THE QUEEN AND HER LEGACY: 21ST CENTURY BRITAIN HAS NEVER LOOKED SO MEDIEVAL

SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2022

Source

By Jonathan Cook

Anyone in the UK who imagined they lived in a representative democracy – one in which leaders are elected and accountable to the people – will be in for a rude awakening over the next days and weeks.

TV schedules have been swept aside. Presenters must wear black and talk in hushed tones. Front pages are uniformly somber. Britain’s media speak with a single, respectful voice about the Queen and her unimpeachable legacy.

Westminster, meanwhile, has been stripped of left and right. The Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties have set aside politics to grieve as one. Even the Scottish nationalists – supposedly trying to rid themselves of the yoke of centuries of English rule presided over by the monarch – appear to be in effusive mourning.

The world’s urgent problems – from the war in Europe to a looming climate catastrophe – are no longer of interest or relevance. They can wait till Britons emerge from a more pressing national trauma.

Domestically, the BBC has told those facing a long winter in which they will not be able to afford to heat their homes that their suffering is “insignificant” compared to that of the family of a 96-year-old woman who died peacefully in the lap of luxury. They can wait too.

In this moment there is no public room for ambivalence or indifference, for reticence, for critical thinking – and most certainly not for Republicanism, even if nearly a third of the public, mostly the young, desire the monarchy’s abolition. The British establishment expects every man, woman, and child to do their duty by lowering their head.

Twenty-first-century Britain never felt so medieval.

WALL-TO-WALL EULOGIES

There are reasons a critical gaze is needed right now, as the British public is corralled into reverential mourning.

The wall-to-wall eulogies are intended to fill our nostrils with the perfume of nostalgia to cover the stench of a rotting institution, one at the heart of the very establishment doing the eulogising.

The demand is that everyone shows respect for the Queen and her family and that now is not the time for criticism or even analysis.

Indeed, the Royal Family have every right to be left in peace to grieve. But privacy is not what they, or the establishment they belong to, crave.

The Royals’ loss is public in every sense. There will be a lavish state funeral, paid for by the taxpayer. There will be an equally lavish coronation of her son, Charles, also paid for by the taxpayer.

And in the meantime, the British public will be force-fed the same official messages by every TV channel – not neutrally, impartially or objectively, but as state propaganda – paid for, once again, by the British taxpayer.

Reverence and veneration are the only types of coverage of the Queen and her family that is now allowed.

But there is a deeper sense in which the Royals are public figures – more so even than those thrust into the spotlight by their celebrity or talent for accumulating money.

The British public has entirely footed the bill for the Royals’ lives of privilege and pampered luxury. Like the kings of old, they have given themselves the right to enclose vast tracts of the British Isles as their private dominion. The Queen’s death, for example, means the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have just added the whole of Cornwall to their estate.

If anyone is public property, it is the British Royals. They have no right to claim an exemption from scrutiny just when scrutiny is most needed – as the anti-democratic privileges of monarchy pass from one set of hands to another.

The demand for silence is not a politically neutral act. It is a demand that we collude in a corrupt system of establishment rule and hierarchical privilege.

The establishment has a vested interest in enforcing silence and obedience until the public’s attention has moved on to other matters. Anyone who complies leaves the terrain open over the coming weeks for the establishment to reinforce and deepen the public’s deference to elite privilege.

CONTINUITY OF RULE

Undoubtedly, the Queen carried out her duties supremely well during her 70 years on the throne. As BBC pundits keep telling us, she helped maintain social “stability” and ensured “continuity” of rule.

The start of her reign in 1952 coincided with her government ordering the suppression of the Mau Mau independence uprising in Kenya. Much of the population were put in concentration camps and used as slave labour – if they weren’t murdered by British soldiers.

At the height of her rule, 20 years later, British troops were given a green light to massacre 14 civilians in Northern Ireland on a protest march against Britain’s policy of jailing Catholics without trial. Those shot and killed were fleeing or tending the wounded. The British establishment oversaw cover-up inquiries into what became known as “Bloody Sunday”.

And in the twilight years of her rule, her government rode roughshod over international law, invading Iraq on the pretext of destroying non-existent weapons of mass destruction. During the long years of a joint British and US occupation, it is likely that more than a million Iraqis died and millions more were driven from their homes.

The Queen, of course, was not personally responsible for any of those events – nor the many others that occurred while she maintained a dignified silence.

But she did provide regal cover for those crimes – in life, just as she is now being recruited to do in death.

It was her Royal Armed Forces that killed Johnny Foreigner.

It was her Commonwealth that repackaged the jackbooted British empire as a new, more media-savvy form of colonialism.

It was the Union Jacks, Beefeaters, black cabs, bowler hats – the ludicrous paraphernalia somehow associated with the Royals in the rest of the world’s mind – that the new power across the Atlantic regularly relied on from its sidekick to add a veneer of supposed civility to its ugly imperial designs.

Paradoxically, given US history, the special-ness of the special relationship hinged on having a much-beloved, esteemed Queen providing “continuity” as the British and US governments went about tearing up the rulebook on the laws of war in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

TEFLON QUEEN

And therein lies the rub. The Queen is dead. Long live the King!

But King Charles III is not Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen had the advantage of ascending to the throne in a very different era, when the media avoided Royal scandals unless they were entirely unavoidable, such as when Edward VIII caused a constitutional crisis in 1936 by announcing his plan to marry an American “commoner”.

With the arrival of 24-hour rolling news in the 1980s and the later advent of digital media, the Royals became just another celebrity family like the Kardashians. They were fair game for the paparazzi. Their scandals sold newspapers. Their indiscretions and feuds chimed with the period’s ever more salacious and incendiary soap opera plots on TV.

But none of that dirt stuck to the Queen, even when recently it was revealed – to no consequence – that her officials had secretly and regularly rigged legislation to exempt her from the rules that applied to everyone else, under a principle known as Queen’s Consent. An apartheid system benefiting the Royal Family alone.

By remaining above the fray, she offered “continuity”. Even the recent revelation that her son, Prince Andrew, consorted with young girls alongside the late Jeffrey Epstein, and kept up the friendship even after Epstein was convicted of paedophilia, did nothing to harm the Teflon Monarch.

Prince Andrew & the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview
In a Newsnight special, Emily Maitlis interviews the Duke of York as he speaks for the first time about his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Ep…

Charles III, by contrast, is best remembered – at least by the older half of the population – for screwing up his marriage to a fairy-tale princess, Diana, killed in tragic circumstances. In preferring Camilla, Charles traded Cinderella for the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine.

If the monarch is the narrative glue holding society and empire together, Charles could represent the moment when that project starts to come unstuck.

Which is why the black suits, hushed tones, and air of reverence are needed so desperately right now. The establishment is in frantic holding mode as they prepare to begin the difficult task of reinventing Charles and Camilla in the public imagination. Charles must now do the heavy lifting for the establishment that the Queen managed for so long, even as she grew increasingly frail physically.

The outlines of that plan have been visible for a while. Charles will be rechristened the King of the Green New Deal. He will symbolise Britain’s global leadership against the climate crisis.

If the Queen’s job was to rebrand empire as Commonwealth, transmuting the Mau Mau massacre into gold medals for Kenyan long-distance runners, Charles’ job will be to rebrand as a Green Renewal the death march led by transnational corporations.

Which is why now is no time for silence or obedience. Now is precisely the moment – as the mask slips, as the establishment needs time to refortify its claim to deference – to go on the attack.

Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News

Jonathan Cook is a MintPress contributor. Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.

Why is Amnesty apologising for telling the truth about Ukrainian war crimes?

16 August 2022

JONATHAN COOK

Allowing only one side to be criticised for its crimes – reinforcing the loaded western political narrative of good guys versus bad guys – is likely to fuel war rather than resolve it

Middle East Eye – 16 August 2022

Should a human rights organisation apologise for publishing important evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses?

If it does apologise, what does that suggest about its commitment to dispassionately uncovering the truth about the actions of both parties to war? And equally, what message does it send to those who claim to be “distressed” by the publication of such evidence?

Those are questions Amnesty International should have pondered far more carefully than it obviously did before issuing an apology last week over its latest report on the war in Ukraine.

In that report, Amnesty accused Ukrainian forces of committing war crimes by stationing troops and artillery in or near schools, hospitals and residential buildings, thereby using civilians effectively as human shields. Such practices by Ukrainian soldiers were identified in 19 different towns and villages.

These incidents did not just theoretically endanger civilians. There is evidence, according to Amnesty, that return fire by Russian troops on these Ukrainian positions led to non-combatants being killed.

The Israeli army regularly accuses Palestinian factions like Hamas of hiding among civilians in Gaza, while obscuring its own, long-documented practice of using Palestinians as human shields.

But whatever the truth of Israel’s claims, unlike the tiny and massively overcrowded Gaza, which offers few or no hiding places outside of built-up areas for Palestinian fighters to resist Israeli aggression, Amnesty concluded of the situation in Ukraine: “Viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians – such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas.”

In other words, it was a choice made by the Ukrainian army to put its own civilians in harm’s way.

Mounting pressure

Notably, this is the first time a major western human rights organisation has publicly scrutinised the behaviour of Ukraine’s soldiers. Until now, these watchdog bodies have focused exclusively on reports of crimes committed by Russian forces – a position entirely in line with the priorities of their own governments. By its own admission, Amnesty has published dozens of reports condemning Russia.

The pushback against the latest report was relentless, coming even from Amnesty’s own Ukrainian team. Oksana Pokalchuk, its head, quit, explaining that her team “did everything they could to prevent this material from being published”.

Under mounting pressure, Amnesty made a statement last week in which it said it “deeply regrets the distress and anger” caused by its report, while at the same time stating: “We fully stand by our findings.”

The idea that only one side has been committing war crimes in Ukraine was always implausible. In wars, all sides commit crimes. It is in the nature of wars.

Faulty lines of communication mean orders are misunderstood or only partially relayed to those on the front lines. Inevitably, soldiers prioritise their own lives over those of the enemy, including civilians. Terrorising the other side – through human rights violations – can be an effective way to avoid combat, by sending a warning to enemy soldiers to desert their posts and civilians to flee. Sadists and psychopaths, meanwhile, find themselves with plenty of opportunities to exploit during the fighting.

But conversely, parties to wars invariably struggle to acknowledge their own abuses. They prefer simple-minded, self-serving narratives of good and evil: our soldiers are heroes, morally spotless, while their soldiers are barbarians, indifferent to the value of human life.

Western governments and establishment media outlets have readily peddled this foolish line in Ukraine, too, even though neither Europe nor the United States are supposed to be directly involved in the war. They have reflexively amplified Ukrainian claims of Russian war crimes, even when the evidence is lacking or the picture murky, and they have resolutely ignored any evidence of Ukrainian crimes, such as evidence that Russian prisoners of war have been executed or that Ukraine has been using petal cluster bombs in civilian areas.

More self-censorship

In such circumstances, only the human rights community is in a position to provide a more faithful picture of how events are unfolding, and hold to account both sides for their crimes. But until Amnesty stepped out of line, western human rights groups had moved in lockstep with western governments, the same governments that appear to want endless war in Ukraine, to “weaken Russia”, rather than a quick resolution.

Even the author of Amnesty’s new report, Donatella Rovera, has conceded: “I think the level of self-censorship on this issue [Ukrainian war crimes] has been pretty extraordinary.”

Amnesty should not be apologising for providing a rare window on such crimes. It should be emphasising the importance of monitoring both sides for serious breaches of international law. And for very good reason.

Amnesty’s apology sends a message to those partisans trying to shut down scrutiny of Ukrainian crimes of just how easy it is to put the human rights community on the defensive. Efforts to deter reporting of a similar nature in the future will intensify.

Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister, Dmytro Kuleba, was among those who lost no time vilifying Amnesty by characterising its report as “Russian disinformation”.

Amnesty’s apology suggests such pressure campaigns have an effect and will lead to increased self-censorship – in a situation where the evidence already indicates that there is a great deal of self-censorship, as Rovera pointed out.

The apology betrays the civilians who have been, and will be, used as human shields – putting them in lethal danger – over the coming months and potentially years of fighting. It means Ukrainian forces will feel even less pressure to rein in behaviour that amounts to a war crime. 

Amnesty would never apologise to Russian partisans offended by a report on Russian war crimes. Its current apology indicates to the victims of Ukrainian human rights abuses that they are less worthy than the victims of Russian abuses.

Flooding the battlefield

Turning a blind eye to Ukrainian crimes also lifts the pressure on western governments. They have been recklessly channelling arms worth many billions of dollars to Ukraine, even though they have little idea where most end up. (In a further worrying sign of self-censorship in the west, CBS recently postponed the broadcast of an investigation suggesting as little as a third of western weapons reach their intended destination in Ukraine.)

That is all the more dangerous because, even before Russia’s invasion in late February, Ukrainian forces – including the neo-Nazi elements now glossed over in western narratives – were engaged in a vicious civil war with ethnic Russian communities in Ukraine’s east. That region, the Donbas, is where Moscow has been focusing its military advances.

Human rights violations by Ukrainians against other Ukrainians were regularly committed during the eight-year civil war, as western monitors documented at the time. Such crimes are almost certainly continuing under cover of the war against Russia, but with the aid now of western arms shipments.

Ignoring abuses by Ukrainian forces gives them a free hand to commit crimes not only against Russian soldiers but also against the large number of Ukrainians who are not seen as loyal to Kyiv.

A failure to closely scrutinise how and where western artillery is being used is almost certain to result in more, not less, of the kind of Ukrainian crimes Amnesty has just highlighted.

Western governments, and publics, need to be confronted with the likely consequences of flooding the battlefield with weapons before they prefer such a policy over pursuing diplomatic solutions.

Ultimately, allowing one side only to be criticised for its crimes – reinforcing the simple-minded narrative of good guys versus bad guys – is likely to fuel the war rather than resolve it.

War-mongering

Amnesty’s conduct over this latest report is not exceptional. It is part of a pattern of behaviour by a western human rights community vulnerable to political and financial pressures that detract from its ostensible mission. 

As the near-exclusive focus on Russian crimes in Ukraine illustrates, international humanitarian law is all too often interpreted through the prism of western political priorities.

There has long been a revolving door between the staff of prominent human rights groups and the US government. And pressure from elite donors – who are invested in these dominant narratives – doubtless plays a part, too.

Anyone departing from the narrow political consensus imposed by western political and media elites is defamed as spreading Russian “disinformation”, or for being apologists for dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad or Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Criticisms of Israel, meanwhile, are demonised as proof of antisemitism. 

Certainly, Russian, Syrian and Libyan leaders have committed war crimes. But the focus on their crimes is all too often an excuse to avoid addressing western war crimes, and thereby enable agendas that advance the interests of the West’s war industries.

I experienced this first hand during the month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Israel accused Hezbollah of using its own population as “human shields” – framed by the Norwegian politician and United Nations official Jan Egeland as “cowardly blending” – an allegation lapped up by the western media.

Whatever the truth of that claim, it presented a very one-sided picture of what took place during that summer’s fighting. Though no one was allowed to mention it at the time because of Israel’s strict military censorship laws, it was common knowledge among Israel’s minority of Palestinian citizens that many of their own communities in northern Israel were being used as locations for Israeli tanks and artillery to fire into Lebanon.

The Israeli army had forcibly recruited these third-class citizens as human shields, just as the Ukrainian army is now accused by Amnesty of doing to civilians.

I saw for myself a number of the locations where Israel had installed batteries in or next to the minority’s communities. There were later Israeli court cases that confirmed this widespread practice; Palestinian politicians in Israel raised the matter in the Israeli parliament; and a local human rights group later issued a report documenting examples of these war crimes.

But these revelations never gained any traction with either the western media or human rights groups. Western publics were left with an entirely false impression: that Hezbollah alone had endangered its own civilians, even though Israel had undoubtedly done the same or worse.

The reality could not be acknowledged because it conflicted with western political priorities that treat Israel as a valued ally with a moral army and Hezbollah as a depraved, bloodthirsty terrorist organisation.

Saints and sinners

Human rights groups reporting on the 2006 Lebanon war actively echoed these self-serving western narratives that unfairly differentiated between Hezbollah and Israel, as I highlighted at the time.

I found myself in a very public row with Human Rights Watch over comments made by one of its researchers to the New York Times claiming that Hezbollah had intentionally targeted Israeli civilians whereas Israel had avoided targeting Lebanese civilians.

First, it completely failed to fit the known facts of the war. Israel’s strikes on Lebanon had caused a disproportionately large number of civilian deaths, despite the use of precision weapons. Hezbollah, using far more primitive rockets, meanwhile, had killed mostly soldiers, not civilians. 

But more problematic still, HRW had ascribed intentions to each side – good and bad – when it could not possibly know what those intentions were. As I wrote at the time of its researcher’s comments:

Was he or another HRW researcher sitting in one of the military bunkers in northern Israel when army planners pressed the button to unleash the missiles from their spy drones? Was he sitting alongside the air force pilots as they circled over Lebanon dropping their US-made bombs or tens of thousands of ‘cluster munitions’, tiny land mines that are now sprinkled over a vast area of south Lebanon? Did he have intimate conversations with the Israeli chiefs of staff about their war strategy? Of course not. He has no more idea than you or I what Israel’s military planners and its politicians decided was necessary to achieve their war goals.

HRW’s comments made sense only in a political context: that the group faced enormous pressure from US politicians and funders to focus on Hezbollah’s crimes. It also faced a damaging vilification campaign led by Israel lobbyists who wished to shield Israel from scrutiny. They accused the group’s senior staff of antisemitism and spreading a blood libel.

It looked very much like HRW caved into that pressure, just as Amnesty is now effectively doing in apologising for upsetting Ukrainian partisans and those emotionally invested in the one-sided narrative they hear constantly from their politicians and media.

Neither Amnesty nor Human Rights Watch responded to a request for comment. 

The reality is that western publics need more, not less, scrutiny of the crimes committed in wars, if only to tear the facade off narratives designed to paint a picture of saints and sinners – narratives that dehumanise official enemies and fuel more war.

The minimum needed to achieve that is an independent, fearless, vigorous human rights community, not an apologetic one. 

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A LEMMING LEADING THE LEMMINGS: SLAVOJ ZIZEK AND THE TERMINAL COLLAPSE OF THE ANTI-WAR LEFT

JUNE 23RD, 2022

JONATHAN COOK

Have you noticed how every major foreign policy crisis since the U.S. and U.K.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 has peeled off another layer of the left into joining the pro-NATO, pro-war camp?

It is now hard to remember that many millions marched in the U.S. and Europe against the attack on Iraq. It sometimes feels like there is no one left who is not cheerleading the next wave of profits for the West’s military-industrial complex (usually referred to as the “defense industry” by those very same profiteers).

Washington learned a hard lesson from the unpopularity of its 2003 attack on Iraq aimed at controlling more of the Middle East’s oil reserves. Ordinary people do not like seeing the public coffers ransacked or suffering years of austerity, simply to line the pockets of Blackwater, Halliburton, and Raytheon. And all the more so when such a war is sold to them on the basis of a huge deception.

So since then, the U.S. has been repackaging its neocolonialism via proxy wars that are a much easier sell. There have been a succession of them: Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Venezuela and now Ukraine. Each time, a few more leftists are lured into the camp of the war hawks by the West’s selfless, humanitarian instincts – promoted, of course, through the barrel of a Western-supplied arsenal. That process has reached its nadir with Ukraine.

NUCLEAR FACE-OFF

recently wrote about the paranoid ravings of celebrity “left-wing” journalist Paul Mason, who now sees the Kremlin’s hand behind any dissension from a full-throttle charge towards a nuclear face-off with Russia.

Behind the scenes, he has been sounding out Western intelligence agencies in a bid to covertly deplatform and demonetize any independent journalists who still dare to wonder whether arming Ukraine to the hilt or recruiting it into NATO – even though it shares a border that Russia views as existentially important – might not be an entirely wise use of taxpayers’ money.

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It is not hard to imagine that Mason is representative of the wider thinking of establishment journalists, even those who claim to be on the left.

But I want to take on here a more serious proponent of this kind of ideology than the increasingly preposterous Mason. Because swelling kneejerk support for U.S. imperial wars – as long, of course, as Washington’s role is thinly disguised – is becoming ever more common among leftwing academics too.

The latest cheerleader for the military-industrial complex is Slavoj Zizek, the famed Slovenian philosopher and public intellectual whose work has gained him international prominence. His latest piece – published where else but The Guardian – is a morass of sloppy thinking, moral evasion and double speak. Which is why I think it is worth deconstructing. It encapsulates all the worst geostrategic misconceptions of Western intellectuals at the moment.

Zizek, who is supposedly an expert on ideology and propaganda, and has even written and starred in a couple of documentaries on the subject, seems now to be utterly blind to his own susceptibility to propaganda.

COD PSYCHOLOGY

He starts, naturally enough, with a straw man: that those opposed to the West’s focus on arming Ukraine rather than using its considerable muscle to force Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table are in the wrong. Opposition to dragging out the war for as long as possible, however many Ukrainians and Russians die, with the aim of “weakening Russia”, as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wants; and opposition to leaving millions of people in poorer parts of the world to be plunged deeper into poverty or to starve is equated by Zizek to “pacifism.”

“Those who cling to pacifism in the face of the Russian attack on Ukraine remain caught in their own version of [John Lennon’s song] ‘Imagine’,” writes Zizek. But the only one dwelling in the world of the imaginary is Zizek and those who think like him.

The left’s mantra of “Stop the war!” can’t be reduced to kneejerk pacifism. It derives from a political and moral worldview. It opposes the militarism of competitive, resource-hungry nation-states. It opposes the war industries that not only destroy whole countries but risk global nuclear annihilation in advancing their interests. It opposes the profit motive for a war that has incentivised a global elite to continue investing in planet-wide rape and pillage rather than addressing a looming ecological catastrophe. All of that context is ignored in Zizek’s lengthy essay.

Instead, he prefers to take a detour into cod psychology, telling us that Russian president Vladimir Putin sees himself as Peter the Great. Putin will not be satisfied simply with regaining the parts of Ukraine that historically belonged to Russia and have always provided its navy with its only access to the Black Sea. No, the Russian president is hell-bent on global conquest. And Europe is next – or so Zizek argues.

Even if we naively take the rhetoric of embattled leaders at face value (remember those weapons of mass destruction Iraq’s Saddam Hussein supposedly had?), it is still a major stretch for Zizek to cite one speech by Putin as proof that the Russian leader wants his own version of the Third Reich.

Not least, we must address the glaring cognitive dissonance at the heart of the Western, NATO-inspired discourse on Ukraine, something Zizek refuses to do. How can Russia be so weak it has managed only to subdue small parts of Ukraine at great military cost, while it is at the same time a military superpower poised to take over the whole of Europe?

Zizek is horrified by Putin’s conceptual division of the world into those states that are sovereign and those that are colonized. Or as he quotes Putin observing: “Any country, any people, any ethnic group should ensure their sovereignty. Because there is no in-between, no intermediate state: either a country is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the colonies are called.”

SOVEREIGN OR COLONIZED?

The famed philosopher reads this as proof that Russia wants as its colonies: “Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Finland, the Baltic states … and ultimately Europe itself”. But if he weren’t so blinded by NATO ideology, he might read Putin’s words in a quite different way. Isn’t Putin simply restating Washington realpolitik? The U.S., through NATO, is the real sovereign in Europe and is pushing its sovereignty ever closer to Russia’s borders.

Putin’s concern about Ukraine being colonized by the U.S. military-industrial complex is essentially the same as U.S. concerns in the 1960s about the Soviet Union filling Cuba with its nuclear missiles. Washington’s concern justified a confrontation that moved the world possibly the closest it has ever come to nuclear annihilation.

Both Russia and the U.S. are wedded to the idea of their own “spheres of influence”. It is just that the U.S. sphere now encircles the globe through many hundreds of overseas military bases. By contrast, the West cries to the heavens when Russia secures a single military base in Crimea.

We may not like the sentiments Putin is espousing, but they are not especially his. They are the reality of the framework of modern military power the West was intimately involved in creating. It was our centuries of colonialism – our greed and theft – that divided the world into the sovereign and the colonized. Putin is simply stating that Russia needs to act in ways that ensure it remains sovereign, rather than joining the colonized.

We may disagree with Putin’s perception of the threat posed by NATO, and the need to annex eastern Ukraine, but to pretend his speech means that he aims for world domination is nothing more than the regurgitation of a CIA talking point.

Zizek, of course, intersperses this silliness with more valid observations, like this one: “To insist on full sovereignty in the face of global warming is sheer madness since our very survival hinges on tight global cooperation.” Of course, it is madness. But why is this relevant to Putin and his supposed “imperial ambition”? Is there any major state on the planet – those in Europe, the United States, China, Brazil, Australia – that has avoided this madness, that is seeking genuine “tight global cooperation” to end the threat of climate breakdown.

No, our world is in the grip of terminal delusion, propelled ever closer to the precipice by capitalism’s requirement of endless economic growth on a finite planet. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing great ecological damage, but so are lots of other things – including NATO’s rationalization of ever-expanding military budgets.


UKRAINIAN HEROISM

But Zizek has the bit between his teeth. He now singles out Russia because it is maneuvering to exploit the consequences of global warming, such as new trade routes opened up by a thawing Arctic.

“Russia’s strategic plan is to profit from global warming: control the world’s main transport route, plus develop Siberia and control Ukraine,” he writes. “In this way, Russia will dominate so much food production that it will be able to blackmail the whole world.”

