factual' about the message being presented by Wiesel? Why did the UK's 'leading radical paper' feel the need to accommodate such distortion?

Would it have printed such smears or hate-speech had it been a brazenly anti-Semitic advert, or, say, that which compared Israel to Nazi Germany?   

What the Guardian actually provided, in allowing this full-page spread, was respectable status for a virulent piece of hasbara. That kind of editorial permission is highly valued by Israel.

In a frank admission, the Guardian Readers' Editor Chris Elliott has concluded that the advert was, indeed, repugnant, and that, contrary to the justifications and decision of editor Alan Rusbridger to run it, he would not have approved:
I agree with the readers that whatever the intention, the biblical language, the references to child sacrifice, all evoke images of that most ancient of antisemitic tropes: the blood libel. The authors may believe that they have steered a careful course by aiming these matters at an organisation, Hamas, rather than all Palestinians, but the association is there. If an advertisement was couched in similar terms but the organisation named was the IDF rather than Hamas, I can’t imagine the Guardian would run it – I certainly hope it wouldn’t. I think that’s the issue.
But while Elliott's conclusion is commendable, and, perhaps, part of a damage limitation exercise, it's vital to note the reasons listed by Rusbridger for publishing the advert - advertisers' interests, Wiesel's 'public standing', other leading US titles had printed it, previous claims that Hamas had used children as shields, legal clearance on 'standards' and 'guidelines' - all corporate considerations and liberal posturings which tells us much about Rusbridger's 'morals' and the Guardian's priorities.    

The Guardian could, instead, have adopted a specific editorial defence of Gaza and Palestinian rights, refusing to be party to such propaganda. The ensuing 'row' would, no doubt, have guaranteed Wiesel's advert the same or even greater prominence. But at least the paper could have stood as an honourable ally, rather than - as with the dedicated platform its editors give to war criminal Tony Blair - a willing facilitator of Wiesel's toxic lies.  

With the British state media already giving so much loaded space to Israel, isn't there a vital need for that kind of moral positioning?

Consider, for example, the BBC's Wyre Davies interview with Israeli 'dove' Shimon Peres, in which, having listed Israel's 'bountiful legacy' in 'departing' Gaza,  Peres claimed that killing all those civilians in Gaza was "not our choice". It was 'Hamas's fault', he insists. It was Hamas, using children as human shields, that 'forced us to do it'.

Davies could only respond with a warning about the "danger of Israel losing its democratic tradition", and a question over whether it should now move to "finish Hamas". Beyond token reminders to Peres about the extent of civilian deaths, where was his serious challenge over the claim that Hamas had deliberately endangered children, causing all that killing?

Such omissions and circumvention reflect deeper 'imperatives' about Israel's 'vital security', 'self-defence' and 'provocation' over Hamas rocket fire.

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland has been perniciously assertive in these regards, cajoling the reader towards viewing Gaza's destruction as a 'two-sided problem', planting the idea of 'equal Hamas culpability', appealing that we must comprehend Israelis' 'terrible fear' of Hamas tunnels, and repeating these kind of hasbara-friendly lines: 
And in the quiet years, when Hamas finally got hold of long-demanded concrete, it used it not to build bomb shelters for ordinary Gazans, but those tunnels to attack Israel, and bunkers for the organisation’s top brass.
The obscenity that such sparsely-permitted materials should actually be used for making bomb shelters at all seems not worthy of mentioning by Freedland.

In seeming 'balance', Freedland bewails Israel's turn to 'disproportionate military responses', a 'concern' framed primarily as such action being 'counter-productive to Israel's security'.

Whatever the 'humanitarian' undertones, the regret over lost lives, we can be reasonably sure that the suffering people of Gaza would take no comfort in these kind of anguished equivocations, or the vacuous Guardian editorials Freedland seemingly influences.
In their tortured rationalisations, Freedland and his fellow liberal commentariat help service the default-line story of Israel as the 'still-decent settler state', the 'plucky homesteader', 'reluctantly forced' to protect itself from hostile neighbours.