But what does he imagine? As we transform the world’s climate and its trade routes, as new parts of the world turn into deserts, as whole populations are forced to make migrations to different regions, does he think only Putin and Russia are jostling to avoid sinking below the rising sea waters. Does he presume the policy hawks in Washington, or their satraps in Europe, have missed all this and are simply putting their feet up? In reality, maneuvering on the international stage – what I have called elsewhere a brutal nation-state version of the children’s party game musical chairs – has been going on for decades.

Ukraine is the latest front in a long-running war for resource control on a dying planet. It is another battleground in the renewed great power game that the U.S. revived by expanding NATO across Eastern Europe in one pincer movement and then bolstered it with its wars and proxy wars across the Middle East. Where was the urge for “tight global cooperation” then? To perceive Ukraine as simply the victim of Putin’s “imperialism” requires turning a blind eye to everything that has occurred since the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

Zizek gets to the heart of what should matter in his next, throw-away line:

Those who advocate less support for Ukraine and more pressure on it to negotiate, inclusive of accepting painful territorial renunciations, like to repeat that Ukraine simply cannot win the war against Russia. True, but I see exactly in this the greatness of Ukrainian resistance.”

Zizek briefly recognises the reality of Ukraine’s situation – that it cannot win, that Russia has a bigger, better-equipped army – but then deflects to the “greatness” of Ukraine’s defiance. Yes, it is glorious that Ukrainians are ready to die to defend their country’s sovereignty. But that is not the issue we in the West need to consider when Kyiv demands we arm its resistance.

The question of whether Ukrainians can win, or whether they will be slaughtered, is highly pertinent to deciding whether we in the West should help drag out the war, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder, to no purpose other than our being able to marvel as spectators at their heroism. Whether Ukrainians can win is also pertinent to the matter of how urgent it is to draw the war to a close so that millions don’t starve in Africa because of the loss of crops, the fall in exports and rocketing fuel prices. And arming a futile, if valiant, Ukrainian struggle against Russia to weaken Moscow must be judged in the context that we risk backing Russia into a geostrategic corner – as we have been doing for more than two decades – from which, we may surmise, Moscow could ultimately decide to extricate itself by resorting to nuclear weapons.

INTELLECTUAL CUL DE SAC

Having propelled himself into an intellectual cul de sac, Zizek switches tack. He suddenly changes the terms of the debate entirely. Having completely ignored the U.S. role in bringing us to this point, he now observes:

Not just Ukraine, Europe itself is becoming the place of the proxy war between [the] U.S. and Russia, which may well end up by a compromise between the two at Europe’s expense. There are only two ways for Europe to step out of this place: to play the game of neutrality – a short-cut to catastrophe – or to become an autonomous agent.”

So, we are in a U.S. proxy war – one played out under the bogus auspices of NATO and its “defensive” expansion – but the solution to this problem for Europe is to gain its “autonomy” by …

Well, from everything Zizek has previously asserted in the piece, it seems such autonomy must be expressed by silently agreeing to the U.S. pumping Ukraine full of weapons to fight Russia in a proxy war that is really about weakening Russia rather than saving Ukraine. Only a world-renowned philosopher could bring us to such an intellectually and morally barren place.

The biggest problem for Zizek, it seems, isn’t the U.S. proxy war or Russian “imperialism”, it is the left’s disillusionment with the military industrial complex: “Their true message to Ukraine is: OK, you are victims of a brutal aggression, but do not rely on our arms because in this way you play into the hands of the industrial-military complex,” he writes.

But the concern here is not that Ukraine is playing into the arms of the war industries. It is that Western populations are being played by their leaders – and intellectuals like Zizek – so that they can be delivered, once again, into the arms of the military-industrial complex. The West’s war industries have precisely no interest in negotiations, which is why they are not taking place. It is also the reason why events over three decades have led us to a Russian invasion of Ukraine that most of Washington’s policy makers warned would happen if the U.S. continued to encroach on Russia’s “sphere of influence”.

The left’s message is that we are being conned yet again and that it is long past the time to start a debate. Those debates should have taken place when the U.S. broke its promise not to expand “one inch” beyond Germany. Or when NATO flirted with offering Ukraine membership 14 years ago. Or when the U.S. meddled in the ousting of the elected government of Ukraine in 2014. Or when Kyiv integrated neo-Nazi groups into the Ukrainian army and engaged in a civil war against the Russian parts of its own populace. Or when the U.S. and NATO allowed Kyiv – on the best interpretation – to ignore its obligations under the Minsk agreements with Russia.

None of those debates happened. Which is why a debate in the West is still needed now, at this terribly late stage. Only then might there be a hope that genuine negotiations can take place – before Ukraine is obliterated.

CANNON FODDER

Having exhausted all his hollow preliminary arguments, we get to Zizek’s main beef. With the world polarizing around a sole military superpower, the U.S., and a sole economic superpower, China, Europe and Russia may be forced into each other’s arms in a “Eurasian” block that would swamp European values. For Zizek, that would lead to “fascism”. He writes: “At that point, the European legacy will be lost, and Europe will be de facto divided between an American and a Russian sphere of influence. In short, Europe itself will become the place of a war that seems to have no end.”

Let us set aside whether Europe – all of it, parts of it? – is really a bulwark against fascism, as Zizek assumes. How exactly is Europe to find its power, its sovereignty, in this battle between superpowers? What vehicle is Zizek proposing to guarantee Europe’s autonomy, and how does it differ from the NATO one that is – even Zizek now seems to be conceding – actually just a vassal of the U.S., there to enforce Washington’s global-spanning “sphere of influence” against Russia and China.

Faced with this problem, Zizek quickly retreats into mindless sloganeering: “One cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine.” This Bushism – “You are either with us or with the terrorists” – really is as foolish as it sounds.

What does “unequivocal” mean here? Must we “unequivocally stand behind” all of Ukraine’s actions – even should, say, neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian military like the Azov Brigade carry out pogroms against the ethnic Russian communities living in Ukraine?

But even more seriously, what does it mean for Europeans to stand “unequivocally” behind Ukraine? Must we approve the supply of U.S. weapons, even though, as Zizek also concedes, Ukraine cannot win the war and is serving primarily as a proxy battleground?

Would “unequivocal support” not require us to pretend that Europe, rather than the U.S., is in charge of NATO policy? Would it not require too that we pretend NATO’s actions are defensive rather intimately tied to advancing the U.S. “sphere of influence” designed to weaken Russia?

And how can our participation in the U.S. ambition to weaken Russia not provoke greater fear in Russia for its future, greater militarism in Moscow, and ensure Europe becomes more of a battleground rather than less of one?

What does “unequivocal” support for Ukraine mean given that Zizek has agreed that the U.S. and Russia are fighting a proxy war, and that Europe is caught in the middle of it? Zizek’s answer is no answer at all. It is nothing more than evasion. It is the rationalization of unprincipled European inaction, of acting as a spectator while the U.S. continues to use Ukrainians as cannon fodder.

MUDDYING THE WATERS

After thoroughly muddying the waters on Ukraine, Zizek briefly seeks safer territory as he winds down his argument. He points out, two decades on, that George W. Bush was similarly a war criminal in invading Iraq, and notes the irony that Julian Assange is being extradited to the U.S. because Wikileaks helped expose those war crimes. To even things up, he makes a counter-demand on “those who oppose Russian invasion” that they fight for Assange’s release – and in doing so implicitly accuses the anti-war movement of supporting Russia’s invasion.

He then plunges straight back into sloganeering in his concluding paragraph: “Ukraine fights for global freedom, inclusive of the freedom of Russians themselves. That’s why the heart of every true Russian patriot beats for Ukraine.” Maybe he should try telling that to the thousands of ethnic Russian families mourning their loved ones killed by the civil war that began raging in eastern Ukraine long before Putin launched his invasion and supposedly initiated his campaign for world domination. Those kinds of Ukrainians may beg to differ, as may Russians worried about the safety and future of their ethnic kin in Ukraine.

As with most things in life, there are no easy answers for Ukraine. But Zizek’s warmongering dressed up as European enlightenment and humanitarianism is a particularly wretched example of the current climate of intellectual and moral vacuity. What we need from public thinkers like Zizek is a clear-sighted roadmap for how we move back from the precipice we are rushing, lemming-like, towards. Instead he is urging us on. A lemming leading the lemmings.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Jonathan Cook is a MintPress contributor. Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.

If the media can probe Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, why not the murder of other Palestinians?

23 June 2022

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning independent journalist and author [ MORE ]

An Israeli sniper shot the Al-Jazeera journalist, according to four US news organisations. But the only investigation the Biden administration will heed is an Israeli one

Middle East Eye – 22 Jun 2022

The New York Times published this week the conclusion of its investigation into the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

It was the fourth major US news organisation to look in detail at what happened to Abu Akleh during an Israeli army raid into the Palestinian city of Jenin last month. 

The New York Times found a high probability she had been killed by an Israeli sniper, confirming the findings of earlier investigations by the Associated Press, CNN and the Washington Post. Like the other publications, the Times based its findings on video footage, witness testimonies and acoustic analysis. 

“The bullet that killed Ms Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy [in Jenin], most likely by a soldier from an elite unit,” the Times concluded. A total of 16 shots were fired at the group of journalists that included Abu Akleh.

Last month, CNN said the evidence it unearthed suggested the veteran Al Jazeera journalist had been killed in a “targeted attack by Israeli forces”. Similar conclusions have been reached by human rights groups that have studied the evidence, including Israel’s respected occupation watchdog, B’Tselem. 

A major blow

These probes are a major blow to Israel, coming from reputed media organisations that are usually seen as highly sympathetic to Israel rather than the Palestinians. 

They have kept the killing of the journalist in the headlines when Israel had hoped interest would quickly wane – as is the case with the overwhelming majority of Palestinian deaths.

The investigations have made it much harder for Israel to obscure both its responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing and the intention behind it. The bullet that killed her was fired with the apparent goal of executing her, hitting a narrow, exposed area of flesh between her helmet and a flak jacket marked “Press”. 

And the various probes have highlighted once again how unwilling Israel is to hold its soldiers to account for committing crimes if the victim is Palestinian. 

Instead, Israel has had to twist and turn in defending its failure to identify the culprit. It initially refused to investigate, claiming a Palestinian gunman, not one of its soldiers, shot Abu Akleh during the military raid.  

All the media investigations show that to be untrue. 

Then Israel suggested that she might have been hit by the crossfire from an Israeli soldier being fired on by Palestinian gunmen. But all the investigations have shown that Palestinian fighters were nowhere near Abu Akleh when she was shot. She was, however, clearly visible to a unit of Israeli soldiers. 

More recently, Israel has tried to shift the blame onto the Palestinian Authority, saying it has not cooperated by handing over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh or by agreeing to hold a joint investigation. As ever, Israel behaves as if the party accused of the crime should be the one to oversee the investigation.

The Palestinian Authority rightly refuses requests for cooperation, arguing that they are being made in bad faith. Israel would exploit any joint investigation to concoct “a new lie, a new narrative”, the PA observes. 

A meaningful question

In reality, Israel already knows exactly which of its snipers pulled the trigger. The only meaningful question at this stage is, why? Was the shooting committed by a hot-headed soldier, or was it an execution carried out on orders from above? Was the intention to target Abu Akleh specifically, or did it not matter which of the group of journalists she was among was hit? 

Israel, however, isn’t the only party discomfited by the media’s repeated investigations.

They have also served to embarrass Joe Biden’s administration. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has called for an “independent, credible investigation”, while his department has underscored the need for a “thorough and independent investigation”. 

The New York Times and the other major media outlets have all proved that just such an investigation can be carried out. And yet the silence from the US administration at their shared findings is deafening. 

There are two further, possibly less obvious conclusions the rest of us should draw from these efforts to identify who was responsible for killing Abu Akleh. 

The first relates to the exceptional nature of the investigations conducted by the US media. Concern at the killing of a Palestinian is far from the norm. In this case, it appears to have been prompted by an unusual coincidence of facts: that Abu Akleh was a high-profile, internationally respected journalist and that she had US citizenship. 

In other words, she was seen not just as any ordinary Palestinian, or even as a Palestinian journalist, but as one of the western media’s own. 

Total impunity

In murdering Abu Akleh, Israel reminded journalists at the New York Times, AP, CNN and the Washington Post that the lives of their correspondents covering Israel and Palestine are in more danger than they possibly appreciate. In killing her, Israel crossed a red line for the western media – one premised on self-interest and self-preservation. 

There are parallels with the media’s special treatment of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and for similar reasons. Khashoggi, who was working for the Washington Post, was murdered and his body dismembered during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Turkey

As with Israel, Saudi Arabia‘s leadership has an appalling human rights record and is not hesitant to jail and kill its opponents. But Khashoggi’s murder provoked unprecedented outrage from the media – outrage that Saudi Arabia’s many other victims have never warranted.

The fact is the US media could have conducted similar investigations into any number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israeli security services, not just Abu Akleh’s, and they would have reached similar conclusions. But they have consistently avoided doing so.

There is a danger inherent in focusing exclusively on Abu Akleh’s killing, just as there was with focusing exclusively on Khashoggi’s. Each has the effect of making it look as though their deaths are exceptional events requiring exceptional investigation – when they are each an example of a longstanding pattern of regime lawlessness and human rights abuses.

The special focus subtly reinforces too the impression that Palestinian accounts of Israeli abuses, even when the supporting evidence is overwhelming, cannot be trusted. 

The veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has run a weekly column, the Twilight Zone, in the Haaretz newspaper for years in which he investigates the killing or serious wounding of Palestinians – often people whose names have never appeared in the western media. 

Invariably he finds that Israel’s military lies – sometimes flagrantly – about the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed, or it initiates an inconclusive, stone-walling investigation. 

The lies are needed because the truth would show something consistently ugly about Israel’s decades of military occupation: that Israeli soldiers often kill unarmed Palestinians in cold blood; or that they recklessly shoot Palestinian bystanders; or that they execute armed Palestinian fighters when no one’s life is in danger.

The common thread in Levy’s reports is the complete impunity of Israeli soldiers, whatever their actions.

Pilloried in public

But there is a further conclusion to be drawn. Blinken and the Biden administration keep insisting on a thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation, and say it is important to “follow the facts, wherever they lead”.

But who do they expect to carry out such an investigation? 

The White House, of course, reflexively discounts the findings of the Palestinian Authority’s investigation that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers. It acts as if the investigations conducted by these four large media organisations do not qualify. Meanwhile, the administration itself shows precisely zero interest in conducting an investigation, despite pressure from Congress to involve the FBI. 

Would Blinken prefer that the United Nations take on the task? Presumably not, given how the US and Israel responded to the last major independent investigation by the UN, one into Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza at the end of 2008. Israel refused to cooperate. 

Richard Goldstone, a distinguished South African jurist, led a panel of experts who concluded that Israel had committed a series of war crimes during its attack, known as Cast Lead, as had Palestinian militias. 

The UN panel’s report found that Israel had adopted a policy that intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, the vast majority of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Cast Lead. 

Both the US and Israel worked strenuously to bury the report. Goldstone, who is Jewish, found himself publicly shamed and isolated by Jewish communities in the US and South Africa. He was even barred from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Eventually, he appeared to succumb to the pressure campaign, expressing regret over the report. 

No one in Washington came to Goldstone’s defence over the UN’s thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation. Quite the reverse: he was publicly pilloried. The US administration thereby sent a message to other experts that investigating “independently” and “credibly” is certain only to bring ignominy on their heads if it exposes Israel’s war crimes. 

Israel’s hands ‘tied’

Or maybe Blinken would prefer that the International Criminal Court at the Hague investigate. 

And yet the US demonstrated the degree to which it appreciates full, independent, credible and transparent investigations by that body two years ago, when the ICC tried to turn the spotlight on to US war crimes in Afghanistan and Israel’s in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

In response, Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, imposed sanctions on the court, denying staff entry to the US and threatening to seize its assets. The threat extended to anyone offering “material support” to the court – language more normally used in the context of terrorism.  

The reality, as all parties understand, is that only an investigation overseen by Israel could ever count as “thorough, independent, credible and transparent” to the US. 

The subtext is that an investigation cannot hope to reach the bar of “credible, independent and transparent”, as far as Washington is concerned, until the Palestinian Authority agrees to hold a joint inquiry with Israel.

But both Israel and the US know full well that the Palestinian leadership will never agree to such “cooperation” – because Israel’s role would not be to arrive at the truth but to engineer a cover-up. 

The demand for a “credible, independent and transparent” investigation is the US administration’s code for an investigation that will never take place. It is the diplomatic equivalent of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But more importantly, it is the kind of impossible investigation that, conveniently for the US and Israel, they can blame the PA for obstructing. As long as the Palestinians refuse to “cooperate”, Israel’s hands are supposedly tied. 

Abu Akleh’s murder has not just revealed the fact that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians, any Palestinian, with impunity. 

It has revealed too that the Biden administration is not troubled by the killing, or by the impunity of the soldier who executed her. All that bothers the White House is the irritant of having to create the impression it cares about the truth and the impression that Israel is doing its best to investigate. 

Until the matter can be swept aside, it will be a little harder for each to get on with business as usual: for the US to give Israel full-throated financial, diplomatic and military support; and for Israel to continue its incremental, decades-long work of seizing control of the Palestinians’ entire, historic homeland.

But at least for each of them, with Abu Akleh gone, there is one less fearless witness to expose quite how hollow their moral posturing is.

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The Charge of Anti-Semitism versus Israeli Behavior

About me
Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history from West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic research focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He taught courses in Middle East history, the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

March 9, 2021  

Posted by Lawrence DavidsonIsrael

The Charge of Anti-Semitism versus Israeli Behavior

Part I—The Misuse of Anti-Semitism

When it comes to anti-Semitism, the Israelis and their Zionist supporters are so deceitful that they risk the moral degradation of Judaism. How do these two things, deceitfulness and the moral degradation, that is the deterioration of ethical standards, go together in this case?

First, the Zionists are deceitful because they purposely conflate Zionism which is an ethnocentric political ideology adhered to by a subset of Jews, with Judaism, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural religion. Then they insist that Israel’s allies—particularly the United States—adhere to this same propagandistic conflation.

Second, this deliberately instigated error is an attempt to stave off criticism of the Israeli state and its policies toward Palestinians. Those policies are harsh and include segregation, ethnic cleansing and other apartheid-style acts of discrimination. By insisting that (1) the political ideology that promotes and rationalizes this behavior is an expression of religion of Judaism and therefore (2) criticism of these policies is the equivalent of anti-Semitism, the Zionists insist that Israeli state behavior is sanctified by the religion. This is a direct attack on the ethical standards of Judaism, hence the moral degradation. The tactic also undermines the gravity of the charge of anti-Semitism due to chronic misapplication by the Zionists.

Part II—Saturday Night Live Tells a Joke

Let’s take a look at the background of this situation.

First, the sad truth is that Israeli state policies result in racist behavior towards the Palestinians.

The noted journalist Jonathan Cook, who covers Israel and Lebanon as a freelance reporter, has concluded the Palestinians “are viewed as an unwelcome, surplus population that serves as a demographic obstacle to the political realization of a Greater Israel. The severe economic and military pressures Israel imposes on these Palestinians are designed to engineer their incremental displacement, a slow-motion ethnic cleansing.”

This observation has been confirmed by the recent report put out by Israel’s most respected human rights organization, B’Tselem, entitled “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This Is Apartheid.” Among other points, the B’Tselem report demonstrates that “in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group—Jews—over another—Palestinians.”

Second, Israel and the Zionists insist that criticism of Israeli state policies is anti-Semitism.

Here is the most recent, admittedly rather absurd, example of the Zionists’ obsessive misuse of the charge of anti-Semitism—in this case directed toward a joke told on U.S. national television.

On February 24, the satiric comedy show, Saturday Night Live (SNL), joked about the Israeli discriminatory distribution of Covid-19 vaccine. It went as follows: “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population,” said the comedian Michael Che, “and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.” It is not a hilarious sort of joke, but it is attention-getting in a way that draws a smile and an affirmative nod. This is because those in the know, know it is close to the truth, but like the skeleton in the closet, it is not supposed to see the light of day.

The immediate response by American Zionist organizations and spokespeople was, as the saying goes, over the top. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) declared that “Saturday Night Live’s ‘joke’ is dangerous, a modern twist on a classic anti-Semitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of countless Jews throughout the centuries.” This description is such an exaggeration that it smacks of a guilty conscience.

The AJC also said that the assertion that Israel had only vaccinated that half of the population that is Jewish is “untrue.” If you are only counting Israel proper (1948 Israel) the AJC is technically correct. However, if you include the Occupied Territories, which Israel claims to be part of the Jewish state, it is absolutely true that Israel has been holding back on supplying vaccines to the bulk of the Palestinian population—they have transferred only about 5000 doses for a population of almost 5 million and interfered with the Palestinian Authority’s own efforts to import vaccines. So whose “mass murder” are we really talking about?

The AJC complaint was followed up by remarks by the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Gilad Erdan. He said that the SNL joke “isn’t funny. It’s ignorant. It perpetuates anti-Semitism.” Then he told us, “the fact is that the success of our vaccination drive is exactly because every citizen of Israel —Jewish, Muslim, Christian—is entitled to it.” Here he is being purposely misleading. While claiming the OT to be part of Israel, the Israeli government has denied the Palestinians in that territory Israeli citizenship. Nonetheless, Israel has responsibility for Palestinians in the OT under international law. So, the ambassador is hiding his country’s racist vaccine policy, and its violation of international law, by using the term “citizen” in an obfuscating manner.

For the other side of the joke-response story, the reader should see journalist Abby Martin’s YouTube presentation in defense of Saturday Night Live, as well as going to the Israeli progressive website, 972, which reported on the SNL joke under the headline, “SNL Tells the Uncomfortable Truth About Israel.” Their point is that “For over half a century, Israel has lorded over Palestinian society, plundered their land, erased the border of Israel Proper, and settled hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in a territory slated for a Palestinian state. With this one-state reality firmly in place, Israel is now attempting to obfuscate who exactly counts as part of Israel’s ‘population’—and whether they are deserving of the country’s public health service.” When the Israelis are not trying to confuse the issue, they are using access to Covid-19 vaccines as bait in attempts to wring concessions out of the Palestinian Authority or the Hamas government in Gaza.

So there sure is more than a core of truth to the SNL joke. The non-Jewish half of the population is being discriminated against when it comes to health care, as well as all other aspects of state support. Consider the statement by the Israeli minister of health, Yuli Edelstein, who asserted that the “State of Israel had no more obligations to take care of Palestinians, than the Palestinian minister of health has responsibility to take care of dolphins in the Mediterranean.” Of course the Palestinian minister of health is a powerless figure who is not bound, as is his Israeli counterpart, by the Fourth Geneva Convention. And, now consider Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to reward some twenty foreign countries which “have done favors” for Israel with thousands of vials of Covid vaccine, while the Palestinians in the OT get almost nothing. The Israeli government appeared to back away from this policy only after it generated harmful publicity abroad.

Part III—Promoting a Tribal Worldview

Except for some newspaper editorials and the report from 972, most Israeli Jews have been silent. There seems to be a numbness when it comes to the Palestinians that, in this case, makes many Israeli Jews either accepting of the government’s biased approach to the delivery of vaccines, or too uncaring in the face of the pandemic to notice.

Actually, we should not be too surprised at this. Israeli society has been structured to produce a predetermined sort of Jewish citizen—one who, under normal circumstances, rarely comes in contact with Palestinians (again, it is a segregated society) and, if and when they do think of them, sees them as dangerous interlopers on Jewish land.

Consider the context determining this outlook.

—More than most states, Israel is a tribal nation—a tribe with a flag, if you will. This sense of strong ethnocentrism is the product of centuries of anti-Semitism. The core of this outlook lay with the Ashkenazi—the European Jews who suffered the brunt of anti-Semitism, pogroms, and finally the Europe-centered Holocaust. It was their surviving leadership, guided by the ideology of Zionism, who finally realized the founding of Israel.

—Zionism is the political ideology that combines the goals of ethnic survival, statehood and the reshaping of the modern Jew into a citizen dedicated to the defense and future of a Jewish state.

—In other words what Israel does, or equivalently what Zionism does, is to institutionalize a tribal group sensitivity and ongoing sense of grievance. An expression of this sensitivity is the charge of anti-Semitism against anyone who is critical of Israel and its policies.

—How does Israel maintain and hone this sense of grievance as a basis of tribal solidarity? Through the institutions of society, particularly the state’s educational system and military service, which are designed to realize the appropriate Zionist worldview.

—For this it helps to have enemies right now: the whole non-Jewish world in general and the Palestinians in particular.

—Drill this worldview into successive generations and you get a first-class citizenry which sees no problem with discriminating and ultimately cleansing all supposed second-class interlopers. Thus, the miserly and begrudging outlay of Covid-19 vaccines for those “others!”

Part IV—Conclusion

The promotion of such a skewered worldview is not peculiarly Israeli, and certainly is not inherently Jewish. Tribalism was the social unit of all human beings for millennia and really did not start to break down until modern times. This breakdown process is imperfect, and so there are any number of groups resisting the trend toward multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies. They still react, often violently, to immigrants and other strangers in their midst, and stick together based on ethnicity, religion, or other tribal-like identities. Here in the U.S., Donald Trump is the rather nasty leader of such a reaction.

However, as the growth of integrated societies testifies, tribalism isn’t inevitable. Rather, the modern tribal impulse for an ethnocentric state has to be artificially manipulated through incessant propaganda and organized miseducation.
This manipulation is exactly what is happening in Israel. As a result, the Israelis, and more broadly the Zionists, just can’t take a joke—particularly if it shines a light on their racist behavior.

Why Israel is joining the Pentagon’s ‘Arab Nato’ لماذا تنضم “إسرائيل” إلى القيادة المركزية الأميركية

Israel’s inclusion in Centcom will further harm the Palestinian cause, drive a wedge between Arab states and raise the heat on Iran

Flags of the US, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are projected on the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City in celebration of Israeli normalisation deals with the UAE and Bahrain, 15 September 2020 (AFP)
Jonathan CookJonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Jonathan Cook

2 February 2021 12:21 UTC 

With none of the usual fanfare associated with such a momentous decision, the Pentagon announced last month a major reorganisation to bring Israel – for the first time – inside its military command in the Middle East alongside the Arab states.

Until now, Israel has belonged to the US military’s European command, or Eucom, rather than the Middle Eastern one, known as Central Command, or Centcom. The decision effectively jettisoned the traditional wisdom that Israel’s inclusion in Centcom would increase friction between the US and Arab states, and would make the latter more reluctant to share intelligence or cooperate with the Pentagon. 

Those concerns were felt especially keenly when the US had large numbers of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back in 2010, David Petraeus, then Centcom’s commander, expressed fears that the price of too-overt military collusion with Israel could be exacted on US forces stationed in the region. 

But Israel’s long-standing goal has been to force the Pentagon to restructure Centcom, and pressure had mounted from pro-Israel lobby groups in Washington in the final months of the Trump administration. The decision looked very much like a “parting gift” to Israel from President Donald Trump as he stepped down.

Military ‘normalisation’

Israel’s formal transfer to Centcom has not yet taken place, but the move was cemented last week with the first visit to Israel by General Kenneth McKenzie, the current head of Centcom, since Joe Biden entered the White House. Alongside Israel’s military chief of staff, Aviv Kohavi, McKenzie planted a tree – officially to mark the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat but symbolically representing a new era in their strategic partnership. 

The decision to bring Israel inside Centcom is best viewed – from Washington’s perspective – as the culmination of efforts to push the Arab states into public ‘normalisation’ with Israel

On Friday, after a meeting with the US general, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defence minister, issued a statement praising the Pentagon’s reorganisation, saying it would “afford Israel opportunity to deepen cooperation with new regional partners and broaden operative horizons”.

The decision to bring Israel inside the US military command in the Middle East is best viewed – from Washington’s perspective – as the culmination of efforts to push the Arab states into public “normalisation” with Israel. 

Military normalisation can now be added to the political, diplomatic and economic normalisation that formally began last September when two Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, signed the so-called Abraham Accords with Israel. Morocco and Sudan have also announced their own peace deals with Israel, and other Arab states are likely to follow suit once the dust settles with the incoming Biden administration. 

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, the UAE has been forging strong trading ties with Israel and has helped to establish the Abraham Fund, designed to finance the infrastructure of occupation Israel has used to deprive the Palestinians of statehood. When flights to Dubai were launched in November, Israeli tourists poured into the UAE to take advantage of the new friendly relations and escape lockdown restrictions back home. 

In fact, it is widely reported that such visits have become one of the main ways Israel has imported new variants of Covid-19. Last week, Israel effectively closed its borders – except to General McKenzie – to keep the virus in check. 

Growing confidence

On the face of it, Israel’s desire to move into Centcom – a kind of Middle East Nato covering several Arab states with which Israel still has hostile relations – appears counter-intuitive. But, in fact, Israel will make major strategic gains. How Gulf states became business partners in Israel’s occupationRead More »

It will align US security interests in the region even more closely with Israel’s, at the expense of its Arab neighbours. It will aid Israel’s continuing efforts to crush the national ambitions of the Palestinians, with many Arab states’ either explicit or implicit cooperation. It will accentuate political tensions within the bloc of Arab states, further weakening it. And it will help to build pressure on recalcitrant Arab states to join the broader consensus against Israel’s one remaining significant regional foe: Iran.

It is significant that Washington’s long-standing concern about Israel’s presence in Centcom damaging US relations with the Arab states has apparently evaporated. 

Once, the US was careful to distance itself from Israel whenever the Pentagon got deeply mired in the region, whether it was the US Gulf war of 1990 or the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Those calculations no longer seem relevant.

The move demonstrates a growing US confidence that the Arab states – at least those that matter to Washington – are unperturbed about being seen to make a military accommodation with Israel, in addition to political and economic engagement. It underscores the fact that the oil-rich Gulf states, alongside Israel, are now the key drivers of US foreign policy in the region and suggests that the most important, Saudi Arabia, is waiting for the right moment to sign its own accord with Israel. 

Move out of the shadows

Israel, it is expected, will continue to conduct military exercises in Europe with Nato countries, but will soon be able to build similar direct relations with Arab armies, especially those being rapidly expanded and professionalised in the Gulf using its oil wealth. 

US Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (L), Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), shakes hands with Saudi military officers during his visit to a military base in al-Kharj in central Saudi Arabia on July 18, 2019.
US General Kenneth McKenzie (L), commander of US Central Command (Centcom), shakes hands with Saudi military officers on 18 July 2019 (AFP)

As the Israeli scholar Jeff Halper has noted, Israel has shown how effective it is at translating its military and security ties with armies and police forces around the world into diplomatic support in international bodies. 

The Middle East is not likely to be different. Once Israel has become the linchpin of more professionalised armies in the region, those states dependent on its help can be expected to further abandon the Palestinian cause.

Regional divide-and-rule

Another dividend for Israel will be complicating Washington’s relations with the Arab region. 

Not only does Centcom operate major bases in the Gulf, especially in Bahrain and Qatar, but it leads the proclaimed “war on terror”, with overt or covert operations in several Arab states, including Iraq and Syria. 

With Israel inside Centcom, the US and its most favoured Arab states are also likely to be more directly implicated in Israel’s major military operations against the Palestinians, such as the repeated ‘wars’ on Gaza

It will be harder for the US to disentangle itself from Israel’s own openly belligerent operations, including air strikes, in both countries, that are conducted in flagrant violation of international law. Tensions between the US and Baghdad have in the past escalated over Israeli air strikes in Iraq, with threats to limit US access to Iraqi airspace.  

With Israel inside Centcom, the US and its most favoured Arab states are also likely to be more directly implicated in Israel’s major military operations against the Palestinians, such as the repeated “wars” on Gaza. 

This will pose a significant challenge to the region’s cooperative institutions such as the Arab League. It is almost certain to drive an even deeper wedge between pro-Washington Arab states and those accused of being on the wrong side of the “war on terror”.

The result could be a regional divide-and-rule policy cultivated by Israel that mirrors the decades-long, disabling divisions Israel has generated in the Palestinian leadership, most pronounced in the split between Fatah and Hamas.

Anti-Iran front

The biggest bonus for Israel will be a more formal alliance with Arab states against Iran and shepherding more ambivalent states into Israel’s orbit. 

That appears to have been the purpose of the recently well-publicised reconciliation between the UAE and Saudis on one side and Qatar on the other, achieved in the dying days of the Trump administration. One of the chief causes of the lengthy blockade of Qatar related to its insistence on maintaining political and economic ties with Tehran.

the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Hossein Salami (R) watching a launch of missiles during a military drill in an unknown location in central Iran
Head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami (R), watches missiles being launched during a military drill in central Iran on 15 January 2021 (AFP)

Israel’s aim is to force the Biden administration’s hand in continuing Trump’s belligerent anti-Iran policy, which included aggressive sanctions, assassinations and tearing up the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran signed by Barack Obama. That deal had given inspectors access to Iran to ensure it did not develop a nuclear bomb that might neutralise the strategic clout Israel gains from its nuclear arsenal.

Once Israel has become the linchpin of more professionalised armies in the region, those states dependent on its help can be expected to further abandon the Palestinian cause

Inside Centcom, Israel will be able to work more closely with Gulf allies to sabotage any efforts inside Washington to revive the nuclear accord with Tehran. That point was underscored last week when an online security conference, hosted by Tel Aviv University, was attended by two Gulf ministers.

At the conference, Kochavi, Israel’s military chief of staff, issued an unprecedented public rebuke to Biden over recent statements that he wished to revive the nuclear deal. Kochavi called the agreement “bad and wrong strategically and operatively”, claimed that Iran would launch nuclear missiles at Israel once it had them, and declared that a go-it-alone attack by Israel “must be on the table”. 

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, observed that Israel and the Gulf states would have a better chance of preventing any US conciliation towards Iran if they spoke in a “unified voice”. He added: “A joint regional position on these issues will exert greater influence on the United States.” 

That view was echoed by Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s foreign affairs minister.

Middle East bogeyman

In a sign of how the Biden administration is already fearful of taking on a broad Middle Eastern alliance against Iran, the new president’s pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said last month it was “vitally important” to consult with Israel and the Gulf states before re-entering the deal.Is the UAE plotting with Israel against Palestinian refugees?Read More »

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, desperate to bolster his electoral fortunes and deflect attention from his looming corruption trial, has every incentive to prise open that chink. 

Ensuring Iran remains the Middle East’s number one bogeyman – the focus of western hostility – is in the joint interests of an Israel that has no intention of ending its decades-old obstruction of Palestinian statehood and of Gulf states that have no intention of ending their own human rights abuses and promotion of Islamic discord.

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s departing secretary of state, planted a landmine last month designed to serve Israeli and Saudi interests by highlighting the fact that a number of al-Qaeda leaders have found shelter in Iran. That echoed the Bush administration’s – in this case, entirely fanciful – claim of ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein as a pretext, along with non-existent WMD, for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

With Israel’s arrival in Centcom, the lobbying for a repeat of that catastrophic blunder can only grow – and with it, the prospects for renewed conflagration in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition

“ميدل إيست آي”: لماذا تنضم “إسرائيل” إلى القيادة المركزية الأميركية

المصدر: ميدل إيست آي
11 شباط 12:24

إن انضمام “إسرائيل” إلى القيادة المركزية الأميركية سيزيد من إلحاق الضرر بالقضية الفلسطينية وسيدق إسفيناً بين الدول العربية ويزيد من حدة التوتر مع إيران.

صورة تجمع ماكينزي بغانتس وكوخافي خلال زيارته

كتب جوناثان كوك مقالة في موقع  “ميدل إيست آي” البريطاني قال فيه إن البنتاغون أعلن الشهر الماضي عن إعادة تنظيم كبيرة لإدخال “إسرائيل” – لأول مرة – داخل قيادتها العسكرية في الشرق الأوسط، القيادة المركزية الأميركية ، إلى جانب الدول العربية، وهذا القرار الخطير لم يحدث أي من الضجة المعتادة.

وأضاف: حتى الآن، تنتمي “إسرائيل” إلى القيادة الأوروبية للجيش الأميركي، أو ، بدلاً من القيادة في الشرق الأوسط، المعروفة باسم القيادة المركزية . لقد تخلص القرار بشكل فعال من الحكمة التقليدية القائلة بأن إدراج “إسرائيل” في القيادة المركزية الأميركية من شأنه أن يزيد الاحتكاك بين الولايات المتحدة والدول العربية، وسيجعل الأخيرة أكثر إحجاماً عن مشاركة المعلومات الاستخباراتية أو التعاون مع البنتاغون. فقد تم الشعور بهذه المخاوف بشكل خاص عندما كان للولايات المتحدة أعداد كبيرة من القوات في العراق وأفغانستان. في عام 2010، أعرب الجنرال ديفيد بتريوس، قائد القيادة المركزية الأميركية آنذاك، عن مخاوفه من احتمال دفع ثمن التواطؤ العسكري الصريح مع “إسرائيل” على القوات الأميركية المتمركزة في المنطقة.

لكن هدف “إسرائيل” الطويل الأمد كان إجبار البنتاغون على إعادة هيكلة القيادة المركزية، وقد تصاعد الضغط من جماعات الضغط المؤيدة لـ”إسرائيل” في واشنطن في الأشهر الأخيرة من إدارة الرئيس دونالد ترامب. وكان القرار يشبه إلى حد كبير “هدية وداع” لـ”إسرائيل” من ترامب أثناء تنحيه.

تطبيع عسكري

وأوضح الكاتب أنه لم يتم الانتقال الرسمي لـ”إسرائيل” إلى “سنتكوم” بعد، ولكن تم تعزيز هذه الخطوة مع أول زيارة الشهر الماضي إلى “إسرائيل” من قبل الجنرال كينيث ماكنزي، الرئيس الحالي للقيادة المركزية، منذ دخول الرئيس جو بايدن البيت الأبيض. إلى جانب رئيس أركان الجيش الإسرائيلي، أفيف كوخافي، زرع ماكنزي شجرة، رسمياً بمناسبة العيد اليهودي لتو بيشفات، لكنها تمثل رمزياً حقبة جديدة في شراكتهما الاستراتيجية.

وبعد اجتماع مع الجنرال الأميركي، أصدر بيني غانتس، وزير الأمن الإسرائيلي، بياناً أشاد فيه بإعادة تنظيم البنتاغون، قائلاً إنه “سيوفر لإسرائيل فرصة لتعميق التعاون مع شركاء إقليميين جدد وتوسيع آفاق العمل”.

وقال الكاتب إن قرار إدخال “إسرائيل” داخل القيادة العسكرية الأميركية في الشرق الأوسط – من وجهة نظر واشنطن – يعتبر تتويجاً لجهود دفع الدول العربية إلى “التطبيع” العلني مع “إسرائيل”. وأضاف: يمكن الآن إضافة التطبيع العسكري إلى التطبيع السياسي والدبلوماسي والاقتصادي الذي بدأ رسمياً في أيلول / سبتمبر الماضي عندما وقعت دولتان خليجيتان، الإمارات العربية المتحدة والبحرين، ما يسمى بـ”اتفاقات إبراهيم” مع “إسرائيل”. كما أعلن المغرب والسودان عن اتفاقيات السلام الخاصة بهما مع “إسرائيل”، ومن المرجح أن تحذو دول عربية أخرى حذوها بمجرد انتهاء الغبار مع إدارة بايدن.

وتابع كوك: منذ توقيع اتفاقات إبراهيم، أقامت الإمارات علاقات تجارية قوية مع “إسرائيل” وساعدت في إنشاء صندوق إبراهيم، المصمم لتمويل البنية التحتية للاحتلال الذي استخدمته “إسرائيل” لحرمان الفلسطينيين من إقامة دولة. وعندما تم إطلاق الرحلات إلى دبي في تشرين الثاني / نوفمبر، تدفق السياح الإسرائيليون على الإمارات للاستفادة من العلاقات الودية الجديدة والهروب من قيود الإغلاق في الوطن. ويُقال على نطاق واسع إن مثل هذه الزيارات أصبحت إحدى الطرق الرئيسية التي استوردت بها “إسرائيل” أنواعًا جديدة من  فيروس كوفيد -19 الشهر الماضي، إذ أغلقت “إسرائيل” حدودها فعلياً – باستثناء استقبال الجنرال ماكنزي – لإبقاء الفيروس تحت السيطرة.

ورأى الكاتب أنه في ظاهر الأمر، فإن رغبة “إسرائيل” في الانتقال إلى “سنتكوم ، وهو نوع من حلف شمال الأطلسي في الشرق الأوسط يغطي العديد من الدول العربية التي لا تزال “إسرائيل” لديها علاقات عدائية معها، تبدو غير بديهية. لكن في الواقع، ستحقق “إسرائيل” مكاسب إستراتيجية كبيرة. وستعمل على مواءمة المصالح الأمنية الأميركية في المنطقة بشكل أوثق مع مصالح “إسرائيل”، على حساب جيرانها العرب. وسوف تساعد جهود “إسرائيل” المستمرة لسحق الطموحات الوطنية للفلسطينيين، مع تعاون العديد من الدول العربية سواء بشكل واضح أو ضمني. وسيزيد من حدة التوترات السياسية داخل كتلة الدول العربية، ويزيد من إضعافها. وسيساعد على زيادة الضغط على الدول العربية المتمردة للانضمام إلى إجماع أوسع ضد العدو الإقليمي الوحيد المتبقي لـ”إسرائيل”: إيران.

وقال الكاتب “إن من الأهمية بمكان أن قلق واشنطن الطويل الأمد بشأن الوجود الإسرائيلي في القيادة المركزية الأميركية الذي يضر بعلاقات الولايات المتحدة مع الدول العربية قد تبخر على ما يبدو. فذات مرة، كانت الولايات المتحدة حريصة على إبعاد نفسها عن “إسرائيل” كلما غرق البنتاغون بعمق في المنطقة، سواء كانت حرب الخليج الأميركية عام 1990 أو غزو العراق واحتلاله عام 2003. هذه الحسابات لم تعد موجودة. فقد أظهرت هذه الخطوة ثقة الولايات المتحدة المتزايدة في أن الدول العربية – على الأقل تلك التي تهم واشنطن – غير منزعجة من أن يُنظر إليها على أنها تقدم تسوية عسكرية مع “إسرائيل”، بالإضافة إلى المشاركة السياسية والاقتصادية. إنه يؤكد حقيقة أن دول الخليج الغنية بالنفط، إلى جانب “إسرائيل”، أصبحت الآن المحركين الرئيسيين للسياسة الخارجية الأميركية في المنطقة، وتشير إلى أن أهمها، المملكة العربية السعودية، تنتظر اللحظة المناسبة لتوقيع اتفاقها الخاص مع إسرائيل”.

وأضاف: من المتوقع أن تستمر “إسرائيل” في إجراء التدريبات العسكرية في أوروبا مع دول حلف الأطلسي (الناتو)، لكنها ستتمكن قريباً من بناء علاقات مباشرة مماثلة مع الجيوش العربية، وخاصة تلك التي يتم توسيعها بسرعة واحترافها في الخليج باستخدام ثروتها النفطية. ومن المحتمل أن يخرج الضباط الإسرائيليون قريباً من الظل ويقومون بتدريب الجيوش الإماراتية والسعودية وتقديم المشورة لهم كجزء من أدوارهم المشتركة في القيادة المركزية. إن خبرة “إسرائيل” الخاصة، التي تعتمد على عقود من المراقبة والسيطرة والقمع للفلسطينيين، ستكون مطلوبة بشدة في دول الخليج التي تخشى المعارضة الداخلية أو الانتفاضات.

وكما أشار الباحث الإسرائيلي جيف هالبر، أظهرت “إسرائيل” مدى فعاليتها في ترجمة علاقاتها العسكرية والأمنية مع الجيوش وقوات الشرطة في جميع أنحاء العالم إلى دعم دبلوماسي في الهيئات الدولية. ومن غير المحتمل أن يكون الشرق الأوسط مختلفاً. فبمجرد أن تصبح “إسرائيل” العمود الفقري للجيوش الأكثر احترافاً في المنطقة، يمكن توقع أن تتخلى تلك الدول التي تعتمد على مساعدتها عن القضية الفلسطينية.

فرّق تسد 

ورأى الكاتب أن المكاسب الأخرى لـ”إسرائيل” ستكون تعقيد علاقات واشنطن مع المنطقة العربية. إذ لا تقوم القيادة المركزية الأميركية بتشغيل قواعد رئيسية في الخليج فقط، وخاصة في البحرين وقطر، ولكنها تقود “الحرب على الإرهاب” المعلنة، مع عمليات علنية أو سرية في العديد من الدول العربية، بما في ذلك العراق وسوريا. وسيكون من الصعب على الولايات المتحدة أن تنأى بنفسها عن عمليات “إسرائيل” العدائية العلنية، بما في ذلك الضربات الجوية، في كلا البلدين (سوريا والعراق)، والتي تتم في انتهاك صارخ للقانون الدولي. 

وأضاف: تصاعدت التوترات بين الولايات المتحدة وبغداد في الماضي بسبب الضربات الجوية الإسرائيلية في العراق، مع تهديدات بتقييد وصول الولايات المتحدة إلى المجال الجوي العراقي. لكن بوجود “إسرائيل” داخل القيادة المركزية الأميركية، فمن المرجح أيضاً أن تكون الولايات المتحدة والدول العربية المفضلة لديها أكثر تورطًا بشكل مباشر في العمليات العسكرية الإسرائيلية الكبرى ضد الفلسطينيين، مثل “الحروب” المتكررة على غزة. سيشكل هذا تحدياً كبيراً للمؤسسات التعاونية في المنطقة مثل جامعة الدول العربية. ويكاد يكون من المؤكد دق إسفين أعمق بين الدول العربية الموالية لواشنطن وتلك المتهمة بالوقوف في الجانب الخطأ من “الحرب على الإرهاب”.

وخلص الكاتب إلى أنه يمكن أن تكون النتيجة سياسة “فرق تسد” الإقليمية التي ترعاها “إسرائيل” والتي تعكس الانقسامات التي دامت عقوداً، والتي عطلتها “إسرائيل” في القيادة الفلسطينية، والتي تجلّت أكثر في الانقسام بين حركتي فتح وحماس.

الجبهة المناهضة لإيران

وأوضح الكاتب أن المكافأة الأكبر لـ”إسرائيل” ستكون تحالفاً أكثر رسمية مع الدول العربية ضد إيران ورعاية دول أكثر تردداً في فلك “إسرائيل”. ويبدو أن هذا الأمر كان الغرض من المصالحة التي تم الإعلان عنها أخيراً بين الإمارات والسعوديين من جهة وقطر من جهة أخرى، والتي تحققت في الأيام الأخيرة لإدارة ترامب. فمن الأسباب الرئيسية للحصار المطول على قطر إصرارها على الحفاظ على العلاقات السياسية والاقتصادية مع طهران. وتهدف “إسرائيل” إلى إجبار إدارة بايدن على مواصلة سياسة ترامب العدائية المناهضة لإيران، والتي تضمنت عقوبات صارمة واغتيالات وتمزيق الاتفاق النووي لعام 2015 مع طهران الذي وقعه الرئيس باراك أوباما. وقد سمح هذا الاتفاق للمفتشين بالدخول إلى إيران للتأكد من أنها لم تطور قنبلة نووية قد تكسر النفوذ الاستراتيجي الذي تكسبه “إسرائيل” من ترسانتها النووية. 

وتابع الكاتب: داخل القيادة المركزية -سنتكوم، ستكون “إسرائيل” قادرة على العمل بشكل أوثق مع حلفاء الخليج لتخريب أي جهود داخل واشنطن لإحياء الاتفاق النووي مع طهران. فقد أصدر كوخافي، رئيس أركان الجيش الإسرائيلي، توبيخاً علنياً غير مسبوق لبايدن بشأن التصريحات الأخيرة التي قال فيها إنه يرغب في إحياء الاتفاق النووي. ووصف كوخافي الاتفاق بأنه “سيء وخاطئ استراتيجياً وعملياً”، وادعى أن إيران ستطلق صواريخ نووية على “إسرائيل” بمجرد امتلاكها، وأعلن أن هجوم “إسرائيل” بمفردها “يجب أن يكون على الطاولة”.

وأشار وزير خارجية البحرين، عبد اللطيف الزياني، إلى أن “إسرائيل” ودول الخليج ستكون لها فرصة أفضل لمنع أي تسوية أميركية تجاه إيران إذا تحدثت “بصوت موحد”. وأضاف: “الموقف الإقليمي المشترك بشأن هذه القضايا سيكون له تأثير أكبر على الولايات المتحدة”. وكرر هذا الرأي أنور قرقاش وزير الخارجية الإماراتي.

وفي إشارة إلى كيف تخشى إدارة بايدن بالفعل الدخول في تحالف شرق أوسطي واسع ضد إيران، قال انتوني بلينكين، وزيرة الخارجية الأميركي، الشهر الماضي إنه من “المهم للغاية” التشاور مع “إسرائيل” والخليج قبل العودة إلى الاتفاق النووي.

رئيس الوزراء الإسرائيلي بنيامين نتنياهو، اليائس لتعزيز ثرواته الانتخابية وصرف الانتباه عن محاكمته التي تلوح في الأفق بالفساد، لديه كل الحافز لفتح هذه الفجوة، وذلك لضمان أن تظل إيران البعبع الأول في الشرق الأوسط – محور العداء الغربي – في المصالح المشتركة لـ”إسرائيل”، التي لا تنوي إنهاء عوائقها المستمرة منذ عقود للدولة الفلسطينية، ودول الخليج التي لا تنوي إنهاء انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان وتعزيز الانقسام الإسلامي.

مايك بومبيو، وزير خارجية ترامب، زرع لغماً أرضياً الشهر الماضي مصمماً لخدمة المصالح الإسرائيلية والسعودية من خلال تسليط الضوء على حقيقة أن عدداً من قادة تنظيم القاعدة وجدوا ملاذاً في إيران. وردد ذلك صدى ادعاء إدارة الرئيس جورج بوش الإبن – الوهمي تماماً – بوجود روابط بين “القاعدة” وصدام حسين كذريعة، إلى جانب أسلحة دمار شامل التي لم تكن موجودة، لغزو العراق واحتلاله عام 2003.

وختم كوك تحليله بالقول إنه “مع وصول إسرائيل إلى القيادة المركزية، فإن الضغط لتكرار هذا الخطأ الكارثي يمكن أن ينمو فقط، وتنمو معه احتمالات تجدد الحرب في الشرق الأوسط”.

ترجمة بتصرف: هيثم مزاحم

Israel will pull out all the stops to avoid facing war crimes charges

An ICC ruling has panicked Israeli officials who can now be investigated, but they will likely respond with intensified threats 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gaza%20rubble%202014%20afp.jpg
A Palestinian girl walks on the rubble around her family’s home in Gaza in 2014 (AFP)
Jonathan CookJonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Jonathan Cook

11 February 2021 11:04 UTC 

Israel has been sent into a tailspin by a ruling last week from the war crimes court in The Hague. Senior Israeli officials, including possibly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, can now be held accountable for violations of the laws of war in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The decision by judges at the International Criminal Court  (ICC) does not ensure Israelis will be put on trial for war crimes – not yet, at least. But after years of delay, it does settle the question of whether the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza fall under the court’s jurisdiction. They do, say the judges. 