Ali Abunimah offers a fitting analogy:
As Joseph Massad observes, Israeli and American politicians, including Obama, frequently describe Israel as "living in a tough neighbourhood" where Iranian and Arabs "are the 'violent blacks' of the Middle East and Jews are the 'peaceful white folks.'" (Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Haymarket Books, 2014, p9.)
In truth, observes Abunimah, Jews living in an apartheid, violence-defined Israel can never find either meaningful security or proper democracy, something that will, ultimately, only be realisable under "a single democratic and decolonized state" (ibid, p58).

Nor does this 'right of self-defence' even stand up to logical scrutiny. As Seumas Milne - perhaps the Guardian's only real critic, even if that still excludes open criticism of the Guardian itself - points out:
"Israel does not have a right of self-defence over territories it illegally occupies – it has an obligation to withdraw."
Yet, still we're fed the relentless myth that Israel left Gaza with 'benign intent', 'gifting all those greenhouses', all that 'goodwill infrastructure', to those 'thankless' Palestinians, who only went on to support Hamas and dig tunnels rather than 'use the opportunity' to turn the place into a 'Mediterranean paradise'.

As with Davies's indulgence of Peres, it's amazing how often this kind of crude propaganda is trotted-out without the mildest corrective from interviewers, or standard reminder that Gaza is subject to an illegal siege and ongoing state of occupation.

That's all routinely ignored in favour of the 'primary threat': those 'provocative' rockets from Hamas 'militants' - rather than Palestinian fighters - as 'impartially' labelled by the BBC.

There's little or no mention here that Hamas was originally supported by Israel as an expedient bulwark to Fatah. Forget, too, that Hamas has regularly intimated its approval of a 'two-state solution'. And, as Mondoweiss reminds us, while being denounced for rejecting an Egyptian-brokered truce in which they weren't even consulted, Hamas were, not for the first time, trying to construct a more durable one:
Much less noticed by the Western media was that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had meanwhile proposed a 10 year truce on the basis of 10 – very reasonable – conditions. While Israel was too busy preparing for the ground invasion, why didn’t anyone in the diplomatic community spend a word about this proposal? The question is all the more poignant as this proposal was in essence in line with what many international experts as well as the United Nations have asked for years now, and included some aspects that Israel had already considered as feasible requests in the past.
There's also that 'damning' Hamas Charter, as invoked by Freedland  - again, with liberal hubris. In truth, this outdated and rhetorical document is a virtual irrelevance to the much more complex realpolitik of Hamas, as intimated by Chomsky at Democracy Now:
Chomsky also addresses the widespread focus on the Hamas charter platform calling for the destruction of Israel. "The only people who pay attention to it are Israeli propagandists, who love it," Chomsky says. "It was a charter put together by a small group of people under siege, under attack in 1988. And it’s essentially meaningless. There are charters that mean something, but they’re not talked about. So, for example, the electoral program of Israel’s governing party, Likud, states explicitly that there can never be a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. … And they don’t only have it in their charter, their electoral program, but they implement it."
Thus, we forever hear of Hamas's determination to create an 'Islamic state', but rarely the determination of Netanyahu, Likud and other Zionist fanatics to maintain Israel as an actual Jewish state. We hear constantly of Hamas's notional 'pledge' to 'drive Israel into the sea', but very little contextual mention of Israel's actual imprisonment of Gaza by land, air and sea. 

No endorser of Hamas, Mehdi Hasan has also expanded on the most prominent myths, distortions and misconceptions over Hamas and the current bombing of Gaza, including corroboration that while no serious evidence exists of Hamas using children as human shields, Israel are in regular, gross violation of such acts.

Beyond Freedland's superficial 'examination' and Davies's cloying questions, real analysis on Hamas politics and Israel's motives over Gaza abound across an alternative media. 

Dan Glazebrook, for example, offers the persuasive interpretation that Israel's real target is not Hamas at all - even if a key objective is to weaken its capacity. Rather, using the constructed 'provocation' over the killing of three Jewish settlers, the real purpose of the bombing has been to wreck any prospects of Palestinian statehood emerging from the current Hamas-Fatah rapprochement.

Yet, notes Glazebrook, even here:

despite its current ability to rip thousands of Palestinians to shreds on the flimsiest of pretexts, all is not well for Israel. Even their short term goals have not been met in this latest attack. Despite everything, the unity government has not broken, and Fatah and Hamas are currently presenting a united front in the ceasefire negotiations. Likewise, Hamas has not been defeated, even militarily (let alone politically) by this attack, and has been able to continue its military resistance right up until the beginning of the various ceasefires that have taken place.
As the latest 'ceasefire talks' proceed, once again it's Hamas, rather than Israel, that has sought ways of achieving a meaningful peace, again, quite rightfully, based on that most basic humanitarian demand: an end to Israel's illegal blockade.