While Israel is only too aware of what its top war crimes suspects have been up to, Netanyahu is right to observe that last week’s ruling by the ICC is a political one

Perhaps the most preposterous – if entirely predictable – of the reactions to the ICC’s decision came from Netanyahu himself. 

That the door is now open for Israelis to be investigated for war crimes is the reason Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum responded so angrily to the ruling. The court’s chief prosecutor has already completed a preliminary inquiry, in which she concluded there was a legal basis for a full investigation.

At the weekend, he falsely declared in a video in English, intended for foreign audiences, that the ICC was investigating Israel for what he called “fake war crimes” – and then attributed its imagined actions to “pure antisemitism”. He also threw in a reference to the Nazi Holocaust for good measure.

There was no little irony to his claims. On Friday, Netanyahu denounced the judges’ ruling as proving that the ICC was “a political body and not a judicial institution”. In fact, it is Netanyahu who is playing politics, by character-assassinating the court in what should be a purely legal and judicial matter. He hopes to use antisemitism smears, Israel’s favoured tactic, to keep the ICC’s investigators at bay. 

Court officials have already shown an interest in pursuing three separate lines of inquiry: Israel’s attacks on Gaza that have left large numbers of Palestinian civilians dead; the repeated lethal shooting of Palestinian protesters at Gaza’s perimeter fence; and decades of illegal Israeli settlement-building on occupied land, which has often entailed the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Attack on aid boat

Whatever Netanyahu’s current protestations, the truth is that Israel’s own legal teams have long advised that its military commanders, government ministers and senior administrators are vulnerable to prosecution. That is why they have travelled for many years with a special “panic button” on their phones to alert local diplomatic staff of the threat of arrest at a foreign airport. 

Just such an incident occurred in 2013, when former navy commander Eli Marom hit the button after he wrongly suspected border officials at London’s Heathrow airport were preparing to arrest him under so-called “universal jurisdiction” laws.

Three years earlier, Marom had approved a lethal attack in international waters by navy commandos on an aid convoy of ships trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Demonstrators chant slogans during a 2016 rally in Istanbul, Turkey, marking the sixth anniversary of the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident (AFP)
Demonstrators chant slogans during a 2016 rally in Istanbul, Turkey, marking the sixth anniversary of the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident (AFP)

Marom had reason to be nervous. Earlier, in 2005, a retired general, Doron Almog, hid on an El Al plane for two hours after landing at Heathrow before quickly taking off again, to avoid a UK arrest warrant over the demolition of 59 Palestinian homes. Scotland Yard reportedly allowed Almog to escape rather than engage in a gun battle trying to arrest him.

In fact, Israel knows enough about which of its senior officials have broken international law – and how – that last summer it compiled a secret list of hundreds who were most likely to be investigated for war crimes.  

Bid to terrorise court

But while Israel is only too aware of what its top war crimes suspects have been up to, Netanyahu is right to observe that last week’s ruling by the ICC is a political one. 

In fact, the court’s treatment of Israel has been deeply mired in politics ever since the Palestinian Authority acceded to the ICC in 2015. Western allies have sought repeatedly to intimidate and strong-arm the court to ensure Israeli officials are not tried for war crimes.The PA, the ICC and Israel

It is no coincidence that ICC judges found the backbone to assert jurisdiction over the occupied territories immediately after Donald Trump stepped down as US president. His administration had waged a campaign to intimidate the court, which included a ban on ICC staff entering the US and threats to freeze their assets.

The timing of the ICC’s ruling may also be related to the fact that its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is due to quit her post in a few months. She is unlikely to launch any investigations of Israelis before then, leaving the task to her successor.

Such a delay will buy Israel more time. And under an onslaught of pressure, the new chief prosecutor may be persuaded that Israel – despite decades of law-breaking – is not a high enough priority to justify the court’s limited resources. 

Campaigning begins 

Just such a campaign has already begun. On Sunday, the Israeli foreign ministry sent an urgent, classified cable to dozens of its ambassadors, urging them to recruit their respective capitals to a campaign to put pressure on the ICC.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi – a former military chief of staff who is almost certainly on Israel’s secret list of war crimes suspects – rang his counterparts in foreign capitals, urging them to help. That will likely include lobbying for a more sympathetic chief prosecutor to replace Bensouda.

There will continue to be many large obstacles – few of them related to law – that need to be dealt with before any Israelis end up in the dock at The Hague

Israeli media reported security sources as saying that several ICC member states had already agreed to tip Israel off should they learn that any arrest warrants have been issued against Israelis.

Already, the Biden administration in the US, Germany and the Australian government, stalwart defenders of Israel, have issued denunciations of the ICC decision – and implicitly the international norms of war the court is supposed to uphold. 

Responding to Germany’s attack on the court, Hanan Ashrawi, a former senior Palestinian official, tweeted on Tuesday: “So your ‘legal view’ supersedes the ruling of the ICC judges and the resolutions of the UN [General Assembly]? No self-respecting state should accept instructions from (or intimidation by) Israel.”

Other states, with their own self-interested calculations, may soon follow suit. Those that have allied themselves most closely with the US-led “war on terror”, including the UK, have every reason to ensure that Israel – a state very much in the “western diplomatic club” – is not held to account for war crimes of the kind they too have committed. They prefer that the ICC continues to limit its indictments to African leaders. 

Behind-the-scenes lobbying and intimidation may explain the seemingly perverse reasoning of the ICC in December to close its investigation of UK officials without issuing any indictments. It did so even while accepting that British forces had likely committed war crimes in Iraq. Israel may hope for a similar, fudged reprieve.

Shielding Israel

The reality is that the case against Israel was always going to depend on political factors far more than legal ones once it became vulnerable to investigation. But the shielding of Israel over war crimes was evident long before Palestine’s ratification of the Rome Statute in 2015.

Six years earlier, for example, Israel orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against a celebrated South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, over the report of his UN committee into Israel’s 2009 attack on Gaza. The report found Israel and Hamas responsible for committing war crimes, and possibly even graver crimes against humanity.

Richard Goldstone, the UN investigator who probed the 2009 Gaza conflict, attends a media conference in Geneva in July 2009 (AFP)
Richard Goldstone, the UN investigator who probed the 2009 Gaza conflict, attends a media conference in Geneva in July 2009 (AFP)

Goldstone repudiated his strongest findings months later after the personal campaign against him culminated in the South African Zionist Federation barring him from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

Similarly, “universal jurisdiction” rules, which allow foreign citizens to seek the arrest of an official suspected of violating international law if his or her state refuses to adjudicate, have never been enforced in practice against Israelis. 

Foot-dragging by ICC

The ICC had an opportunity to investigate Israeli officials over the attack in international waters on the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla to Gaza in 2010. Ten Turkish civilians, one of whom was also an American citizen, were killed by Israeli commandos who boarded the ships. Israel is losing the fight to obscure its apartheid character

Instead, Bensouda chose in 2014 not to proceed with the case initiated by the Comoros, the flag under which the boat was sailing. In an appeal last year, ICC judges criticised her for a series of “errors” in reaching that decision, in refusing to reconsider after they mandated she do so, and in failing to investigate the incident again in 2019.

But the judges concluded it was “unclear” what power they themselves had to rectify these failings and so did not ask for a further review.

Delays and buck-passing have also plagued the ICC’s latest ruling. The court has been foot-dragging on jurisdiction issues ever since 2015. There will continue to be many large obstacles – few of them related to law – that need to be dealt with before any Israelis end up in the dock at The Hague.

Slivers of hope

Nonetheless, last week’s ruling offers Palestinians a few slivers of hope. It confirms that Israel’s battle to deny the Palestinian fight for statehood is not entirely going its way. And it suggests that the post-Trump political climate may turn out to be more stormy for Israel than expected. Its leaders may have to be slightly more cautious about the scale and visibility of the war crimes they approve. 

The real test is whether it can rise above the name-calling and gaslighting to apply international law in a way that truly protects Palestinians

The court may settle to leave the sword of a possible investigation hanging over Israel, hoping that alone will be enough to curb Israel’s worst excesses, such as plans to annex swaths of the West Bank. 

Or the ICC may trust that its jurisdiction ruling will serve as a wake-up call to the Israeli Supreme Court, whose failures to enforce international law in the occupied territories paved the way to The Hague. But settling for any of these outcomes will be more evasion by the court, more playing politics. 

The test of whether the ICC is a judicial body rather than a political one is not, as Netanyahu demands, that it refuse to investigate Israel. The real test is whether it can rise above the name-calling and gaslighting to apply international law in a way that truly protects Palestinians. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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Israel is losing the fight to obscure its apartheid character

Israel’s separation wall is pictured on 11 February 2020 (AFP)
Jonathan Cook
Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Jonathan Cook

14 January 2021 11:31 UTC

New report by rights group B’Tselem will make it harder to smear Israel’s critics as antisemites for arguing that Israel is a racist state


For more than a decade, a handful of former Israeli politicians and US diplomats identified with what might be termed the “peace process industry” have intermittently warned that, without a two-state solution, Israel is in danger of becoming an “apartheid state”. 

The most notable among them include Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, two former Israeli prime ministers, and John Kerry, who served as former US President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Time is rapidly running out, they have all declared in the past. 

Their chief concern, it seems, was that without the alibi of some kind of Palestinian state – however circumscribed and feeble – the legitimacy of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” will increasingly come under scrutiny. Apartheid will arrive, the argument goes, when a minority of Israeli Jews rule over a majority of Palestinians in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan controlled by Israel. 

Demographic threshold

The apartheid threat has been wielded by the so-called “peace camp” in hopes of mobilising international pressure on the Israeli right, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The goal has been to force it into making sufficient concessions that the Palestinian leadership agrees to a demilitarised statelet, or statelets, on fragments on the original Palestinian homeland. 

Meanwhile, demographic trends have continued apace, and the Israeli right has ignored all warnings, preferring to pursue their Greater Israel ambitions instead. But strangely, the apartheid moment never arrived for the Israeli peace camp. Instead, its expressions of concern about apartheid fizzled into silence, as did its once-vocal worries about a Palestinian demographic majority.

How much sense would it have made in the former South Africa to claim that apartheid existed only in the Bantustans or black townships, while exempting white areas?

This entirely cynical approach to Palestinian statehood was very belatedly blown apart this week with the publication of a report by B’Tselem, Israel’s most prominent and respected human rights group. It broke ranks to declare what has been obvious for many, many years. Israel has created a permanent reality in which there are two peoples, Jews and Palestinians, sharing the same territorial space, but “a regime of Jewish supremacy” has been imposed by the stronger side. This unequivocally qualifies as apartheid, B’Tselem said. 

It dismisses the sophistry that apartheid relates to some self-serving demographic deadline – one that never materialises – rather than the explicitly segregationist practices and policies Israel has enforced throughout the territories it rules. It also dismisses arguments made by Israel’s partisans abroad that Israel cannot be an apartheid state because there are no South African-style “whites only” signs on park benches. 

Hagai El-Ad, B’Tselem’s executive director, notes that Israel’s version – “apartheid 2.0, if you will – avoids certain kinds of ugliness … That Israel’s definitions do not depend on skin colour make no material difference: it is the supremacist reality which is the heart of the matter.” The report concludes that the bar for apartheid was met after considering “the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians”.

Daring analysis

What is perhaps most daring about B’Tselem’s analysis is its admission that apartheid exists not just in the occupied territories, as has been observed before, including by former US President Jimmy Carter. It describes the entire region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – which encompasses both Israel and the Palestinian territories – as an apartheid regime. It thereby denies Israel’s claims to be a democratic state even inside its internationally recognised borders.

B’Tselem has abandoned the pretence that apartheid can be limited to the occupied territories, as though Israel – the state that rules Palestinians – is somehow exempt from being classified as integral to the apartheid enterprise it institutes and oversees.

That was always obvious. How much sense would it have made in the former South Africa to claim that apartheid existed only in the Bantustans or black townships, while exempting white areas? None at all. And yet, Israel has been getting away with precisely this clearcut casuistry for decades – largely aided by the peace camp, including B’Tselem.

Palestinian workers cross the Nilin checkpoint on 18 March 2020 (MEE/Mohammad Abu Zaid)
Palestinian workers cross the Nilin checkpoint on 18 March 2020 (MEE/Mohammad Abu Zaid)

Now, B’Tselem observes: “Jews go about their lives in a single, contiguous space where they enjoy full rights and self-determination. In contrast, Palestinians live in a space that is fragmented into several units, each with a different set of rights – given or denied by Israel, but always inferior to the rights accorded to Jews.”

Israel’s “Jewish supremacist ideology” is revealed in its obsession with “Judaising” land, in its bifurcated citizenship laws and policies that privilege Jews alone, in its regulations that restrict movement for Palestinians only, and in its denial of political participation to Palestinians. These discriminatory policies, B’Tselem notes, apply also to the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and have nominal Israeli citizenship. 

El-Ad concludes: “There is not a single square inch in the territory Israel controls where a Palestinian and a Jew are equal. The only first-class people here are Jewish citizens such as myself.”

Permanent occupation

What B’Tselem has done is echo the arguments long made by academics and Palestinian civil society, including the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, that Israel is a settler-colonial society. 

In an emailed response to the report, Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement, said it helped to put an end to “the vicious and deeply racist lies about the not-so-perfect Israeli democracy that has a problem called ‘the occupation’”. Why acknowledging Israeli apartheid is not enough

The B’Tselem report observes that, while “occupation” must be a temporary situation, Israel has no intention of ending its military rule over Palestinians, even after more than five decades. A Palestinian state is not conceivably on the agenda of any Israeli party in sight of power, and no one in the international community with any influence is demanding one. The two-state solution has been smothered into oblivion.

For that reason, it argues, all of Israel and the Palestinian territories under occupation are organised “under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians”.

There are good reasons why B’Tselem is biting the bullet now, after decades of equivocation from it and the rest of the Israeli peace camp. Firstly, no one really believes that Israel will be pressured from outside into conceding a Palestinian state. Trump’s so-called “peace plan”, unveiled a year ago, gave Netanyahu everything he wanted, including support for annexing swaths of the West Bank on which illegal settlements have been built. 

Four years of Trump, and the recruitment of much of the Gulf to Netanyahu’s side, has shifted the conversation a long way from efforts to secure Palestinian statehood. Now, the focus is on how best to delay Israel’s move towards formal annexation. US president-elect Joe Biden will at best try to push things back to the dismal state they were in before Donald Trump took office. At worst, he will quietly assent to all or most of the damage Trump has inflicted on the Palestinian national cause.

Deeply isolated

Secondly, B’Tselem and other human rights groups are more deeply isolated at home than ever before. There is simply no political constituency in Israel for their research into the systematic abuses of Palestinians by the Israeli army and settlers. That means B’Tselem no longer needs to worry about messaging that could antagonise the sensibilities of Israel’s so-called “Zionist left” – because there is no meaningful peace camp left to alienate. 

The disappearance of this peace camp, unreliable as it was, has only been underscored by the Israeli general election due in late March. The battle for power this time is being waged between three or four far-right parties that all support annexation to varying degrees. 

Israel’s apologists will now face the much harder task of showing that B’Tselem is antisemitic, along with the Palestinian solidarity activists who cite its work

The Israeli left has ceased to exist at the political level. It comprises a handful of human and legal rights groups, mostly seen by the public as traitors supposedly meddling in Israel’s affairs on behalf of “European” interests. At this stage, B’Tselem has little to lose. It is almost entirely irrelevant inside Israel.

Thirdly, and as a result, the only audience for B’Tselem’s careful research exposing Israeli abuses is overseas. This new report seeks to liberate a conversation about Israel, partly among Palestinian solidarity activists abroad. Their campaigns have been stymied by the failure of the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas to signal where they should direct their efforts, now that prospects for Palestinian statehood have vanished.

Activists have also been browbeaten into silence by smears from Israel’s partisans in the US and Europe, decrying any trenchant criticism of Israel as antisemitic. These slurs were relentlessly deployed against the UK’s Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn because of his support for the Palestinian cause.

Breaking a taboo

By calling Israel an apartheid state and a “regime of Jewish supremacy”, B’Tselem has given the lie to the Israel lobby’s claim – bolstered by a new definition promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that it is antisemitic to suggest Israel is a “racist endeavour”. 

B’Tselem, a veteran Israeli Jewish organisation with deep expertise in human rights and international law, has now explicitly declared that Israel is a racist state. Israel’s apologists will now face the much harder task of showing that B’Tselem is antisemitic, along with the Palestinian solidarity activists who cite its work.

Palestinian protesters confront Israeli soldiers during a protest in the occupied West Bank on 29 January 2020 (AFP)
Palestinian protesters confront Israeli soldiers during a protest in the occupied West Bank on 29 January 2020 (AFP)

The report is also intended to reach out to young American Jews, who are more willing than their parents to foreground the mistreatment of Palestinians and to forgo the Zionist idea that Israel is their bolthole in times of trouble. 

Significantly, the B’Tselem report has been published in the wake of two groundbreaking essays this past summer by influential American Jewish journalist Peter Beinart. In them, he broke a taboo in the US Jewish mainstream by declaring the two-state solution dead and calling for a single democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians.

It doubtless served as a wakeup call to Israeli groups such as B’Tselem that the conversation about Israel is moving on in the US and becoming much more polarised. Israeli human rights groups need to engage with this debate, not shy away from it.

Battle for equality

There is one possible lacuna in B’Tselem’s position. The report suggests a reticence to focus on outcomes. Nowhere is the two-state solution ruled out. Rather, the report notes: “There are various political paths to a just future.” Statements by El-Ad to Middle East Eye indicate that his organisation may still support a framework of international pressure for incremental, piecemeal change in Israeli policies that violate Palestinian human rights.Israeli settlers’ racism is not an aberration. It’s part of an apartheid systemRead More »

That is very much what western states, particularly Europe, have been paying lipservice to for decades, while Israeli apartheid has entrenched.

Does B’Tselem hope its apartheid criticisms will prove more effective than Barak and Olmert’s apartheid warnings, finally galvanising the international community into action to push for a Palestinian state? If so, Biden’s performance in office should soon dispel any such illusions. El-Ad observes that the goal now is “a rejection of supremacy, built on a commitment to justice and our shared humanity.” 

That cannot happen within the two-state framework, even on the untenable assumption that the international community ever seriously rallies behind Palestinian statehood, against Israel’s wishes. So why not say so explicitly? The best-case two-state scenarios on the table are for a tiny, divided, demilitarised, pseudo-Palestinian state with no control over its borders, airspace or electromagnetic frequencies.

That would not offer “justice” to Palestinians or recognise their “shared humanity” with Israeli Jews.

As welcome as the new report is, it is time for B’Tselem – as well as Palestinian solidarity activists who look to the organisation – to explicitly reject any reversion to a “peace process” premised on ending the occupation. The logic of an apartheid analysis needs to be followed to the very end. That requires unequivocally embracing a democratic single state guaranteeing equality and dignity for all.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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How the Left is being Manipulated into Colluding in its own Character Assassination

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.  He is a frequent contributor to Global Research

By Jonathan Cook

Global Research, January 09, 2021

There was a fascinating online panel discussion on Wednesday night on the Julian Assange case that I recommend everyone watch. The video is at the bottom of the page.  

But from all the outstanding contributions, I want to highlight a very important point made by Yanis Varoufakis that has significance for understanding current events well beyond the Assange case. 

Varoufakis is an academic who was savaged by the western political and media establishments when he served as Greece’s finance minister. Back in 2015 a popular leftwing Greek government was trying to oppose the imposition of severe loan conditions on Greece by European and international financial institutions that risked tipping the Greek economy into deeper bankruptcy and seemed chiefly intended to upend its socialist programme. The government Varoufakis served was effectively crushed into obedience through a campaign of economic intimidation by these institutions.

 Varoufakis describes here the way that leftwing dissidents who challenge or disrupt western establishment narratives – whether it be himself, Assange or Jeremy Corbyn – end up not only being subjected to character assassination, as was always the case, but nowadays find themselves being manipulated into colluding in their own character assassination.

 Here is a short transcript of Varoufakis’ much fuller comments – about 48 minutes in – highlighting his point about co-option:

 “The establishment, the Deep State, call it whatever you want, the oligarchy, they’ve become much, much better at it [character assassination] than they used to be. Because back in the 1960s and 1970s, you know, they would accuse you of being a Communist. They would accuse me of being a Marxist. Well, I am a Marxist. I’m really not going to suffer that much if you accuse me of being a left-winger. I am a left-winger!

 “Now what they do is something far worse. They accuse you of something that really hurts you. Calling somebody like us a racist, a bigot, an antisemite, a rapist. This is what really hurts because if anybody calls me a rapist today, right, even if it’s complete baloney, I feel as a feminist I have the need to give the woman, implied or involved somehow in this accusation, the opportunity to speak against me. Because that is what we left-wingers do.”

Varoufakis’ point is that when Assange was accused of being a rapist, as he was before the US made clear the real case against him – by trying to extradite him from the UK for exposing its war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan – he could not defend himself without alienating a significant constituency of his natural supporters, those on the left who identify as feminists. Which is exactly what happened.

 Similarly, as Varoufakis notes from earlier conversations he had with Assange, the Wikileaks founder was in no position to properly defend himself against accusations that he colluded with Russia and Donald Trump to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

 At the time, Assange’s supporters were able to point out that the leaked emails were true and that they were in the public interest because they showed deep corruption in the Democratic party establishment. But those arguments were drowned out by a narrative confected by the US media and security establishments that Wikileaks’ publication of the emails was political interference because the emails had supposedly been hacked by Russia to sway the election result.

 Because Assange was absolutely committed to the principle of non-disclosure of sources, he refused to defend himself in public by confirming that the emails had been leaked to him by a Democratic party insider, not the “Russians”. His silence allowed his vilification to go largely unchallenged. Having already been stripped of support from much of the feminist left, particularly in Europe, Assange now lost the support of a sizeable chunk of the left in the US too.

In these cases, the one who stands accused has to defend themselves with one hand tied behind their back. They cannot hit back without further antagonising a substantial section of their supporters, deepening divisions within the left’s ranks. The victim of this kind of character assassination is caught in the equivalent of reputational quicksand. The more they fight, the deeper they sink.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened to the UK’s former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when he was accused of being a racist. If he or his supporters tried to challenge the claim that the party had become antisemitic overnight under his leadership – even if only by citing statistics that showed the party hadn’t – they were immediately denounced for supposed “antisemitism denial”, posited as the modern equivalent of Holocaust denial.

Notice Ken Loach, who was also on the panel, nodding in agreement as Varoufakis speaks. Because Loach, the noted leftwing, anti-racist film-maker who came to Corbyn’s defence against the confected media campaign smearing him as an antisemite, soon found himself similarly accused.

Jonathan Freedland, a senior columnist at the liberal Guardian, was among those using precisely the tactic described by Varoufakis. He tried to discredit Loach by accusing him of denying Jews the right to define their own experience of antisemitism.   

Freedland sought to manipulate Loach’s anti-racist credentials against him. Either agree with us that Corbyn is an antisemite, and that most of his supporters are too, or you are a hypocrite, disowning your own anti-racist principles – and solely in the case of antisemitism. And that, QED, would prove you too are motivated by antisemitism.

Loach found himself with a terrible binary choice: either he must collude with Freedland and the corporate media in smearing Corbyn, a long-standing political ally, or else he would be forced to collude in his own smearing as an antisemite.

It’s a deeply ugly, deeply illiberal, deeply manipulative, deeply dishonest tactic. But it is also brilliantly effective. Which is why nowadays rightists and centrists use it at every opportunity. The left, given its principles, rarely resorts to this kind of deceit. Which means it can only bring a peashooter to a gun fight.

https://twitter.com/Jonathan_K_Cook/status/131348440736224870

This is the left’s dilemma. It’s why we struggle to win the argument in a corporate media environment that not only denies us a hearing but also promotes the voices of those like Freedland trying to destroy us from the centre and those supposedly on the left like George Monbiot and Owen Jones who are too often destroying us from within.

As Varoufakis also says, the left needs urgently to go on the offensive.

We need to find ways to turn the tables on the war criminals who have been gaslighting us in demanding that Assange, who exposed their crimes, is the one who needs to be locked up.

We need to make clear that it is those who are so ready to smear anti-racists as antisemites – as Corbyn’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, has done to swaths of Labour party members – who are the real racists.

And we need to unmask as war hawks those who accuse the anti-war left of serving as apologists for dictators when we try to stop western states conducting more illegal, resource-grab wars with such devastating results for local populations.

We must get much more sophisticated in our thinking and our strategies. There is no time to lose.

This essay first appeared on Jonathan Cook’s blog: https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/ 

For Years, Journalists Cheered Assange’s Abuse. Now They’ve Paved His Path to a US Gulag

How Gulf states became business partners in Israel’s occupation

Jonathan Cook

14 December 2020 12:29 UTC | 

Since signing the Abraham Accords, the UAE and Bahrain have been actively colluding with Israel’s settler movement and military authorities

The professed rationale for the recent Abraham Accords, so-called “peace deals” signed with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, was to stymie Israeli efforts to annex swaths of the West Bank. 

The aim was supposedly to neutralise another “peace” plan – one issued early this year by US President Donald Trump’s administration – that approved Israel’s annexation of large areas of the West Bank dominated by illegal Jewish settlements. 

In practice, both have quickly jettisoned any pretence that Palestinians will benefit from these deals

The two Gulf states trumpeted the fact that, in signing the accords in September, they had effectively scotched that move, thereby salvaging hopes of a future Palestinian state. Few observers entirely bought the official story – not least because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that annexation had only been put on temporary hold

The real purpose of the Abraham Accords appeared less about saving Palestinians than allowing Gulf states to go public with, and expand, their existing ties to Israel. Regional intelligence could now be shared more easily, especially on Iran, and the Gulf would gain access to Israeli hi-tech and US military technology and weapons systems. 

Separately, Sudan was induced to sign the accords after promises it would be removed from Washington’s list of “terror-supporting” states, opening the door to debt relief and aid. And last week, Morocco became the fourth Arab state to initiate formal relations with Israel after the Trump administration agreed to recognise its occupation of Western Sahara.

Twisting more arms

Israel, in return, has been able to begin “normalising” with an important bloc of Arab states – all without offering any meaningful concessions on the Palestinian issue.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also reported to have been considering doing their own deals with Israel. Jared Kushner, Trump’s Middle East adviser, visited the region this month in what was widely assumed to be a bid to twist arms. UAE-Israel deal: Abraham accord or Israeli colonialism?

Read More »

Riyadh’s hesitation, however, appears to have increased after Trump lost last month’s US presidential election to Joe Biden. 

Last week, during an online conference held in Bahrain and attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, a former senior Saudi government official, Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, launched a blistering verbal attack on Israel, saying it jailed Palestinians in “concentration camps” and had built an “apartheid wall”. It was unclear whether he was speaking in more than a personal capacity.

While the covert purpose of the Abraham Accords was difficult to obscure, the stated aim – of aiding Palestinians by preventing Israel’s annexation of the West Bank – was still seen as a vital tool for the UAE and Bahrian to sell these agreements back home.

But in practice, both have quickly jettisoned any pretence that Palestinians will benefit from these deals. Not only that, but already they barely bother to conceal the fact that they are actively and tangibly colluding with Israel to harm Palestinians – by bolstering Israel’s illegal settlements and subsidising its military regime of occupation. 

Trade with settlements

Bahrain demonstrated this month how indifferent it is to the negative impacts on Palestinians. On a visit to Israel, the country’s trade minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, said Bahrain was open to importing products from Israel wherever they were manufactured. “We have no issue with labelling or origin,” he said

The comment suggested that Manama was ready to become a gateway for Israel to export settlement products to the rest of the Arab world, helping to bolster the settlements’ legitimacy and economic viability. Bahrain’s trade policy with Israel would then be even laxer than that of the European Union, a top trade partner for Israel. The EU’s feeble guidelines recommend the labelling of settlement products. 

An illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank is pictured on 19 November 2019 (AFP)
An illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank is pictured on 19 November 2019 (AFP)

After wide reporting of Zayani’s comments, Bahrain’s state news agency issued a statement shortly afterwards saying he had been “misinterpreted”, and that there would be no import of settlement goods. But it is hard not to interpret the remarks as indicating that behind the scenes, Bahrain is only too willing to collude in Israel’s refusal to distinguish between products from Israel and those made in the settlements.

That this is the trading basis of the Abraham Accords is further highlighted by reports that the UAE is already welcoming business with Israel’s illegal settlements. An Israeli winery, using grapes grown on the Golan Heights, a large plateau of Syrian territory seized by Israel in 1967 and illegally annexed in 1981, has reportedly started exporting to the UAE, which has liberalised its alcohol laws for non-citizens.

This is a fruitful turn of events for Israel’s 500,000 settlers in the occupied West Bank. They have lost no time touting for business, with the first delegation arriving in Dubai last month hoping to tap new markets in the Arab world via the UAE. Last week a settler delegation reportedly returned to Dubai to sign an agreement with a UAE company to import settlement goods, including alcohol, honey, olive oil, and sesame paste.

New low-point 

This marks a new low-point in the shift by Arab states away from their original position that Israel was a colonial implant in the region, sponsored by the West, and that there could be no “normalisation” – or normal relations – with it. 

In 2002, Saudi Arabia launched the Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel full diplomatic relations in return for ending the occupation. But Gulf states are now not only normalising with Israel when the occupation is actually intensifying; they are normalising with the occupation itself – as well as its bastard progeny, the settlements. 

The peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain will help the settlements entrench further, assisting Israel’s longstanding policy of annexing the West Bank in all but name

Israel has built more than 250 settlements across a vast expanse of occupied Palestinian territory – 62 percent of the West Bank, referred to as Area C under the Oslo Accords. This area was supposed to be gradually transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the government-in-waiting under Mahmoud Abbas, to become the territorial backbone of a Palestinian state. 

Instead, over the past quarter of a century, Israel has used its supposedly temporary control over Area C to rapidly expand the settlements, stealing vital land and resources. These colonies have been highly integrated into Israel, with settler roads criss-crossing the occupied West Bank and tightly limiting Palestinian movement.

The peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain will help the settlements entrench further, assisting Israel’s longstanding policy of annexing the West Bank in all but name, through the creation of facts on the ground – the very outcome the Abraham Accords claimed they were meant to prevent. 

Yossi Dagan, head of the West Bank regional council that visited Dubai last month, declared that there was “no contradiction between our demand to impose sovereignty [annex large parts of the West Bank] and the strengthening of commercial and industrial ties” with the Gulf. 

Al-Aqsa dividend

In other words, settlers see the Abraham Accords as a business opportunity to expand their footprint in the occupied West Bank, not an obstacle. The likely gains for the settlers will include tourism, too, as visitors from the Gulf are expected to flock to al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. 

The irony is that, because of Israel’s physical seizure of areas around the Islamic holy site and its control over access, Gulf Arabs will have far greater rights at al-Aqsa than the majority of Palestinians, who cannot reach it.

Jordan, which has long been the custodian of al-Aqsa, justifiably fears that Saudi Arabia may use a future accord with Israel to muscle its way into taking charge of the Jerusalem holy site, adding it to its guardianship of Mecca and Medina. 

Palestinians gather at al-Aqsa Mosque compound in June 2018 (AFP)
Palestinians gather at al-Aqsa Mosque compound in June 2018 (AFP)

In occupied Jerusalem, Palestinians are deprived of the chance to develop their own housing, let alone infrastructure to cope with the business opportunities provided by the arrival of wealthy Gulf Arabs. That should leave Israel and its settler population – rather than Palestinians – well-placed to reap the dividends from any new tourism ventures.

In a supreme irony, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family has bought a major stake in the Beitar Jerusalem football team, whose supporters are fiercely anti-Arab and back the takeover of East Jerusalem by settlers. 

Palestinian laboratories

During his visit, Bahrain’s Zayani observed that, as his country geared up for flights to and from Israel next month: “We are fascinated by how integrated IT and the innovation sector in Israel has been embedded in every facet of life.” Israel-UAE deal: The Emiratis are now under Israel’s thumb

Read More »

But Israel’s technology sector is “embedded in every facet of life” only because Israel treats the occupied Palestinian territories as a laboratory. Tests are conducted there on how best to surveil Palestinians, physically limit their movement and freedoms, and collect their biometric data

The hi-tech firms carrying out these experiments may be formally headquartered inside Israel, but they work and profit from their activities in the occupied territories. They are a vast complex of settlement businesses in their own right.

This is why Nabil Shaath, an aide to Abbas, observed of the Gulf’s burgeoning ties with Israel that it was “painful to witness Arab cooperation with one of the worst manifestations of aggression against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli settlements on our land”. 

Settler ally

How enthusiastically the UAE and Bahrain are getting into the occupation business, and preparing to subsidise its worst features, is highlighted by the Abraham Fund, set up by the US in October. It is a vehicle for Gulf states and Israel to secure billions of dollars in private investment to underpin their new diplomatic relations. 

Again, the official story has glossed over the reality. According to statements from the main parties, the fund is intended to raise at least $3bn to bolster regional economic cooperation and development initiatives.

If the oil-rich Gulf states help pick up the tab, they will incentivise Israel to stay put and steal yet more Palestinian land and resources

The UAE’s minister of state, Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, has said: “The initiative can be a source of economic and technological strength for the region, while simultaneously improving the lives of those who need the most support.”

The fund is supposed to help Palestinians, as one of those groups most in need of support. But again, the main parties are not playing straight. The deception is revealed by the Trump administration’s selection of who is to head the Abraham Fund, one of its last appointments before the handover to Biden. 

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the fund will be overseen by Aryeh Lightstone, a fervently right-wing rabbi and ally of Israel’s settler community. Lightstone is a senior adviser to David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel who has his own strong ties to the settlements. Friedman pushed aggressively for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. Trump finally did so in May 2018, breaking an international consensus against locating diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. 

Checkpoint upgrade

The political priorities of Lightstone are evident in one of the Abraham Fund’s first declared projects: to “modernise” Israeli checkpoints across the occupied West Bank. 

The checkpoint upgrade is being hailed by US officials as designed to benefit Palestinians. It will speed up their passage as they try to move around the occupied West Bank, and as those with permits enter Israel or the settlements to work. One senior Trump administration official promised checkpoint delays that currently keep Palestinians waiting for many hours could be dramatically cut: “If I can upgrade that, which doesn’t cost a lot of money, and have it take 30 seconds, I am blowing up [freeing up] 400,000 work hours a day.”

There are many glaring problems with this approach – not least that under international law, belligerent military occupations such as Israel’s must be temporary in nature. Israel’s occupation has endured for more than five decades already. 

Palestinians make their way through a checkpoint north of Hebron on 4 October (AFP)
Palestinians make their way through a checkpoint north of Hebron on 4 October (AFP)

Efforts to make the occupation even more permanent – by improving and refining its infrastructure, such as through upgrades to create airport-style checkpoints – is in clear breach of international law. Now the Gulf will be intimately involved in subsidising these violations.

Further, the idea that the Abraham Fund’s checkpoint upgrade is assisting Palestinians – “those who most need support” – or developing their economy is patently ridiculous. The fund is exclusively helping Israel, a robust first-world economy, which is supposed to shoulder the costs of its military rule over Palestinians. 

The Abraham Fund’s planned checkpoint upgrade is actually a subsidy by the Gulf to the settlements

The economic costs of occupation are one of the few tangible pressures on Israel to withdraw from the territories and allow Palestinians sovereignty. If the oil-rich Gulf states help pick up the tab, they will incentivise Israel to stay put and steal yet more Palestinian land and resources.

Indeed, the hours being freed up, even assuming that is what actually happens, are unlikely to help the Palestinian economy or bring financial benefits to the Palestinian labourers Israel has made dependent on its economy through the lengthy occupation. To develop their own economy, Palestinians need their land and resources stolen by Israel restored to them.

Herding Palestinians

Seen another way, the Abraham Fund’s planned checkpoint upgrade is actually a subsidy by the Gulf to the settlements. That is because the very purpose of the checkpoints is to enforce Israeli control over where and when Palestinians can travel in their homeland. 

Israel uses the checkpoints as a way to herd Palestinians into particular areas of the occupied West Bank, especially the third under nominal PA control, while blocking their entry to the rest. That includes a denial of access to the West Bank’s most fertile land and its best water sources. Those areas are exactly where Israel has been building and expanding the settlements.From Egypt to the UAE, normalisation with Israel heralds disaster

Read More »

Palestinians are in a zero-sum battle against the settlers for control over land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any help Israel receives in restricting their movement through checkpoints is a loss to Palestinians and a victory for the settlers. Modernised checkpoints will simply be far more efficient at herding Palestinians where Israel and the settlers want them to be.

In partnering with Israel on upgrading checkpoints, the Gulf will be aiding Israel in making its technology of confinement and control of the Palestinian population even more sophisticated, benefiting once again the settlers. 

This is the real story of the Gulf’s Abraham Accords – not simply of turning a blind eye to Israel’s decades-long oppression of Palestinians, but of actively becoming partners with Israel and the settlers in carrying out that oppression. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.Jonathan CookJonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Antisemitism Claims Mask a Reign of Political and Cultural Terror across Europe

December 14, 2020

The German Parliament passes a resolution that designates the BDS movement as antisemitic. (Photo: File)

By Jonathan Cook

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has run a fascinating long report this week offering a disturbing snapshot of the political climate rapidly emerging across Europe on the issue of antisemitism. The article documents a kind of cultural, political and intellectual reign of terror in Germany since the parliament passed a resolution last year equating support for non-violent boycotts of Israel – in solidarity with Palestinians oppressed by Israel – with antisemitism.

The article concerns Germany but anyone reading it will see very strong parallels with what is happening in other European countries, especially the UK and France.

The same European leaders who a few years ago marched in Paris shouting “Je suis Charlie” – upholding the inalienable free speech rights of white Europeans to offend Muslims by insulting and ridiculing their Prophet – are now queuing up to outlaw free speech when it is directed against Israel, a state that refuses to end its belligerent occupation of Palestinian land. European leaders have repeatedly shown they are all too ready to crush the free speech of Palestinians, and those in solidarity with them, to avoid offending sections of the Jewish community.

The situation reduces to this: European Muslims have no right to take offense at insults about a religion they identify with, but European Jews have every right to take offense at criticism of an aggressive Middle Eastern state they identify with. Seen another way, the perverse secular priorities of European mainstream culture now place the sanctity of a militarized state, Israel, above the sanctity of a religion with a billion followers.

Guilt by Association

This isn’t even a double standard. I can’t find a word in the dictionary that conveys the scale and degree of hypocrisy and bad faith involved.

If the American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein wrote a follow-up to his impassioned book The Holocaust Industry – on the cynical use of the Holocaust to enrich and empower a Jewish organizational establishment at the expense of the Holocaust’s actual survivors – he might be tempted to title it The Antisemitism Industry.

In the current climate in Europe, one that rejects any critical thinking in relation to broad areas of public life, that observation alone would enough to have one denounced as an antisemite. Which is why the Haaretz article – far braver than anything you will read in a UK or US newspaper – makes no bones about what is happening in Germany. It calls it a “witch-hunt”. That is Haaretz’s way of saying that antisemitism has been politicized and weaponized – a self-evident conclusion that will currently get you expelled from the British Labour party, even if you are Jewish.

The Haaretz story highlights two important developments in the way antisemitism has been, in the words of intellectuals and cultural leaders cited by the newspaper, “instrumentalized” in Germany.

Jewish organizations and their allies in Germany, as Haaretz reports, are openly weaponizing antisemitism not only to damage the reputation of Israel’s harsher critics but also to force out of the public and cultural domain – through a kind of “antisemitism guilt by association” – anyone who dares to entertain criticism of Israel.

Cultural associations, festivals, universities, Jewish research centers, political think-tanks, museums, and libraries are being forced to scrutinize the past of those they wish to invite in case some minor transgression against Israel can be exploited by local Jewish organizations. That has created a toxic, politically paranoid atmosphere that inevitably kills trust and creativity.

But the psychosis runs deeper still. Israel, and anything related to it, has become such a combustible subject – one that can ruin careers in an instant – that most political, academic and cultural figures in Germany now choose to avoid it entirely. Israel, as its supporters intended, is rapidly becoming untouchable.

A case study noted by Haaretz is Peter Schäfer, a respected professor of ancient Judaism and Christianity studies who was forced to resign as director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum last year. Schäfer’s crime, in the eyes of Germany’s Jewish establishment, was that he staged an exhibition on Jerusalem that recognized the city’s three religious traditions, including a Muslim one.

He was immediately accused of promoting “historical distortions” and denounced as “anti-Israel”. A reporter for Israel’s right-wing Jerusalem Post, which has been actively colluding with the Israeli government to smear critics of Israel, contacted Schäfer with a series of inciteful emails. The questions included “Did you learn the wrong lesson from the Holocaust?” and “Israeli experts told me you disseminate antisemitism – is that true?”

Schäfer observes:

“The accusation of antisemitism is a club that allows one to deal a death blow, and political elements who have an interest in this are using it, without a doubt… The museum staff gradually entered a state of panic. Then of course we also started to do background checks. Increasingly it poisoned the atmosphere and our work.”

Another prominent victim of these Jewish organizations tells Haaretz:

“Sometimes one thinks, ‘To go to that conference?’ ‘To invite this colleague?’ Afterward, it means that for three weeks, I’ll have to cope with a shitstorm, whereas I need the time for other things that I get paid for as a lecturer. There is a type of ‘anticipatory obedience’ or ‘prior self-censorship.’”

Ringing off the Hook

There is nothing unusual about what is happening in Germany. Jewish organizations are stirring up these “shitstorms” – designed to paralyze political and cultural life for anyone who engages in even the mildest criticism of Israel – at the highest levels of government. Don’t believe me? Here is Barack Obama explaining in his recent autobiography his efforts as US president to curb Israel’s expansion of its illegal settlements. Early on, he was warned to back off or face the wrath of the Israel lobby:

“Members of both parties worried about crossing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Those who criticized Israeli policy too loudly risked being tagged as ‘anti-Israel’ (and possibly anti-Semitic) and confronted with a well-funded opponent in the next election.”

When Obama went ahead anyway in 2009 and proposed a modest freeze on Israel’s illegal settlements:

“The White House phones started ringing off the hook, as members of my national security team fielded calls from reporters, leaders of American Jewish organizations, prominent supporters, and members of Congress, all wondering why we were picking on Israel … this sort of pressure continued for much of 2009.”

He observes further:

“The noise orchestrated by Netanyahu had the intended effect of gobbling up our time, putting us on the defensive, and reminding me that normal policy differences with an Israeli prime minister – even one who presided over a fragile coalition government – exacted a political cost that didn’t exist when I dealt with the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, or any of our other closest allies.”

Doubtless, Obama dare not put down in writing his full thoughts about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the US lobbyists who worked on his behalf. But Obama’s remarks do show that, even a US president, supposedly the single most powerful person on the planet, ended up blanching in the face of this kind of relentless assault. For lesser mortals, the price is likely to be far graver.

No Free Speech on Israel

It was this same mobilization of Jewish organizational pressure – orchestrated, as Obama notes, by Israel and its partisans in the US and Europe – that ended up dominating Jeremy Corbyn’s five years as the leader of Britain’s leftwing Labour party, recasting a well-known anti-racism activist almost overnight as an antisemite.

It is the reason why his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, has outsourced part of Labour’s organizational oversight on Jewish and Israel-related matters to the very conservative Board of Deputies of British Jews, as given expression in Starmer’s signing up to the Board’s “10 Pledges”.

It is part of the reason why Starmer recently suspended Corbyn from the party, and then defied the membership’s demands that he be properly reinstated, after Corbyn expressed concerns about the way antisemitism allegations had been “overstated for political reasons” to damage him and Labour. (The rightwing Starmer, it should be noted, was also happy to use antisemitism as a pretext to eradicate the socialist agenda Corbyn had tried to revive in Labour.) It is why Starmer has imposed a blanket ban on constituency parties discussing Corbyn’s suspension. And it is why Labour’s shadow education secretary has joined the ruling Conservative party in threatening to strip universities of their funding if they allow free speech about Israel on campus.

Two Types of Jews

But the Haaretz article raises another issue critical to understanding how Israel and the Jewish establishment in Europe are politicizing antisemitism to protect Israel from criticism. The potential Achilles’ heel of their campaign are Jewish dissidents, those who break with the supposed “Jewish community” line and create a space for others – whether Palestinians or other non-Jews – to criticize Israel. These Jewish dissenters risk serving as a reminder that trenchant criticism of Israel should not result in one being tarred an antisemite.

Israel and Jewish organizations, however, have made it their task to erode that idea by promoting a distinction – an antisemitic one, at that – between two types of Jews: good Jews (loyal to Israel), and bad Jews (disloyal to Israel).

Haaretz reports that officials in Germany, such as Felix Klein, the country’s antisemitism commissioner, and Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, are being allowed to define not only who is an antisemite, typically using support for Israel as the yardstick, but are also determining who are good Jews – those politically like them – and who are bad Jews – those who disagree with them.

Despite Germany’s horrific recent history of Jew-hatred, the German government, local authorities, the media, universities and cultural institutions have been encouraged by figures like Klein and Schuster to hound German Jews, even Israeli Jews living and working in Germany, from the country’s public and cultural space.

When, for example, a group of Israeli Jewish academics in Berlin held a series of online discussions about Zionism last year on the website of their art school, an Israeli reporter soon broke the story of a “scandal” involving boycott supporters receiving funding from the German government. Hours later the art school had pulled down the site, while the German education ministry issued a statement clarifying that it had provided no funding. The Israeli embassy officially declared the discussions held by these Israelis as “antisemitic”, and a German foundation that documents antisemitism added the group to the list of antisemitic incidents it records.

Described as ‘Kapos’

So repressive has the cultural and political atmosphere grown in Germany that there has been a small backlash among cultural leaders. Some have dared to publish a letter protesting against the role of Klein, the antisemitism commissioner. Haaretz reports:

“The antisemitism czar, the letter charged, is working ‘in synergy with the Israeli government’ in an effort ‘to discredit and silence opponents of Israel’s policies’ and is abetting the ‘instrumentalization’ that undermines the true struggle against antisemitism.

Figures like Klein have been so focused on tackling criticism of Israel from the left, including the Jewish left, that they have barely noted the “acute danger Jews in Germany face due to the surge in far-right antisemitism”, the letter argues.

Again, the same picture can be seen across Europe. In the UK, the opposition Labour party, which should be a safe space for those leading the anti-racism struggle, is purging itself of Jews critical of Israel and using antisemitism smears against prominent anti-racists, especially from other oppressed minorities.

Extraordinarily, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, one of the founders of Jewish Voice for Labour, which supports Corbyn, recently found herself suspended by Starmer’s Labour. She had just appeared in a moving video in which she explained the ways antisemitism was being used by Jewish organizations to smear Jewish left-wingers like herself as “traitors” and “kapos” – an incendiary term of abuse, as Wimborne-Idrissi points out, that refers to “a Jewish inmate of a concentration camp who collaborated with the [Nazi] authorities, people who collaborated in the annihilation of their own people”.

In suspending her, Starmer effectively endorsed this campaign by the UK’s Jewish establishment of incitement against, and vilification of, left-wing Jews.

Earlier, Marc Wadsworth, a distinguished black anti-racism campaigner, found himself similarly suspended by Labour when he exposed the efforts of Ruth Smeeth, then a Labour MP and a former Jewish official in the Israel lobby group BICOM, to recruit the media to her campaign smearing political opponents on the left as antisemites.

In keeping with the rapid erosion of critical thinking in civil society organizations designed to uphold basic freedoms, Smeeth was recently appointed director of the prestigious free speech organization Index on Censorship. There she can now work on suppressing criticism of Israel – and attack “bad Jews” – under cover of fighting censorship. In the new, inverted reality, censorship refers not to the smearing and silencing of a “bad Jew” like Wimborne-Idrissi, but to criticism of Israel over its human rights abuses, which supposedly “censors” the identification of “good Jews” with Israel – now often seen as the crime of “causing offense”.

Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Haaretz article helps to contextualize Europe’s current antisemitism “witch-hunt”, which targets anyone who criticizes Israel or stands in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians, or associates with such people. It is an expansion of the earlier campaign by the Jewish establishment against “the wrong kind of Jew”, as identified by Finkelstein in The Holocaust Industry. But this time Jewish organizations are playing a much higher-stakes, and more dangerous, political game.

Haaretz rightly fears that the Jewish leadership in Europe is not only silencing ordinary Jews but degrading the meaning – the shock value – of antisemitism through the very act of politicizing it. Jewish organizations risk alienating the European left, which has historically stood with them against Jew-hatred from the right. European anti-racists suddenly find themselves equated with, and smeared as, fledgling neo-Nazis.

If those who support human rights and demand an end to the oppression of Palestinians find themselves labeled antisemitic, it will become ever harder to distinguish between bogus (weaponized) “antisemitism” on the left and real Jew-hatred from the right. The antisemitism smearers – and their fellow travelers like Keir Starmer – are likely to end up suffering their very own “boy who cried wolf” syndrome.

Or as Haaretz notes:

“The issue that is bothering the critics of the Bundestag [German parliament] resolution is whether the extension of the concept of antisemitism to encompass criticism of Israel is not actually adversely affecting the battle against antisemitism. The argument is that the ease with which the accusation is leveled could have the effect of eroding the concept itself.”

The Antisemitism Industry

It is worth noting the shared features of the new Antisemitism Industry and Finkelstein’s earlier discussions of the Holocaust Industry.

In his book, Finkelstein identifies the “wrong Jews” as people like his mother, who survived a Nazi death camp as the rest of her family perished. These surviving Jews, Finkelstein argues, were valued by the Holocaust Industry only in so far as they served as a promotional tool for the Jewish establishment to accumulate more wealth and cultural and political status. Otherwise, the victims were ignored because the actual Holocaust’s message – in contrast to the Jewish leadership’s representation of it – was universal: that we must oppose and fight all forms of racism because they lead to persecution and genocide.

Instead, the Holocaust Industry promoted a particularist, self-interested lesson that the Holocaust proves Jews are uniquely oppressed and that they, therefore, deserve a unique solution: a state, Israel, that must be given unique leeway by western states to commit crimes in violation of international law. The Holocaust Industry – very much to be distinguished from the real events of the Holocaust – is deeply entwined in, and rationalized by, the perpetuation of the racialist, colonial project of Israel.