With almost two thousand dead, over ten thousand more injured, and so many more displaced and traumatised amid a despairing landscape of decimated structures, how appallingly Gaza has suffered just to get Israel and the West to 'engage' on these most elementary conditions.

Die-in protest outside MoD building, Glasgow
While making sanctimonious calls for ceasefires and aid, Obama-Cameron 'diplomacy' still ensures the flow of arms and military equipment to Israel, a corporate-military mega-industry profiting from the slaughter of Gaza.

Following Vince Cable's feeble 'review' of UK licences, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and law firm Leigh Day are now challenging the British government's ongoing sale of military components to Israel.

All of which requires the US/UK and other protectors of Israel to keep issuing the 'Hamas menace' line as political cover.

Perversely, while this current attack on Gaza is intended to break the Hamas-Fatah unity government and further terrorise the population into submission, Israel and the West still need Hamas, battered but intact, in order to justify the military 'deterrent' and containment.  

This dominant, enduring message of Hamas as a 'terrorist organisation', rather than a democratically-elected government, is deeply imprinted in the media's own contorted framing - including that ugly Guardian advert.  Despite growing global condemnation of Israel, it's still an open-season vilification, one that even allows 'respectable' space to calls for Israel to murder Gaza's civilians just for being voters of Hamas

While the staggering scale and wickedness of Israel's violence is treated with effective impunity - 'it's a sovereign state, after all' - spineless editors and stenographer 'journalists' are still paying lip-service over 'Israel's security', while agonising over whether 'we' should even be speaking with, or recognising, Hamas.

Such is the reality of Israeli terrorism, Western subterfuge, and the media's sacrificing of truth over what's repeatedly deemed the 'darker Hamas threat'. Predictably, almost none of this is up for serious discussion at the Guardian or BBC.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Professor John Robertson: BBC's framing of bad news on Independence

For anyone still doubting the significance of media bias over the Scottish independence referendum, please watch Professor John Robertson's excellent film, The Bigger the Lie.
In particular, take note of Robertson's points on news headlining, sequencing, sourcing and more subtle imbalances in the setting of negative messages - including the particular demonisation of Alex Salmond.  
Robertson also offers some deeply-incisive observations on the media selection/promotion of 'independent', 'objective' 'experts', such as academics and policy figures, none of whom are free from subjective, ideological motivation.

Robertson's vital exposure of the BBC is reflective of a nascent independent media in Scotland, now making its mark by challenging the BBC, STV and mainstream press - as typified by highly-informed denunciations from Newsnet Scotland, and this direct indictment of The Scotsman from Derek Bateman.  

Addressing the crowd at the recent Yes protest against the BBC's biased independence coverage, Robertson also related how the Sunday Herald had decided not to publish his research, its editor trying to soothe the issue by asking him to come and "have a drink" and talk about the matter.
Robertson's response: "I told him to get stuffed."

It's a reminder that, while admirable comment on independence is coming from some at the Sunday Herald pages, like Ian Bell and Iain Macwhirter, there's still a notable establishment-protecting boundary in place.

In another such aside, Robertson described his letter to Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell asking why he had so nastily caricatured Alex Salmond. Bell wrote back calling him a "fatuous nationalist dupe".

As can be seen in Robertson's own declared hostility to reductionist nationalism, in favour of a leftist, progressive case for independence, such responses say much more about the pompous hostility of a metropolitan liberal media mired in its own delusional identity. 

Professor Robertson's valued research and insights have also been approvingly highlighted by Media Lens and reproduced at The Drum.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

BBC even more exposed after agreeing to air 2014 DEC Appeal for Gaza

Alongside other news networks, the BBC is to air a Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Crisis Appeal for Gaza.
Though a welcome announcement, helping to bring desperately-needed relief to the suffering of Gaza, it only confirms the BBC's culpability for refusing the very same appeal in 2009.
As reported at BBC Online:
At the time, the BBC said it did not show the appeal "because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality".