In the case of the Antisemitism Industry, the “wrong Jew” surfaces again. This time the witch-hunt targets Jewish left-wingers, Jews critical of Israel, Jews opposed to the occupation, and Jews who support a boycott of the illegal settlements or of Israel itself. Again, the problem with these “bad Jews” is that they allude to a universal lesson, one that says Palestinians have at least as much right to self-determination, to dignity and security, in their historic homeland as Jewish immigrants who fled European persecution.

In contrast to the “bad Jews”, the Antisemitism Industry demands that a particularist conclusion be drawn about Israel – just as a particularist conclusion was earlier drawn by the Holocaust Industry. It says that to deny Jews a state is to leave them defenceless against the eternal virus of antisemitism. In this conception, the Holocaust may be uniquely abhorrent but it is far from unique. Non-Jews, given the right circumstances, are only too capable of carrying out another Holocaust. Jews must therefore always be protected, always on guard, always have their weapons (or in Israel’s case, its nuclear bombs) to hand.

‘Get out of Jail’ Card

This view, of course, seeks to ignore, or marginalize, other victims of the Holocaust – Romanies, communists, gays – and other kinds of racism. It needs to create a hierarchy of racisms, a competition between them, in which hatred of Jews is at the pinnacle. This is how we arrived at an absurdity: that anti-Zionism – misrepresented as the rejection of a refuge for Jews, rather than the reality that it rejects an ethnic, colonial state oppressing Palestinians – is the same as antisemitism.

Extraordinarily, as the Haaretz article clarifies, German officials are oppressing “bad Jews”, at the instigation of Jewish organizations, to prevent, as they see it, the re-emergence of the far-right and neo-Nazis. The criticisms of Israel made by the “bad Jew” are thereby not just dismissed as ideologically unsound or delusions but become proof that these Jews are colluding with, or at least nourishing, the Jew-haters.

In this way, Germany, the UK and much of Europe have come to justify the exclusion of the “wrong Jew” – those who uphold universal principles for the benefit of all – from the public space. Which, of course, is exactly what Israel wants, because, rooted as it is in an ideology of ethnic exclusivity as a “Jewish state”, it necessarily rejects universal ethics.

What we see here is an illustration of a principle at the heart of Israel’s state ideology of Zionism: Israel needs antisemitism. Israel would quite literally have to invent antisemitism if it did not exist.

This is not hyperbole. The idea that the “virus of antisemitism” lies semi-dormant in every non-Jew waiting for a chance to overwhelm its host is the essential rationale for Israel. If the Holocaust was an exceptional historical event, if antisemitism was an ancient racism that in its modern incarnation followed the patterns of prejudice and hatred familiar in all racisms, from anti-black bigotry to Islamophobia, Israel would be not only redundant but an abomination – because it has been set up to dispossess and abuse another group, the Palestinians.

Antisemitism is Israel’s “get out of jail” card. Antisemitism serves to absolve Israel of the racism it structurally embodies and that would be impossible to overlook were Israel deprived of the misdirection weaponized antisemitism provides.

An Empty Space

The Haaretz article provides a genuine service by not only reminding us that “bad Jews” exist but in coming to their defense – something that European media is no longer willing to do. To defend “bad Jews” like Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi is to be contaminated with the same taint of antisemitism that justified the ejection of these Jews from the public space.

Haaretz records the effort of a few brave cultural institutions in Germany to protest, to hold the line, against this new McCarthyism. Their stand may fail. If it does, you may never become aware of it.

Once, the “bad Jews” have been smeared into silence, as Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with them largely have been already; when social media has de-platformed critics of Israel as Jew-haters; when the media and political parties enforce this silence so absolutely they no longer need to smear anyone as an antisemite because these “antisemites” have been disappeared; when the Jewish “community” speaks with one voice because its other voices have been eliminated; when the censorship is complete, you will not know it.

There will be no record of what was lost. There will be simply an empty space, a blank slate, where discussions of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians once existed. What you will hear instead is only what Israel and its partisans want you to hear. Your ignorance will be blissfully complete.

– Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). Visit his website www.jonathan-cook.net. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

The Smearing of Robert Fisk…Now That He Can’t Defend Himself

DECEMBER 3, 2020

Jonathan Cook: the View from Nazareth - www.jonathan-cook.net
Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism [ MORE ]

BY JONATHAN COOK

Something remarkable even by the usually dismal standards of the stenographic media blue-tick brigade has been happening in the past few days. Leading journalists in the corporate media have suddenly felt the urgent need not only to criticise the late, much-respected foreign correspondent Robert Fisk, but to pile in against him, using the most outrageous smears imaginable. He is suddenly a fraud, a fabulist, a fantasist, a liar.

What is most ironic is that the journalists doing this are some of the biggest frauds themselves, journalists who have made a career out of deceiving their readers. In fact, many of the crowd attacking Fisk when he can no longer defend himself are precisely the journalists who have the worst record of journalistic malpractice and on some of the biggest issues of our times.

At least I have the courage to criticise them while they are alive. They know dead men can’t sue. It is complete and utter cowardice to attack Fisk when they could have made their comments earlier, to his face. In fact, if they truly believed any of the things they are so keen to tell us now, they had an absolute duty to say them when Fisk was alive rather than allowing the public to be deceived by someone they regarded as a liar and fantasist. They didn’t make public these serious allegations – they didn’t air their concerns about the supposedly fabricated facts in Fisk’s stories – when he was alive because they know he would have made mincemeat of them.

Most preposterous of all is the fact that the actual trigger for this sudden, very belated outpouring of concern about Fisk is a hit-piece written by Oz Katerji. I’m not sure whether I can find the generosity to call Katerji a journalist. Like Elliot Higgins of the US government-funded Bellingcat, he’s more like an attack dog beloved by establishment blue-ticks: he is there to enforce accepted western imperial narratives, disguising his lock-step support for the establishment line as edgy, power-to-the-people radicalism.

Anyone who challenges Katerji’s establishment-serving agenda gets called names – sometimes very rude ones. Fisk is just the latest target of a Katerji hatchet job against any journalist (myself, of course, included) who dares to step outside of the Overton Window. That these “serious” journalists think they can hang their defamation of Fisk on to anything said by Katerji, most especially the thin gruel he produces in his latest article, is truly shameful. If their concerns really relate to journalistic integrity and reliability, Katerji would be the very last person to cite.

Katerji’s prime area of western narrative enforcement is the Middle East – perhaps not surprisingly, as it is the place where there is an awful lot of oil that western states and corporations are desperate to control. But one should not ignore his wide-ranging efforts to boot-lick wherever he is needed on behalf of western establishment narratives.

Here he is desperately trying to breathe life into two fairytales: that the election of the leftwing Evo Morales as Bolivia’s president was fraudulent, and that Morales was forced to resign last year rather than that he was ousted in a CIA-backed military coup. Notably, Katerji was clinging to these discredited story lines as late as last month, long after even the liberal corporate media had abandoned them as no longer tenable.

Katerji was also, of course, an enthusiastic recruit to evidence-free establishment smears that Labour was overrun with antisemitism under the leadership of the leftwing Jeremy Corbyn, the very same anecdotal claims promoted by the entire corporate media.

Not only that, but he even had the gall to argue that he was speaking on behalf of Palestinians in smearing Corbyn, the only leader of a major European party ever to champion their cause. Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer, like most other politicians in the wake of the Corbyn episode, has all but disappeared the Palestinians from the political agenda. Katerji must be delighted – on behalf of Palestinians, of course.

But Katerji’s beef with Fisk derives chiefly from the fact that the Independent’s foreign correspondent broke ranks with the rest of the western press corps over an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Katerji is part of what – if we were being more brutally honest about these things – would be called the west’s al-Qaeda lobby. These are a motley crew of journalists and academics using their self-publicised “Arabhood” to justify the intimidation and silencing of anyone not entirely convinced that ordinary Syrians might prefer, however reluctantly, their standard-issue dictator, Bashar al-Assad, over the head-chopping, women-stoning, Saudi-financed jihadists of Islamic State and al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria; or who question whether the western powers ought to be covertly funding and backing these extremists.

Exercise any doubt at all on either of these points and Katerji will lose no time in calling you an “Assadist”, “war crimes denier”, “antisemite”, “9/11 truther” and worse. Then in yet more evidence of a circle jerk, those establishment blue ticks, even ones beloved by much of the left, will cite his smears as proof that you are indeed an Assadist, war crimes denier, and so on.

Here are just a few examples of Katerji engaging with those critical of the imperial western narrative on Syria, so you get the idea:

Back in 2011 and 2012, in what looked like the possible eruption of an Arab Spring in Syria, the arguments of Katerji and co at least had an air of plausibility. But their real agenda – one that accorded with western imperialism rather than an Arab awakening – became much clearer once local protests against Assad were subsumed by an influx of jihadi fighters of the very kind that had been labelled “terrorists” by the western media everywhere else they appeared in the Middle East.

Inevitably, anyone like Fisk who adopted a position of caution or scepticism about whether the majority of Syrians actually wanted a return to some kind of Islamic Dark Age incurred the wrath of Katerji and his cohorts.

But Fisk infuriated these western al-Nusra lobbyists even further when he visited the town of Douma in 2018 and raised serious questions about claims made by the jihadists who had been ruling the town that, just before Assad’s forces drove them out, the Syrian military had bombed it with chemical gas, killing many civilians. The story, which at that stage was based exclusively on the claims of these head-chopping jihadists, was instantly reported as verified fact by the credulous western media.

Based solely on claims made by the al-Qaeda franchise in Douma, President Donald Trump hurriedly fired off missiles at Syria, in flagrant violation of international law and to cheers from the western media.

Fisk, of course, knew that in discrediting the evidence-free narrative being promoted by the western press corps (who had never been in Douma) he was doing himself no favours at all. They would resent him all the more. Most of his peers preferred to ignore his revelations, even though they were earth-shattering in their implications. But once the official watchdog body the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) issued its report into Douma many months later, implicitly backing the jihadists’ version of events, Fisk’s earlier coverage was snidely dismissed by fellow journalists.

Sadly for them, however, the story did not end there. Following publication of the OPCW’s Douma report, a number of its senior experts started coming forward as whistleblowers to say that, under pressure from the US, the OPCW bureaucracy tampered with their research and misrepresented their findings in the final report. The evidence they had found indicated that Assad had not carried out a chemical attack in Douma. More likely the jihadists, who were about to be expelled by Assad’s forces, had staged the scene to make it look like a chemical attack and draw the US deeper into Syria.

Of course, just as the corporate media ignored Fisk’s original reporting from Douma that would have made their own accounts sound like journalistic malpractice, they resolutely ignored the whistleblowers too. You can scour the corporate media and you will be lucky to find even an allusion to the months-long row over the OPCW report, which gained enough real-world prominence to erupt into a major row at the United Nations, including denunciations of the OPCW’s behaviour from the organisation’s former head, Jose Bustani.

This is the way frauds like Katerji are able to ply their own misinformation. They sound credible only because the counter-evidence that would show they are writing nonsense is entirely absent from the mainstream. Only those active on social media and open-minded enough to listen to voices not employed by a major corporate platform (with, in this case, the notable exception of Peter Hitchens of the Daily Mail) are able to find any of this counter-information. It is as if we are living in parallel universes.

The reason why Fisk was so cherished by readers, and why there was a real sense of loss when he died a month ago, was that he was one of the very few journalists who belonged to the mainstream but reported as though he were not beholden to the agenda of his corporate platform.

There were specific reasons for that. Like a handful of others – John Pilger, Seymour Hersh, Chris Hedges among them – Fisk made his name in the corporate media at a time when it reluctantly indulged the odd maverick foreign correspondent because they had a habit of exposing war crimes everyone else missed, exclusives that then garnered their publications prestigious journalism awards. Ownership of the media was then far less concentrated, so there was a greater commercial incentive for risk-taking and breaking stories. And these journalists emerged in a period when power was briefly more contested, with the labour movement trying to assert its muscle in the post-war decades, and before western societies were forced by the corporate elite to submit to neoliberal orthodoxy on all matters.

Notably, Pilger, Hersh and Hedges all found themselves struggling to keep a place in the corporate media. Fisk alone managed to cling on. That was more by luck. After being forced out of Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper for breaking a disturbing story in 1989 on the US shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane, he found a new home at Britain’s Independent newspaper, which had been recently founded. As a late-comer to the British media scene, the paper struggled not only to make money but to create a distinctive identity or gain any real visibility. Fisk survived, it seems, because he quickly established himself as one of the very few reasons to buy the paper. He was a rare example of a journalist who was bigger than the outlet he served.

Readers trusted him because he not only refused to submit to his peers’ herd-think but endlessly called them out as journalistically and intellectually lazy.

Those now trying to tarnish his good name are actually inverting the truth. They want to suggest that support for Fisk was cultish and he was hero-worshipped by those incapable of thinking critically. They will say as much about this piece. So let me point out that I am not without my own criticisms of Fisk. I wrote, for example, an article criticising some unsubstantiated claims he made during Israel’s massive bombardment of Lebanon in 2006.

But my criticism was precisely the opposite of the blue-tick crowd now traducing him. I questioned Fisk for striving to find an implausible middle ground with those establishment blue ticks (before we knew what blue ticks were) by hedging his bets about who was responsible for the destruction of Lebanon. It was a rare, if understandable, example of journalistic timidity from Fisk – a desire to maintain credibility with his peers, and a reluctance to follow through on where the evidence appeared to lead. Maybe this was a run-in with the pro-Israel crowd and the corporate journalists who echo them that, on this occasion, he did not think worth fighting.

The discomfort Fisk aroused in his peers was all too obvious to anyone working in the corporate media, even in its liberal outlets, as I was during the 1990s. I never heard a good word said about Fisk at the Guardian or the Observer. His death has allowed an outpouring of resentment towards him that built up over decades from journalists jealous of the fact that no readers will mourn or remember their own passing.

Fisk’s journalism spoke up for the downtrodden and spoke directly to the reader rather than, as with his colleagues, pandering to editors in the hope of career advancement. In the immediate wake of his death, his colleagues’ disdain for Fisk was veiled in weaselly language. As Media Lens have noted, the favourite term used to describe him in obituaries, even in his own newspaper, was “controversial”.

“It turns out that the term ‘controversial’ is only applied in corporate media to political writers and leaders deemed ‘controversial’ by elite interests.

“This was unwittingly made clear by the big brains at the BBC who noted that Fisk ‘drew controversy for his sharp criticism of the US and Israel, and of Western foreign policy’. If Fisk had drawn ‘controversy’ from China, Iran or North Korea, the ‘weasel word’ would not have appeared in the Beeb’s analysis…

“In corporate media newspeak, ‘controversial’ can actually be translated as ‘offensive to power’. The term is intended as a scare word to warn readers that the labelled person is ‘dodgy’, ‘suspect’: ‘Handle with care!’ The journalist is also signalling to his or her editors and other colleagues: ‘I’m not one of “them”!’”

The journalists who now claim Fisk was a fraud and fantasist are many of those who happily worked for papers that readily promoted the gravest lies imaginable to rationalise an illegal attack on Iraq in 2003 and its subsequent occupation. Those publications eagerly supported lies supplied by the US and British governments that Iraq had WMD and that its leader, Saddam Hussein, was colluding with al-Qaeda – claims that were easily disprovable at the time.

Journalists now attacking Fisk include ones, like the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot, who have been at the forefront of advancing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against Corbyn. Or, like the Guardian’s Hannah Jane Parkinson, have engaged in another favourite corporate journalist pastime, ridiculing the plight of Julian Assange, a fellow journalist who puts their craven stenography to shame and who is facing a lifetime in a US super-max jail for revealing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even the Guardian’s Jason Burke, who claims to have experienced Fisk’s lying first-hand while working for the Observer newspaper in 2001 (as was I at that time), has been unable to come up with the goods when challenged, as the pitiable Twitter thread retweeted here confirms:

Noticeably, there is a pattern to the claims of those now maligning Fisk: they hurry to tell us that he was an inspiration in their student days. They presumably think that mentioning this will suggest their disillusionment was hard-earned and therefore make it sound more plausible. But actually it suggests something different.

It indicates instead that in their youthful idealism they aspired to become a journalist who would dig out the truth, who would monitor centres of power, who would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To do, in fact, exactly what Fisk did.

But once they got a footing on the corporate career ladder, they slowly learnt that they would need to adopt a more “nuanced” approach to journalism – certainly if they hoped to progress up that ladder, earning the right to their blue tick, and gaining a big enough salary to cover the mortgage in London or New York.

In other words, they became everything they despised in their student days. Fisk was the constant reminder of just how much they had sold out. His very existence shamed them for what they were too cowardly to do themselves. And now in death, when he cannot answer back, they are feasting on his corpse like the vultures that they are, until there is nothing left to remind us that, unlike them, Robert Fisk told uncomfortable truths to the very end.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

The Task of ‘Sleepy Joe’ is to Put Liberal America Right Back to Sleep

November 6, 2020

Presidential nominee Joe Biden. (Photo: File)

By Jonathan Cook

At birth, all of us begin a journey that offers opportunities either to grow – not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually – or to stagnate. The journey we undertake lasts a lifetime, but there are dozens of moments each day when we have a choice to make tiny incremental gains in experience, wisdom and compassion or to calcify through inertia, complacency and selfishness.

No one can be engaged and receptive all the time. But it is important to recognize these small opportunities for growth when they present themselves, even if at any particular moment we may decide to avoid grasping them.

When we shut ourselves into the car on the commute to work, do we use it as a moment to be alone with our thoughts or to silence them with the radio or music? When we sit with friends, do we choose to be fully present with them or scroll through the news feed on our phones? When we return from a difficult day at work, do we talk the issues through with family or reach for a glass of wine, or maybe bingewatch something on TV?

Everyone needs downtime, but if every opportunity for reflection becomes downtime then we are stagnating, not growing. We are moving away from life, from being human.

Dried-out Husk

This week liberal Americans reached for that glass of wine and voted Joe Biden. Others did so much more reluctantly, spurred on by the fear of giving his opponent another four years.

Biden isn’t over the finishing line quite yet, and there are likely to be recounts, court challenges and possibly violence over the result, but he seems all but certain to be crowned the next US president. Not that that should provoke any kind of celebration. The rest of the world’s population, future generations, the planet itself – none of us had a vote – were always going to be the losers whichever candidate won.

The incumbent, Donald Trump, miscalculated, it seems, if he thought dismissing his opponent as “Sleepy Joe” would be enough to damage Biden’s electoral fortunes. True, Trump was referring to the fact that Biden is a dried-out husk of the machine politician he once was. But after four years of Trump and in the midst of a pandemic, the idea of sleeping through the next presidential term probably sounded pretty appealing to liberals. Most of them have spent their whole political lives asleep.

Four years ago, however, they were forcibly roused from their languor to protest against Donald Trump. They grew enraged by the symptom of their corrupt political system rather than by the corrupt system itself. For them, “Sleepy Joe” was just what the doctor ordered.

But it won’t be Biden doing the sleeping. It will be the liberals who cheerlead him. Biden – or perhaps Kamala Harris – will be busy making sure his corporate donors get exactly what they paid for, whatever the cost to the rest of us.

Anger and Blame

In this analogy, Trump is not the opposite of Biden, of course. He represents stagnation too, if of a different kind.

Trump channels Americans’ frustration and anger at a political and economic system they rightly see as failing them. He articulates who should be falsely blamed for their woes: be it immigrants, minorities, socialists, or the New World Order. He offers justified, if misdirected, rage in contrast to Biden’s dangerous complacency.

But however awful Trump may be, at least some of those voting for him are grappling, if mostly unconsciously, with the tension between stagnation and growth – and not of the economic kind. Unlike most liberals, who dismiss this simplistically as “populism”, some of Trump’s supporters do at least seem to recognize that the tension exists. They simply haven’t been offered a constructive alternative to anger and blame.

Ritually Disappointed

Unlike the liberals and the Trumpists, many in the US have come to understand that their political system offers nothing but stultifying stagnation for ordinary Americans by design, even if it comes in two, smartly attired flavors.

They see that the Trump camp rages ineffectually against the corporate elite, deluded into believing that a member of that very same elite will serve as their savior. And they see that the Biden camp represents an ineffectual rainbow coalition of competing social identities, deluded into believing that those divisions will make them stronger, not weaker, in the fight for economic justice. Both of these camps appear resigned to being serially – maybe ritually – disappointed.

Failure does not inspire these camps to seek change, it makes them cling all the more desperately to their failed strategies, to attach themselves even more frantically and fervently to their perceived tribe.

That is why this US election – at a moment when the need for real, systemic change is more urgent, more evident than ever before – produced not just one but two of the worst presidential candidates of all time. We are looking at exactly what happens when a whole society not only stops growing but begins to putrefy.

Enervating Divisions

Not everyone in the US is so addicted to these patterns of self-delusion and self-harm.

Large swaths of the population don’t bother to vote out of hard-borne experience. The system is so rigged against them that they don’t think it matters much which corporate party is in power. The outcome will be the same for them either way.

Others vote third party, or consciously abstain in protest at big money’s vice-like grip on the two-party system. Others, appalled at the prospect of Trump – and before him the two Bushes, and before that Ronald Reagan – were forced once again to vote for the Democratic ticket with a heavy heart. They know all too well who Biden is (a creature of his corporate donors) and what he stands for (whatever his corporate donors want). But he is slightly less monstrous than his rival, and in the US system, those are the meaningful electoral options.

And among Trump’s supporters too, there are many desperate for wholesale change. They voted for Trump because at least he paid lip service to change.

These groups – most likely a clear electoral majority – could redirect the US towards political, social, even spiritual growth, if they could find a way to come together. They suffer from their own enervating divisions.

How should they best use their numerical strength? Should they struggle to win the presidency, and if so should it be a third-party candidate or should they work within the existing party structures? What lesson should they draw from the Democratic leadership’s sabotaging – twice over – of Bernie Sanders, a candidate offering meaningful change? Is it time to adopt an entirely different strategy, rejecting traditional politics? And if so, can it be made to work when all the major institutions – from the politicians and courts to the police, intelligence services, and media – are firmly in the hands of the corporate enemy?

Terrible Reckoning

There is no real way to sleep through life or politics, and not wake up one day – usually when it is too late – realizing catastrophic mistakes were made.

As individuals, we may face that terrible reckoning on our death-beds. Empires rarely go so quietly. They fall when it is time for their citizens to learn a painful lesson about hubris. Their technological innovations come back to haunt them, as ancient Rome’s lead water-pipes supposedly once did. Or they over-extend with ambitious wars that drain the coffers of gold, as warrior-kings have discovered to their cost through the ages. Or, when the guardians of empire least expect it, “barbarians” – the victims of their crimes – storm the city gates.

The globe-spanning US empire faces the rapid emergence of all these threats on a planetary scale. Its endless wars against phantom enemies have left the US burdened with astounding debt. Its technologies, from nuclear weapons to AI, mean there can be no possible escape from a major miscalculation. And the US empire’s insatiable greed and determination to colonize every last inch of the planet, if only with our waste products, is gradually killing the life-systems we depend on.

If Biden becomes president, his victory will be a temporary win for torpor, for complacency. But a new Trump will emerge soon enough to potentize – and misdirect – the fury steadily building beneath the surface. If we let it, the pendulum will swing back and forth, between ineffectual lethargy and ineffectual rage, until it is too late. Unless we actively fight back, the stagnation will suffocate us all.

– Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). Visit his website www.jonathan-cook.net. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

Social media’s erasure of Palestinians is a grim warning for our future

Jonathan Cook

26 October 2020 12:39 UTC 

Facebook, Google and Twitter are not neutral platforms. They control the digital public square to aid the powerful – and can cancel any of us overnight

Palestinian critics say Facebook has become ‘another face of occupation’ (AFP/File photo)

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability. 

In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Facebook and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarisation and turmoil.

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them

As if to underline the ever-tightening grip these tech corporations exert on our lives, Facebook and Twitter decided this month to openly interfere in the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. They censored a story that could harm the electoral prospects of Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to incumbent President Donald Trump. 

Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Facebook, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. In excising any debate about purported corruption and influence-peddling by Biden’s son, Hunter, carried out in his father’s name, these social media platforms stepped firmly into the role of authoritarian arbiter of what we are allowed to say and know. 

‘Monopoly gatekeeper’

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants. 

The treatment of Palestinians online serves as a warning that it would be foolish indeed to regard these globe-spanning corporations as politically neutral platforms, and their decisions as straightforwardly commercial. This is to doubly misunderstand their role.How Facebook threatens vulnerable Muslim communities Read More »

Social media firms are now effectively monopolistic communication grids – similar to the electricity and water grids, or the phone network of a quarter of a century ago. Their decisions are therefore no longer private matters, but instead have huge social, economic and political consequences. That is part of the reason why the US justice department launched a lawsuit last week against Google for acting as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”. 

Google, Facebook and Twitter have no more a right to arbitrarily decide who and what they host on their sites than telecoms companies once had a right to decide whether a customer should be allowed a phone line. But unlike the phone company, social media corporations control not just the means of communication, but the content too. They can decide, as the Hunter Biden story shows, whether their customers get to participate in vital public debates about who leads them.

The Hunter Biden decision is as if the phone company of old not only listened in to conversations, but was able to cut the line if it did not like the politics of any particular customer. 

In fact, it is even worse than that. Social media now deliver the news to large sections of the population. Their censoring of a story is more akin to the electricity company turning off the power to everyone’s homes for the duration of a TV broadcast to ensure no one can see it.

Censorship by stealth

The tech giants are the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in human history, their riches measured in hundreds of billions, and now trillions, of dollars. But the argument that they are apolitical – aiming simply to maximise profits – was never true. 

They have every reason to promote politicians who side with them by committing not to break up their monopolies or regulate their activities, or, better still, by promising to weaken controls that might prevent them from growing even more fabulously rich and powerful. 

Social media algorithms help drive decisions on content removal (AFP/File photo)
Social media algorithms help drive decisions on content removal (AFP/File photo)

Conversely, the tech giants also have every incentive to use the digital space to penalise and marginalise political activists who urge greater regulation either of their activities, or of the marketplace more generally. 

Unlike their explicit deletion of the Hunter Biden story, which incensed the Trump administration, social media corporations more usually censor by stealth. That power is wielded through algorithms, the secret codes that decide whether something or someone appears in a search result or on a social media feed. If they desire, these tech titans can cancel any one of us overnight. 

This is not just political paranoia. The disproportionate impact of algorithm changes on “left-leaning” websites – those most critical of the neoliberal system that has enriched social media corporations – was highlighted this month by the Wall Street Journal. 

Wrong kinds of speech

Politicians increasingly understand the power of social media, which is why they want to harness it as best they can for their own ends. Since the shock of Trump’s election victory in late 2016, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives have regularly found themselves dragged before legislative oversight committees in the US and UK.

There, they are ritually rebuked by politicians for creating a crisis of “fake news” – a crisis that, in fact, long predated social media, as the deceptions of US and UK officials in linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and claiming that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” testify to only too clearly. 

The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think

Politicians have also begun holding internet corporations responsible for “foreign interference” in western elections – typically blamed on Russia – despite a dearth of serious evidence for most of their allegations

Political pressure is being exerted not to make the corporations more transparent and accountable, but to steer them towards enforcing even more assiduously restrictions on the wrong kinds of speech – whether it be violent racists on the right or critics of capitalism and western government policy on the left.

For that reason, social media’s original image as a neutral arena of information sharing, or as a tool for widening public debate and increasing civic engagement, or as a discourse leveller between the rich and powerful and weak and marginalised, grows ever more hollow.

Separate digital rights

Nowhere are ties between tech and state officials more evident than in their dealings with Israel. This has led to starkly different treatment of digital rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think, and over who is visible and who is erased from public life.

Israel was well-positioned to exploit social media before most other states had recognised its importance in manipulating popular attitudes and perceptions. For decades, Israel had, in part, outsourced an official programme of hasbara – or state propaganda – to its own citizens and supporters abroad. As new digital platforms emerged, these partisans were only too willing to expand their role.Facebook accused of censoring Palestinians under pretext of fighting hate speech Read More »

Israel had another advantage. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel began crafting a narrative of state victimhood by redefining antisemitism to suggest it was now a particular affliction of the left, not the right. So-called “new antisemitism” did not target Jews, but related instead to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights. 

This highly dubious narrative proved easy to condense into social media-friendly soundbites. 

Israel still routinely describes any Palestinian resistance to its belligerent occupation or its illegal settlements as “terrorism”, and any support from other Palestinians as “incitement”. International solidarity with Palestinians is characterised as “delegitimisation” and equated with antisemitism. 

‘Flood the internet’

As far back as 2008, it emerged that a pro-Israel media lobby group, Camera, had been orchestrating covert efforts by Israel loyalists to infiltrate the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit entries and “rewrite history” in ways favourable to Israel. Soon afterwards, politician Naftali Bennett helped organise courses teaching “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia. 

In 2011, the Israeli army declared social media a new “battleground” and assigned “cyber warriors” to wage combat online. In 2015, Israel’s foreign ministry set up an additional command centre to recruit young, tech-savvy former soldiers from 8200, the army’s cyber intelligence unit, to lead the battle online. Many have gone on to establish hi-tech firms whose spying software became integral to the functioning of social media.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a 2019 cyber industry conference in Tel Aviv (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a 2019 cyber industry conference in Tel Aviv (AFP)

An app launched in 2017, Act.IL, mobilised Israel partisans to “swarm” sites hosting either criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians. The initiative, supported by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, was headed by veterans of Israeli intelligence services. 

According to the Forward, a US Jewish weekly, Israel’s intelligence services liaise closely with Act.IL and request help in getting content, including videos, removed by social media platforms. The Forward observed shortly after the app was rolled out: “Its work so far offers a startling glimpse of how it could shape the online conversations about Israel without ever showing its hand.”

Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former Israeli military censor who was then assigned to Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the goal was to “create a community of fighters” whose job was to “flood the internet” with Israeli propaganda

Willing allies

With advantages measured in personnel numbers and ideological zeal, in tech and propaganda experience, and in high-level influence in Washington and Silicon Valley, Israel was soon able to turn social media platforms into willing allies in its struggle to marginalise Palestinians online.  

In 2016, Israel’s justice ministry was boasting that Facebook, Google and YouTube were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content”, almost all of it Palestinian. The social media companies did not confirm this figure.

The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing Palestinian organisations and Jewish groups critical of Israel, established a “command centre” in Silicon Valley in 2017 to monitor what it termed “online hate speech”. That same year, it was appointed a “trusted flagger” organisation for YouTube, meaning its reporting of content for removal was prioritised. 

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate

At a 2018 conference in Ramallah hosted by 7amleh, a Palestinian online advocacy group, local Google and Facebook representatives barely hid their priorities. It was important to their bottom line to avoid upsetting governments with the power to constrain their commercial activities – even if those governments were systematically violating international law and human rights. In this battle, the Palestinian Authority carries no weight at all. Israel presides over Palestinians’ communications and internet infrastructure. It controls the Palestinian economy and its key resources.

Since 2016, Israel’s justice ministry has reportedly suppressed tens of thousands of Palestinian posts. In a completely opaque process, Israel’s own algorithms detect content it deems “extremist” and then requests its removal. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested by Israel over social media posts, chilling online activity. 

Human Rights Watch warned late last year that Israel and Facebook were often blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and incitement. Conversely, as Israel has shifted ever further rightwards, the Netanyahu government and social media platforms have not stemmed a surge of posts in Hebrew promoting anti-Palestinian incitement and calling for violence. 7amleh has noted that Israelis post racist or inciteful material against Palestinians roughly every minute. 

News agencies shut down

As well as excising tens of thousands of Palestinian posts, Israel has persuaded Facebook to take down the accounts of major Palestinian news agencies and leading journalists. 

By 2018, the Palestinian public had grown so incensed that a campaign of online protests and calls to boycott Facebook were led under the hashtag “FBcensorsPalestine”. In Gaza, demonstrators accused the company of being “another face of occupation”. Leila Khaled shutdown shows how corporate tech is enemy of free speechRead More »

Activism in solidarity with Palestinians in the US and Europe has been similarly targeted. Ads for films, as well as the films themselves, have been taken down and websites removed. 

Last month, Zoom, a video conferencing site that has boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, joined YouTube and Facebook in censoring a webinar organised by San Francisco State University because it included Leila Khaled, an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement now in her seventies.

On Friday, Zoom blocked a second scheduled appearance by Khaled – this time in a University of Hawaii webinar on censorship – as well as a spate of other events across the US to protest against her cancellation by the site. A statement concerning the day of action said campuses were “joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices”.

The decision, a flagrant attack on academic freedom, was reportedly taken after the social media groups were heavily pressured by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian lobby groups, which labelled the webinar “antisemitic”.

Wiped off the map

The degree to which the tech giants’ discrimination against Palestinians is structural and entrenched has been underscored by the years-long struggle of activists both to include Palestinian villages on online maps and GPS services, and to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine”, in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations. 

That campaign has largely floundered, even though more than a million people have signed a petition in protest. Both Google and Apple have proved highly resistant to these appeals; hundreds of Palestinian villages are missing from their maps of the occupied West Bank, while Israel’s illegal settlements are identified in detail, accorded the same status as the Palestinian communities that are shown. 

New houses are built in the Nokdim settlement in the occupied West Bank on 13 October (AFP)
New houses being built in the Nokdim settlement in the occupied West Bank on 13 October (AFP)

The occupied Palestinian territories are subordinated under the name “Israel”, while Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible. 

These are far from politically neutral decisions. Israeli governments have long pursued a Greater Israel ideology that requires driving Palestinians off their lands. This year, that dispossession programme was formalised with plans, backed by the Trump administration, to annex swathes of the West Bank. 

Google and Apple are effectively colluding in this policy by helping to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. As two Palestinian scholars, George Zeidan and Haya Haddad, recently noted: “When Google and Apple erase Palestinian villages from their navigation, but proudly mark settlements, the effect is complicity in the Israeli nationalist narrative.” 

Out of the shadows

Israel’s ever-tightening relationship with social media corporations has played out largely behind the scenes. But these ties moved decisively out of the shadows in May, when Facebook announced that its new oversight board would include Emi Palmor, one of the architects of Israel’s online repression policy towards Palestinians. 

Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful

The board will issue precedent-setting rulings to help shape Facebook’s and Instagram’s censorship and free speech policies. But as the former director-general of the justice ministry, Palmor has shown no commitment to online free speech. Quite the reverse: she worked hand-in-hand with the tech giants to censor Palestinian posts and shut down Palestinian news websites. She oversaw the transformation of her department into what the human rights organisation Adalah has called the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”. 

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate, online transparency or greater civic engagement. Their only commitment is to the maintenance of a business environment in which they avoid any regulation by major governments infringing on their right to make money.

The appointment of Palmor perfectly illustrates the corrupting relationship between government and social media. Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful. 

Many more of us could soon find ourselves sharing the online fate of Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.Jonathan CookJonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Capitalism is Double-billing Us: We Pay from Our Wallets only for Our Future to Be Stolen from Us

October 26, 2020

Air pollution in London. (Photo: File)

Here is a word that risks deterring you from reading on much further, even though it may hold the key to understanding why we are in such a terrible political, economic and social mess. That word is “externalities”.

It sounds like a piece of economic jargon. It is a piece of economic jargon. But it is also the foundation stone on which the west’s current economic and ideological system has been built. Focusing on how externalities work and how they have come to dominate every sphere of our lives is to understand how we are destroying our planet – and offer at the same time the waypost to a better future.

In economics, “externalities” are usually defined indifferently as the effects of a commercial or industrial process on a third party that are not costed into that process.

Here is what should be a familiar example. For decades, cigarette manufacturers made enormous profits by concealing scientific evidence that over time their product could prove lethal to customers. The firms profited by externalizing the costs associated with cigarettes – of death and disease – on to those buying their cigarettes and wider society. People gave Philip Morris and British American Tobacco their money as these companies made those smoking Marlboros and Lucky Strikes progressively unhealthier.

The externalized cost was paid – is still paid – by the customers themselves, by grieving families, by local and national health services, and by the taxpayer. Had the firms been required to pick up these various tabs, it would have proved entirely unprofitable to manufacture cigarettes.

Inherently Violent

Externalities are not incidental to the way capitalist economies run. They are integral to them. After all, it is a legal obligation on private companies to maximize profits for their shareholders – in addition, of course, to the personal incentive bosses have to enrich themselves, and each company’s need to avoid making themselves vulnerable to more profitable and predatory competitors in the marketplace.

Companies are therefore motivated to offload as many costs as possible on to others. As we shall see, externalities mean someone other than the company itself pays the true cost behind its profits, either because those others are too weak or ignorant to fight back or because the bill comes due further down the line. And for that reason, externalities – and capitalism – are inherently violent.

All this would be glaringly obvious if we didn’t live inside an ideological system – the ultimate echo chamber enforced by our corporate media – that is complicit either in hiding this violence or in normalizing it. When externalities are particularly onerous or harmful, as they invariably are in one way or another, it becomes necessary for a company to obscure the connection between cause and effect, between its accumulation of profit and the resulting accumulation of damage caused to a community, a distant country or the natural world – or all three.

That is why corporations – those that inflict the biggest and worst externalities – invest a great deal of time and money in aggressively managing public perceptions. They achieve this through a combination of public relations, advertising, media control, political lobbying and the capture of regulatory institutions. Much of the business of business is deception, either making the externalized harm invisible or gaining the public’s resigned acceptance that the harm is inevitable.

In that sense, capitalism produces a business model that is not only rapacious but psychopathic. Those who pursue profit have no choice but to inflict damage on wider society or the planet, and then cloak their deeply anti-social – even suicidal – actions.

Psychopathic Demands

A recent film that alludes to how this form of violence works was last year’s Dark Waters, concerning the long-running legal battle with DuPont over the chemicals it developed to make non-stick coatings for pots and pans. From the outset, DuPont’s research showed that these chemicals were highly dangerous and accumulated in the body. The science overwhelmingly suggested that exposed individuals would be at risk of developing cancerous tumors or producing children with birth defects.

There were huge profits to be made for DuPont from its chemical discovery so long as it could keep the research hidden. So that’s exactly what its executives did. They set aside basic morality and acted in concert with the psychopathic demands of the marketplace.

DuPont produced pans that contaminated its customers’ food. Workers were exposed to a cocktail of lethal poisons in its factories. The company stored the toxic waste products in drums and then secretly disposed of them in landfills where they leached into the local water supply, killing cattle and producing an epidemic of disease among local residents. DuPont created a chemical that is now everywhere in our environment, risking the health of generations to come.

But a film like Dark Waters necessarily turned a case study in how capitalism commits violence by externalizing its costs into something less threatening, less revelatory. We hiss at DuPont’s executives as though they are the ugly sisters in a pantomime rather than ordinary people not unlike our parents, our siblings, our offspring, ourselves.

In truth, there is nothing exceptional about the DuPont story – apart from the company’s failure to keep its secret hidden from the public. And that exposure was anomalous, occurring only belatedly and against great odds.

An important message the film’s feelgood ending fails to deliver is that other corporations have learned from DuPont’s mistake – not the moral “mistake” of externalizing their costs, but the financial mistake of getting caught doing so. Corporate lobbyists have worked since to further capture regulatory authorities and to amend transparency and legal discovery laws to avoid any repetition, to ensure they are not held legally liable, as DuPont was, in the future.

Victims of Our Bombs

Unlike the DuPont case, most externalities are never exposed. Instead, they hide in plain sight. These externalities do not need to be concealed because they are either not perceived as externalities or because they are viewed as so unimportant as to be not worth factoring in.

The military-industrial complex – the one we were warned about more than half a century ago by President Dwight Eisenhower, a former US general – excels in these kinds of externalities. Its power derives from its ability to externalize its costs on to the victims of its bombs and its wars. These are people we know and care little about: they live far from us, they look and sound different to us, they are denied names and life stories like us. They are simply numbers, denoting them either as terrorists or, at best, unfortunate collateral damage.

The externalities of the west’s war industries are opaque to us. The chain of cause and effect is nowadays obscured as “humanitarian intervention”. And even when war’s externalities come knocking at our borders as refugees flee from the bloodshed, or from the nihilistic cults sucked into the power vacuums we leave behind, or from the wreckage of infrastructure our weapons cause, or from the environmental degradation and pollution we unleash, or from the economies ruined by our plunder of local resources, we still don’t recognize these externalities for what they are. Our politicians and media transform the victims of our wars and our resource grabs into, at best, economic migrants and, at worst, barbarians at the gate.

Snapshots of Catastrophe

If we are entirely ignorant of the externalities inflicted by capitalism on victims beyond our shores, we are gradually and very late in the day waking up to some of capitalism’s externalities much closer to home. Parts of the corporate media are finally admitting that which can no longer be plausibly denied, which is evident to our own senses.

For decades politicians and the corporate media managed to veil two things: that capitalism is an entirely unsustainable, profit-driven, endless consumption model; and that the environment is being gradually damaged in ways harmful to life. Each was obscured, as was the fact that the two are causally connected. The economic model is the primary cause of environmental damage.

People, especially the young, are slowly awakening from this enforced state of ignorance. The corporate media, even its most liberal elements, is not leading this process; it is responding to that awakening.

Last week the Guardian newspaper prominently ran two stories about externalities, even if it failed to frame them as such. One was about micro-plastics leaching from feeding bottles into babies, and the other about the toll air pollution is taking on the populations of major European cities.

The latter story, based on new research, specifically assessed the cost of air pollution in European cities – in terms of “premature death, hospital treatment, lost working days and other health costs” – at £150 billion a year. Most of this was caused by pollution from vehicles, the profitable product of the car industry. The researchers admitted that their figure was an under-estimate of air pollution’s true cost.

But, of course, even that underestimate was arrived at solely on the basis of metrics prioritized by capitalist ideology: the cost to the economy of death and disease, not the incalculable cost in lost and damaged human lives, and even less the damage to other species and the natural world. Another report last week alluded to one of those many additional costs, showing a steep rise in depression and anxiety caused by air pollution.

The other story, on baby bottles, is part of a much bigger story of how the plastics industry – whose products are derivatives of the fossil fuel industry – has long been filling our oceans and soil with plastics, both of the visible and invisible kind. Last week’s report revealed that the sterilization process in which bottles are heated in boiling water resulted in babies swallowing millions of micro-plastics each day. The study found that plastic food containers were shedding much higher loads of micro-plastics than expected.

These stories are snapshots of a much wider environmental catastrophe unfolding across the planet caused by profit-driven industrialized society. As well as heating up the climate, corporations are chopping down the forests that don’t burn down first, ridding the planet of its lungs; they are destroying natural habitats and soil quality, and they are rapidly killing off insect populations.

These industries’ externalities are, for the time being, impacting most severely on the natural world. But they will soon have more visible and dramatic effects that will be felt by our children and grandchildren. Neither of these constituencies currently has a say in how our capitalist “democracies” are being run.

Perception Managers

Capitalism isn’t only harming us, it’s double-billing us: taking first from our wallets and then depriving us of a future. We have now entered an era of deep cognitive dissonance.

Unlike a few years ago, many of us now understand that our futures are at grave risk from changes in our environment – the effect. But the task of today’s perception managers, like those of yesteryear, is to obscure the main cause – our economic system, capitalism.

The increasingly desperate effort to dissociate capitalism from the imminent environmental crisis – to break any perception of a causal link – was highlighted early this year. It emerged that counter-terrorism police in the UK had included Extinction Rebellion, the west’s main environmental protest group, on a list of extremist organizations. Under related “Prevent” regulations, teachers and government officials are already required by law to report anyone who they suspect of being “radicalized”.

In a guide explaining the purpose of the list, officials and teachers were told to identify anyone who speaks in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction, fracking, airport expansion or pollution”.

Why was Extinction Rebellion, a non-violent, civil disobedience group, included alongside neo-Nazis and Islamic jihadists? A whole page is dedicated to the threat posed by Extinction Rebellion. The guide explains that the organization’s activism is rooted in an “anti-establishment philosophy that seeks system change”. That is, environmental activism risks making apparent – especially to the young – the causal connection between the economic system and damage to the environment.

Once the story broke, the police hastily rowed back, claiming that Extinction Rebellion’s inclusion was a mistake. But more recently establishment efforts to decouple capitalism from its catastrophic externalities have grown more explicit.

Last month England’s department of education ordered schools not to use any materials in the curriculum that question the legitimacy of capitalism. Opposition to capitalism was described as an “extreme political stance” – opposition, let us remember, to an economic system whose relentless pursuit of growth and profit treats the destruction of the natural world as an uncosted externality.

Paradoxically, education officials equated the promotion of alternatives to capitalism as a threat to free speech, as well as an endorsement of illegal activity, and – inevitably – as evidence of antisemitism.

Suicidal Trajectory

These desperate and draconian measures to shore up an increasingly discredited system are not about to end. They will get much worse.

The establishment is not preparing to give up on capitalism – the ideology that enriched and empowered it – without a fight. The political and media class proved that with their relentless and unprecedented attacks on Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn over several years. And Corbyn was offering only a reformist, democratic socialist agenda.

The establishment has also demonstrated its determination to cling on to the status quo in its relentless and unprecedented attacks on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is locked away, seemingly indefinitely, for revealing the externalities – the victims – of the west’s war industries and the psychopathic behavior of those in power.

Efforts to end the suicidal trajectory of our current “free market” system will doubtless soon be equated with terrorism, as the Prevent strategy has already intimated. We should be ready.

There can be no escape from the death wish of capitalism without recognizing that death wish, and then demanding and working for wholesale change. Externalities may sound like innocuous jargon, but they and the economic system that requires them are killing us, our children and the planet.

The nightmare can end, but only if we wake up.

– Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). Visit his website www.jonathan-cook.net. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

How Israel Wages War on Palestinian History

By Jonathan Cook

Source

Jenin camp c2642

When the Palestinian actor Mohammed Bakri made a documentary about Jenin in 2002 – filming immediately after the Israeli army had completed rampaging through the West Bank city, leaving death and destruction in its wake – he chose an unusual narrator for the opening scene: a mute Palestinian youth.

Jenin had been sealed off from the world for nearly three weeks as the Israeli army razed the neighbouring refugee camp and terrorised its population.

Bakri’s film Jenin, Jenin shows the young man hurrying silently between wrecked buildings, using his nervous body to illustrate where Israeli soldiers shot Palestinians and where bulldozers collapsed homes, sometimes on their inhabitants.

It was not hard to infer Bakri’s larger meaning: when it comes to their own story, Palestinians are denied a voice. They are silent witnesses to their own and their people’s suffering and abuse.

The irony is that Bakri has faced just such a fate himself since Jenin, Jenin was released 18 years ago. Today, little is remembered of his film, or the shocking crimes it recorded, except for the endless legal battles to keep it off screens.

Bakri has been tied up in Israel’s courts ever since, accused of defaming the soldiers who carried out the attack. He has paid a high personal price. Deaths threats, loss of work and endless legal bills that have near-bankrupted him. A verdict in the latest suit against him – this time backed by the Israeli attorney general – is expected in the next few weeks.

Bakri is a particularly prominent victim of Israel’s long-running war on Palestinian history. But there are innumerable other examples.

For decades many hundreds of Palestinian residents in the southern West Bank have been fighting their expulsion as Israeli officials characterise them as “squatters”. According to Israel, the Palestinians are nomads who recklessly built homes on land they seized inside an army firing zone.

The villagers’ counter-claims were ignored until the truth was unearthed recently in Israel’s archives.

These Palestinian communities are, in fact, marked on maps predating Israel. Official Israeli documents presented in court last month show that Ariel Sharon, a general-turned-politician, devised a policy of establishing firing zones in the occupied territories to justify mass evictions of Palestinians like these communities in the Hebron Hills.

The residents are fortunate that their claims have been officially verified, even if they still depend on uncertain justice from an Israeli occupiers’ court.

Israel’s archives are being hurriedly sealed up precisely to prevent any danger that records might confirm long-sidelined and discounted Palestinian history.

Last month Israel’s state comptroller, a watchdog body, revealed that more than one million archived documents were still inaccessible, even though they had passed their declassification date. Nonetheless, some have slipped through the net.

The archives have, for example, confirmed some of the large-scale massacres of Palestinian civilians carried out in 1948 – the year Israel was established by dispossessing Palestinians of their homeland.

In one such massacre at Dawaymeh, near where Palestinians are today fighting against their expulsion from the firing zone, hundreds were executed, even as they offered no resistance, to encourage the wider population to flee.

Other files have corroborated Palestinian claims that Israel destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages during a wave of mass expulsions that same year to dissuade the refugees from trying to return.

Official documents have disproved, too, Israel’s claim that it pleaded with the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to return home. In fact, as the archives reveal, Israel obscured its role in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by inventing a cover story that it was Arab leaders who commanded Palestinians to leave.

The battle to eradicate Palestinian history does not just take place in the courts and archives. It begins in Israeli schools.

A new study by Avner Ben-Amos, a history professor at Tel Aviv University, shows that Israeli pupils learn almost nothing truthful about the occupation, even though many will soon enforce it as soldiers in a supposedly “moral” army that rules over Palestinians.

Maps in geography textbooks strip out the so-called “Green Line” – the borders demarcating the occupied territories – to present a Greater Israel long desired by the settlers. History and civics classes evade all discussion of the occupation, human rights violations, the role of international law, or apartheid-like local laws that treat Palestinians differently from Jewish settlers living illegally next door.

Instead, the West Bank is known by the Biblical names of “Judea and Samaria”, and its occupation in 1967 is referred to as a “liberation”.

Sadly, Israel’s erasure of Palestinians and their history is echoed outside by digital behemoths such as Google and Apple.

Palestinian solidarity activists have spent years battling to get both platforms to include hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank missed off their maps, under the hashtag #HeresMyVillage. Illegal Jewish settlements, meanwhile, are prioritised on these digital maps.

Another campaign, #ShowTheWall, has lobbied the tech giants to mark on their maps the path of Israel’s 700-kilometre-long steel and concrete barrier, effectively used by Israel to annex occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.

And last month Palestinian groups launched yet another campaign, #GoogleMapsPalestine, demanding that the occupied territories be labelled “Palestine”, not just the West Bank and Gaza. The UN recognised the state of Palestine back in 2012, but Google and Apple refused to follow suit.

Palestinians rightly argue that these firms are replicating the kind of disappearance of Palestinians familiar from Israeli textbooks, and that they uphold “mapping segregation” that mirrors Israel’s apartheid laws in the occupied territories.

Today’s crimes of occupation – house demolitions, arrests of activists and children, violence from soldiers, and settlement expansion – are being documented by Israel, just as its earlier crimes were.

Future historians may one day unearth those papers from the Israeli archives and learn the truth. Those Israeli policies were not driven, as Israel claims now, by security concerns, but by a colonial desire to destroy Palestinian society and pressure Palestinians to leave their homeland, to be replaced by Jews.

The lessons for future researchers will be no different from the lessons learnt by their predecessors, who discovered the 1948 documents.

But in truth, we do not need to wait all those years hence. We can understand what is happening to Palestinians right now – simply by refusing to conspire in their silencing. It is time to listen.