The BBC Trust later backed the stance of former director general Mark Thompson, but said the BBC and other broadcasters should look again at their agreement with the DEC on when appeals should be screened.
As many will recall, the BBC's questioning of the DEC's ability to deliver such aid was utterly facile, as was the pretext of 'compromising' its 'impartiality'. Had the BBC ever doubted this aid organisation's abilities in any other volatile situation? Unsurprisingly, the Trust did endorse Thompson, the caveat on any any further DEC appeals included as token mitigation.   

Today's BBC report goes on:
In a statement, the BBC said it had taken "three issues" into consideration after being asked to broadcast the appeal for humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza.

"The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance; the DEC agencies must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal; and, there has to be reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal would be successful," it said.

"We also have to consider our Charter obligation of due impartiality. After careful consideration we believe these criteria have been met."
So, what's different from 2009, when the appeal was based on the very same emergency needs, with little doubt then, as now, that the DEC were/are able to 'deliver' on all of the BBC's 'three issues'?

Isn't the real truth that in 2009 the BBC's decision was part of an institutional agenda to avoid legitimate criticism of Israel? None of that has changed. But, isn't the evolving truth in 2014 that the BBC, deeply shamed in 2009, just can't sustain that level of evasion now, and the public discontent that would go with any such refusal to allow this appeal?   
The BBC's readiness to allow air time on this occasion is a key indication of how rapidly public awareness is moving against Israel despite the ongoing protection still being offered by the UK establishment, of which the BBC is a vital part.

As documented by Amena Saleem, there's been some intimation that the BBC decided to air the DEC appeal "because of Israel’s admission that it’s a humanitarian crisis."

If so, this is more damning evidence that the BBC acts and rationalises its position according to Israel's own posturing. 

Thanks to Mary for posting Amena's discussion.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Warsi's going is a barometer of public feeling over Gaza

So, Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi has resigned from the government.

With over 1800 people now slaughtered in Gaza, she tweets that she's now unable to support Cameron's ongoing overtures to Israel:
"With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza"
Warsi also said the government's:
"approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically".
This is all good for the Palestinian cause. And well done to Warsi for taking such action - might others now reflect on putting their careers before speaking out about Gaza and other such crimes?

Boris Johnson has also condemned the killing, though still in terms of its negative impact on Israel:

"I am a passionate supporter of Israel. I cannot for the life of me see the purpose of this. It is disproportionate, ugly and tragic and will not do Israel any good the long run."
But seeing such senior figures worry and resign is indicative of how much the establishment now recognise a dangerous writing on the wall for Israel, and, most crucially, the gathering public mood.

Consider also how Miliband has decided to put Cameron 'on the spot' over Gaza, just as he opted to oppose the bombing of Syria. All of this comes after carefully weighing the strength of public feeling and evaluating whether it's worth the political risk.
Warsi's resignation should be seen in the same essential light.
Her departure and ostensible reasons for it - the humanitarian cost - are less notable than what it says about the gathering public awareness over Israel's criminal standing.
And that has all come from a bottom-up process, driven by the current outrage over Gaza and a more sustained level of social media-led campaigning.
In other words, the political stirrings we're seeing, even among senior Tories like Crispin Blunt - calling Israel's actions "war crimes", and even suggesting punitive sanctions - is a barometer of how seriously world feeling is now pushing against Israel.
As a Muslim, Warsi is well aware of the sensitivities of being part of a government so deeply involved in backing and arming Israel. Now free from the bonds of office, she has spoken more openly, calling for an arms embargo against Israel and regretting that the UK failed to support the Palestinian application for statehood at the UN.
So, why didn't she say all these things before? Gaza has been under siege for eight years now, subject to murderous attack every day, including deliberate violations of the 2012 ceasefire.  

Again, it's that same political calculation. Political elites may hold real humanitarian concerns and misgivings, but all that can sit in career safety so long as no major event brings it into public focus. Gaza has now done that for Warsi.    

The tipping point is coming for Israel. And when the day of reckoning comes, as it did for South Africa, many, like Warsi, will not want to be remembered for being on the wrong side of history.

A comment in an earlier version of this text was erroneously attributed to Baroness Warsi, rather than Boris Johnson. Now corrected.