How the Israel-UAE deal puts the bogus peace industry back in business

Jonathan Cook , a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

15 August 2020 08:25 UTC 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Jerusalem on 13 August (AFP)

 

If there is one conclusion to draw from the agreement this week between Israel and the United Arab Emirates – with Israel temporarily “suspending” its threat to illegally annex parts of the West Bank in return for “full normalisation” with the Gulf state – it is this: the peace industry is back in business.

But this time, unlike the interminable Oslo Accords signed a quarter of a century ago, there won’t even be the pretence that Palestinians are needed for “Middle East peace” to proceed. This is a process that takes place over their heads, a dialogue from which they are entirely absent. 

This is a peace process in which Arab states, led by the UAE, formally join Israel in waging war on Palestinians

This peace process is not between Palestinians and Israel, Washington’s client in the region. It is between Israel and oil-rich Arab states loyal to the US. It is a process that allows them to end the pretence that they are enemies of Israel. It means that they can stop feigning support for the Palestinian struggle for a state – even one on the last remnants of Palestinians’ homeland.

This is a peace process that effectively rubber-stamps the occupation and the many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements Israel has built to steal Palestinian land over many decades. 

This is a peace process that moves the ostensible goal posts from permanently ending the occupation to simply postponing – for a little longer – Israel’s ambition to permanently annex those Palestinian lands it has already stolen. 

In short, this is a peace process in which Arab states, led by the UAE, formally join Israel in waging war on Palestinians.

‘Outside-in’ strategy

In that sense, this is a continuation of the process begun by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law, in developing the so-called “deal of the century”. 

Israel and the Arab world: A history of recognition attempts
Read More »

From the start, Kushner turned to the Gulf – to which he and the rest of the US political and economic elite have long been personally close – and sought to craft what became known as the “outside-in” strategy

That meant recruiting as many Arab regimes as possible, starting with the oil-rich Gulf states, to sign up to the Trump “peace plan” and use their weight – and money – to strong-arm Palestinians into surrendering to Israeli diktats.

A White House dedicated to the politics of the used-car lot was bound to imagine that economics could be used to bludgeon Palestinians into compliance. That was why Kushner held an economic conference in Bahrain early last summer, even before he had a peace plan to unveil

Saudis next in line?

Sensing how this was playing out, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas refused early on to engage with the Trump plan, and soon cut off all ties to Washington. It made no difference. This was a peace plan that did not need the Palestinian people to be involved in the haggling over their future. 

The Trump plan, unveiled earlier in the year, offered Palestinians the promise of an eventual state on shards of the West Bank, after Israel had been allowed to annex swaths of their territory. 

Now, Israel has put this move on temporary hold in return for normalisation with the UAE. Kushner says other states are expected to follow. Bahrain and Oman are likely to be close behind

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Abu Dhabi in November 2019 (WAM/AFP)
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Abu Dhabi in November 2019 (WAM/AFP)

The agreement states: “The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together to achieve this goal.” 

The real coup would be Saudi Arabia, which is presumably waiting to see how the deal with the UAE is received. It is hard to imagine, however, that the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, took this step without first getting the green light from Riyadh.

By contrast, the previous Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, championed a regional peace agreement in 2002 that offered Israel full recognition by the Arab states in return for Israel conceding Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories. 

That offer exposed the true colours of Israel and Washington. Israeli leaders ignored the Saudi plan, and, taking their cue from Tel Aviv, US leaders refused to seize the opportunity to advance the bold Saudi offer as the basis for a peace agreement.

Biden jumps on board

Under Trump, things have rapidly worsened for Palestinians. Millions of refugees have been starved of aid; the US embassy has been moved to Jerusalem; Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been approved; and illegal settlements have continued to expand.  

And yet, Israeli intransigence is paying off. The Gulf is ready to offer Israel normalisation, not just without any meaningful concessions, but at the same time as the situation for Palestinians deteriorates significantly.

The peace process was always about keeping Israel in control of the entire space, with a segment of Palestinians allowed to live there as a caged, dependent people

Trump has called the Israeli-UAE pact “a historic peace agreement between our two great friends”. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, described the UAE’s normalisation with Israel as “a significant step forward for peace in the Middle East”. 

But anyone who imagines that this is simply a floundering, implausible last move by a lame-duck president – assuming Trump fails to win the presidential election in November – is likely to be in for a disappointment. 

Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, has also excitedly jumped on board. He described the agreement as “a welcome, brave, and badly needed act of statesmanship,” adding that the alternative – annexation – “would be a body blow to the cause of peace”. 

Bitter victory

In one sense, this is a victory, even if a very bitter one, for the Palestinian leadership. They denounced the agreement. Palestinians’ belated refusal to engage with the Trump plan – after long colluding in a US-dictated Oslo peace process that was designed from the outset to negate their right to live in dignity in their homeland – has flushed the real US-Israeli agenda out into the open. 

Even with the best interpretation of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were never going to be allowed the semblance of a sovereign state, even on the remnants of their original homeland. 

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They were to have no control over their borders, their airspace, the electromagnetic spectrum, or their diplomatic relations with other states. And of course, they were most definitely not going to be allowed an army.

The peace process was always about keeping Israel in control of the entire space, with a segment of Palestinians allowed to live there as a caged, dependent people. They could either willingly agree to their subordination, or face further repression from Israel to crush their spirit. 

Now, all of this is no longer being disguised, even if politicians and diplomats in Washington and the Gulf wish to mislead the rest of the world that this should still be called a “peace process”. 

Signs that they may get away with this monumental deception were evident in the responses of major European capitals, which welcomed the agreement. Germany called it “an important contribution to peace in the region,” while Boris Johnson in the UK said it was “hugely good news”. 

The message sent by Israel, the US and the UAE is that committing war crimes and violating international humanitarian law can pay handsome dividends over the long run. 

A shared agenda

The gains in this deal for the UAE and the other Gulf states – assuming, as seems likely, that they follow suit – are simple. The Sunni Gulf has long wanted fuller integration into the US-Israeli security nexus in the Middle East. 

The US, Israel and the Gulf states share a deep hostility towards Iran and its Shia co-religionist factions in the region – from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Yemen.

Israel opposes these Shia actors because they have proved most ready to resist it, as well as Washington’s imperial designs, centred on control over the region’s oil. 

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman shake hands in Riyadh in 2017 (Bandar al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)
US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman shake hands in Riyadh in 2017 (Bandar al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

The Gulf, meanwhile, as the birthplace of Sunni Islam and the supposed guardian of its honour, has a separate interest in securing its sectarian hegemony in the region. Gulf states have been developing close, if semi-covert, ties to Israel in recent years while engaging more actively in wars across the region, either through proxies in Syria and Iraq or directly in Yemen.

They have been keen to go public with normalisation so that they can gain greater access to US-Israeli intelligence and improved military technology, which would naturally flow from increased levels of trust. 

Imperial agenda

Aside from the bland, positive diplomatic wording, the agreement does not veil this goal: A new “Strategic Agenda for the Middle East” will be developed to “expand diplomatic, trade, and security cooperation”. The US, Israel and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability”.

Repackaging its role in this entirely self-interested deal, the UAE can also still present itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution, delaying annexation to another day.

The Gulf states want to be on the right side of that military-industrial divide as the US moves into choppier waters ahead

The advantages to the Gulf run deeper still, however. Washington’s imperial agenda inevitably feeds and needs enemies, especially in an oil-rich region such as the Middle East, to justify endless wars and endless profits for its “defence” industries. 

The Gulf states want to be on the right side of that military-industrial divide as the US moves into choppier waters ahead, facing oil shortages, a deterioration in the global climate, and the rise of China as a superpower.

Diplomatic coup

Washington’s interests in the deal, and Trump’s, are similarly clear. Pushing ahead with annexation has proved much harder than the Trump administration expected. European and Arab capitals were adamantly opposed to a move that would deprive them of the two-state cover story that, for more than two decades, had allowed them to pretend they were committed to Middle East peace. 

And it became ever harder for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to muster support from the Israeli public for annexation as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changed priorities. 

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Months from a presidential election he is predicted to lose, Trump needed a diplomatic coup in the Middle East after promising so much and achieving so little with his much-trumpeted “deal of the century”. Now he has it.

This move will placate his large Christian evangelical electoral base, which is devoted to Israel and supports whatever it wants. Evangelical leaders lost no time in saying they were “elated” by the announcement. 

It can also be spun, as his officials began vigorously doing from the outset, as an “historic peace agreement” – equivalent to the deals Israel signed previously with Egypt and Jordan. That can be used on the campaign trail to sell Trump to the wider electorate as one of the great US statesmen. 

Sharpening the battle lines

But there are wider benefits for the bipartisan Washington foreign policy elite. They have long wished to cement ties between Israel and the Gulf states, having the US’ two most reliable regional allies publicly cooperating. 

As the Gulf states have become more deeply and obviously enmeshed in wars across the Middle East – from Syria to Yemen – an agreement allying them to Israel helps Washington’s improbable narrative that they are really the good guys. It will sharpen the region’s battle lines and, it is hoped, convey greater legitimacy on these theocratic dictatorships.

Palestinians step on a placard displaying pictures of Gulf, Israeli and US leaders during a protest in Gaza City in June 2019 (AFP)
Palestinians step on a placard displaying pictures of Gulf, Israeli and US leaders during a protest in Gaza City in June 2019 (AFP)

The US hopes, too, that the agreement with the UAE – and other Gulf states later – will once again provide a plausible cover story as Israel entrenches its occupation, steals more Palestinian land and intensifies its repression of Palestinians. 

It will allow Washington to revive its bogus claims of being an “honest broker,” seeking the best for Palestinians, even if their leaders are supposedly too dimwitted to understand what is good for them. 

Pitting the Palestinian leadership against the Gulf – as well as other Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt, that dare not antagonise their oil-rich neighbours – will further isolate Palestinians. They can now be presented more convincingly as entrenched opponents of peace, at best – or, if they resist, as terrorists.

Netanyahu bailed out

Lastly, Netanyahu, who is in deep trouble, hopes this agreement can dig him out of his hole. He is up against a wave of protests that have rallied large sections of Israeli society, including on the right. He faces an unprecedented corruption trial. His handling of the Covid-19 pandemic looks increasingly catastrophic. The Israeli economy is imploding. 

In this context, his focus on West Bank annexation alienated much of the Israeli public, and even failed to satisfy sections of the settler community, who want all of the Palestinian territories, not just large parts. A deal with the UAE, and implicitly one with the rest of the Gulf, allows him to climb down from an unpopular annexation plan. 

Netanyahu has demonstrated to Israelis that he was right. Israel could violate international law, steal land, commit war crimes – and western and Arab states would stomach it all

Netanyahu has long declared himself Mr Security, the protector of Israel’s interests, and the only Israeli leader capable of making dramatic moves on the global stage. Here, he appears to have done both. It has even forced his political opponents to praise his achievement. 

Netanyahu has managed to pull all this off while being able to argue that annexation was still “on the table,” placating his supporters among the settlers.

The agreement may yet set the stage for him to win a winter election he is widely reported to be preparing for.

No price to pay

The abandonment of annexation, temporarily or otherwise, will not, of course, interrupt Israel’s continuing capture of ever more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, nor its relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Netanyahu has demonstrated to Israelis that he was right. Israel could violate international law, steal land, commit war crimes – and western and Arab states would stomach it all. Israel would have to pay no price for its behaviour. 

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Haaretz recalled on Friday that, when asked in 2018 whether concessions to Palestinians initiated in the Oslo Accords had gradually led to improvements in relations with the Arab world, Netanyahu responded that it was the “exact opposite”.

By first recruiting the West and Arab regimes to Israel’s side, he said, Israel would “become so strong” that it would force Palestinians to “understand that they have no choice but to compromise with us” – his term for absolute submission. 

For Netanyahu, a strategic alliance with the Gulf – at the expense of Palestinians – has always been about more than just grabbing the occupied territories. It is central to his vision of an unreformed, maximalist, ethnic supremacist, Israeli state secure in the Middle East, serving as a regional hegemon alongside US global power.

Now, with this deal, Netanyahu believes he is in sight of the finishing line.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Israel’s Jewish National Fund Is Uprooting Palestinians – Not Planting Trees

By Jonathan Cook
Source: Jonathan Cook

The Jewish National Fund, established more than 100 years ago, is perhaps the most venerable of the international Zionist organisations. Its recent honorary patrons have included prime ministers, and it advises UN forums on forestry and conservation issues.

It is also recognised as a charity in dozens of western states. Generations of Jewish families, and others, have contributed to its fundraising programmes, learning as children to drop saved pennies into its trademark blue boxes to help plant a tree.

And yet its work over many decades has been driven by one main goal: to evict Palestinians from their homeland. 

The JNF is a thriving relic of Europe’s colonial past, even if today it wears the garb of an environmental charity. As recent events show, ethnic cleansing is still what it excels at.

The organisation’s mission began before the state of Israel was even born. Under British protection, the JNF bought up tracts of fertile land in what was then historic Palestine. It typically used force to dispossess Palestinian sharecroppers whose families had worked the land for centuries.

But the JNF’s expulsion activities did not end in 1948, when Israel was established through a bloody war on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland – an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

Israel hurriedly demolished more than 500 cleansed Palestinian villages, and the JNF was entrusted with the job of preventing some 750,000 refugees from returning. It did so by planting forests over both the ruined homes, making it impossible to rebuild them, and village lands to stop them being farmed.

These plantations were how the JNF earned its international reputation. Its forestry operations were lauded for stopping soil erosion, reclaiming land and now tackling the climate crisis.

But even this expertise – gained through enforcing war crimes – was undeserved. Environmentalists say the dark canopies of trees it has planted in arid regions such as the Negev, in Israel’s south, absorb heat unlike the unforested, light-coloured soil. Short of water, the slow-growing trees capture little carbon. Native species of brush and animals, meanwhile, have been harmed.

These pine forests – the JNF has planted some 250 million trees – have also turned into a major fire hazard. Most years hundreds of fires break out after summer droughts exacerbated by climate change.

Early on, the vulnerability of the JNF’s saplings was used as a pretext to outlaw the herding of native black goats. Recently the goats, which clear undergrowth, had to be reintroduced to prevent the fires. But the goats’ slaughter had already served its purpose, forcing Bedouin Palestinians to abandon their pastoral way of life.

Despite surviving the Nakba, thousands of Bedouin in the Negev were covertly expelled to Egypt or the West Bank in Israel’s early years.

It would be wrong, however, to imagine that the JNF’s troubling role in these evictions was of only historical interest. The charity, Israel’s largest private land owner, is actively expelling Palestinians to this day.

In recent weeks, solidarity activists have been desperately trying to prevent the eviction of a Palestinian family, the Sumarins, from their home in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.

Last month the Sumarins lost a 30-year legal battle waged by the JNF, which was secretly sold their home in the late 1980s by the Israeli state.

The family’s property was seized – in violation of international law – under a draconian 1950 piece of legislation declaring Palestinian refugees of the Nakba “absent”, so that they could not reclaim their land inside the new state of Israel.

The Israeli courts have decreed that the Absentee Property Law can be applied outside Israel’s recognised territory too, in occupied Jerusalem. In the Sumarins’ case, it appears not to matter that the family was never actually “absent”. The JNF is permitted to evict the 18 family members next month. To add insult to injury, they will have to pay damages to the JNF.

A former US board member, Seth Morrison, resigned in protest in 2011 at the JNF’s role in such evictions, accusing it of working with extreme settler groups. Last year the JNF ousted a family in similar circumstances near Bethlehem. Days later settlers moved on to the land.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, warned that these cases create a dangerous legal precedent if Israel carries out its promise to annex West Bank territory. It could rapidly expand the number of Palestinians classified as “absentees”.

But the JNF never lost its love of the humble tree as the most effective – and veiled – tool of ethnic cleansing. And it is once again using forests as a weapon against the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian, survivors of the Nakba.

Earlier this year it unveiled its “Relocation Israel 2040” project. The plan is intended to “bring about an in-depth demographic change of an entire country” – what was once sinisterly called “Judaisation”. The aim is to attract 1.5 million Jews to Israel, especially to the Negev, over the next 20 years.

As in Israel’s first years, forests will be vital to success. The JNF is preparing to plant trees on an area of 40 sq km belonging to Bedouin communities that survived earlier expulsions. Under the cover of environmentalism, many thousands of Bedouin could be deemed “trespassers”.

The Bedouin have been in legal dispute with the Israeli state for decades over ownership of their lands. This month in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Daniel Atar, the JNF’s global head, urged Jews once again to drop money into its boxes. He warned that Jews could be dissuaded from coming to the Negev by its reputation for “agricultural crimes” – coded reference to Bedouin who have tried to hold on to their pastoral way of life.

Trees promise both to turn the semi-arid region greener and to clear “unsightly” Bedouin off their ancestral lands. Using the JNF’s original colonial language of “making the desert bloom”, Atar said his organisation would make “the wilderness flourish”.

The Bedouin understand the fate likely to befall them. In a protest last month they carried banners: “No expulsions, no displacement.”

After all, Palestinians have suffered forced displacement at the JNF’s hands for more than a century, while watching it win plaudits from around the world for its work in improving the “environment”.

If Coronavirus Overwhelms Gaza, Israel Alone is to Blame

April 15, 2020

Using humble means, a refugee worker sterilizes the streets in Al-Shati refugee camp. (Photo: Fawzi Mahmoud, The Palestine Chronicle)

Source

By Jonathan Cook

The Palestinians of Gaza know all about lockdowns. For the past 13 years, some two million of them have endured a closure by Israel more extreme than anything experienced by almost any other society – including even now, as the world hunkers down to try to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel has been carrying out an unprecedented experiment in Gaza, using the latest military hardware and surveillance technology to blockade this tiny coastal enclave by land, air, and sea.

Nothing moves in or out without Israel’s say-so – until three weeks ago when the virus smuggled itself into Gaza inside two Palestinians returning from Pakistan. It is known to have spread to more than a dozen people so far, though doctors have no idea of the true extent. Testing equipment ran out days ago.

Unless Gaza enjoys a miraculous escape, an epidemic is only a matter of time. The consequences hardly bear contemplating.

Countries around the world are wondering what to do with their prison populations, aware that, once it takes hold, COVID-19 is certain to spread rapidly in crowded, enclosed spaces, leaving havoc in its wake.

Gaza is often compared to an open-air prison. But even this analogy is not quite right. This is a prison that the United Nations has warned is on the brink of being “uninhabitable”.

In the prison of Gaza, many inmates are undernourished, and physically and emotionally scarred by a decade of military assaults. They lack essentials such as clean water and electricity after repeated Israeli attacks on basic infrastructure. And the 13-year blockade means there is only rudimentary medical care if they get sick.

Social distancing is impossible in one of the most crowded places on earth. In Jabaliya, one of eight refugee camps in the enclave, there are 115,000 people packed together in little more than a square kilometer. Comparable population density nearby in Israel is typically measured in the hundreds.

There are few clinics and hospitals to cope. According to human rights groups, Gaza has approximately 60 ventilators – most of them already in use. Israel has 15 times as many ventilators per head of the population.

There is little in the way of protective gear. And medicines are already in short supply or unavailable, even before the virus hits. Gaza’s infant mortality – an important measure of medical and social conditions – is more than seven times higher than Israel’s. Life expectancy is 10 years lower.

Unlike a normal prison, Gaza’s warden – Israel – denies responsibility for the inmates’ welfare. Since it carried out a so-called “disengagement” 15 years ago, dismantling illegal settlements there, Israel has argued – against all evidence – that it is no longer the occupying power.

That should have been proved an obvious lie when Palestinians, choking on their isolation and deprivation, began rallying in protest two years ago at the perimeter fence that acts as a cage locking them in. Demonstrators were greeted with live fire from Israeli snipers.

Around 200 people were killed, and many thousands left with horrific injuries, mostly to their legs. Medical services are still overwhelmed by the need for long-term surgery, amputations and rehabilitation for the disabled protesters.

What is already a crisis barely needs a nudge from the coronavirus to be tipped into a health disaster.

And with most of the population already below the poverty line, after Israel’s blockade destroyed Gaza’s textile, construction and agricultural industries, the economy is no shape to withstand an epidemic either.

Most governments, including Israel’s, maintain a degree of control even in the face of this most unexpected emergency. They could prepare for it, even if many were slow to do so. They can marshall factories to produce ventilators and protective equipment. And they have the resources to rebuild their health services and economies afterward.

If they fail in these tasks, it will be their failure.

But Gaza is entirely dependent on Israel and an international community preoccupied with its own troubles. Even if health authorities can secure ventilators and protective equipment in the current, highly competitive global market, Israel will decide whether to let them in. Equally, it could choose to seize them for its own use, in order to placate growing domestic criticism that it is short of vital equipment.

The blame for Gaza’s plight – now and in the future – lands squarely at Israel’s door.

Israel should be helping Gaza, but it is doing the precise opposite. Last week, Israeli planes sprayed herbicide to destroy the crops of Gaza’s farmers – part of a policy to keep clear sight-lines for Israeli military forces.

Moreover, in this time of crisis, Gaza’s food insecurity is only set to deepen. For the past year, Israel has been starving both Gaza and the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank of the taxes and duties it collects on their behalf and that rightfully belong to the Palestinian people. Many families have no money for food.

The US has aggravated this financial crisis by cutting funds to the United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA, which cares for many of Gaza’s families expelled by Israel from their homes decades ago and forcibly crowded into the enclave.

The little influence retained by Hamas relates to the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners held illegally in Israel. Hamas wants them out, especially the most vulnerable, aware of the danger the virus poses to them in Israel, where the contagion is more advanced.

It is reported to be trying to negotiate a release of prisoners, offering to return the corpses of two soldiers it seized during Israel’s infamous attack on Gaza in 2014 that killed more than 500 Palestinian children.

If Israel refuses to trade, as seems likely, or denies entry to much-needed medical supplies, Gaza’s only other practical leverage will be to fire missiles into Israel, as Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has threatened. That is the one-time western states can be expected to notice Gaza and voice their condemnation – though not of Israel.

But if plague does overwhelm Gaza, the truth about who is really responsible will be hard to conceal.

Modeling the horrifying conditions in Gaza, Israeli experts warned last year of an epidemic like cholera sweeping the enclave. They predicted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians storming the fence to escape contagion and death.

It is the Israeli army’s nightmare scenario. It admits it has no response other than – as with the fence protests – to gun down those pleading for help.

For decades Israel has pursued a policy of treating Palestinians as less than human. It has minutely controlled their lives while denying any meaningful responsibility for their welfare. That deeply unethical and inhumane stance could soon face the ultimate test.

(A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.)

– Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit his website www.jonathan-cook.net.

The Bigger Picture Is Hiding Behind a Virus

By Jonathan Cook

Source

Things often look the way they do because someone claiming authority tells us they look that way. If that sounds too cynical, pause for a moment and reflect on what seemed most important to you just a year ago, or even a few weeks ago. 

Then, you may have been thinking that Russian interference in western politics was a vitally important issue, and something that we needed to invest much of our emotional and political energy in countering. Or maybe a few weeks ago you felt that everything would be fine if we could just get Donald Trump out of the White House. Or maybe you imagined that Brexit was the panacea to Britain’s problems – or, conversely, that it would bring about the UK’s downfall.

Still feel that way?

After all, much as we might want to (and doubtless some will try), we can’t really blame Vladimir Putin, or Russian troll farms spending a few thousand dollars on Facebook advertising, for the coronavirus pandemic. Much as we might want to, we can’t really blame Trump for the catastrophic condition of the privatised American health care system, totally ill-equipped and unprepared for a nationwide health emergency. And as tempting as it is for some of us, we can’t really blame Europe’s soft borders and immigrants for the rising death toll in the UK. It was the global economy and cheap travel that brought the virus into Britain, and it was the Brexit-loving prime minister Boris Johnson who dithered as the epidemic took hold.

The bigger picture

Is it possible that only a few weeks ago our priorities were just a little divorced from a bigger reality? That what appeared to be the big picture was not actually big enough? That maybe we should have been thinking about even more important, pressing matters – systemic ones like the threat of a pandemic of the very kind we are currently enduring.

Because while we were all thinking about Russiagate or Trump or Brexit, there were lots of experts – even the Pentagon, it seems – warning of just such a terrible calamity and urging that preparations be made to avoid it. We are in the current mess precisely because those warnings were ignored or given no attention – not because the science was doubted, but because there was no will to do something to avert the threat.

If we reflect, it is possible to get a sense of two things. First, that our attention rarely belongs to us; it is the plaything of others. And second, that the “real world”, as it is presented to us, rarely reflects anything we might usefully be able to label as objective reality. It is a set of political, economic and social priorities that have been manufactured for us.

Agents outside our control with their own vested interests – politicians, the media, business – construct reality, much as a film-maker designs a movie. They guide our gaze in certain directions and not others.

A critical perspective 

At a moment like this of real crisis, one that overshadows all else, we have a chance – though only a chance – to recognise this truth and develop our own critical perspective. A perspective that truly belongs to us, and not to others.

Think back to the old you, the pre-coronavirus you. Were your priorities the same as your current ones?

This is not to say that the things you prioritise now – in this crisis – are necessarily any more “yours” than the old set of priorities.

If you’re watching the TV or reading newspapers – and who isn’t – you’re probably feeling scared, either for yourself or for your loved ones. All you can think about is the coronavirus. Nothing else really seems that important by comparison. And all you can hope for is the moment when the lockdowns are over and life returns to normal.

But that’s not objectively the “real world” either. Terrible as the coronavirus is, and as right as anyone is to be afraid of the threat it poses, those “agents of authority” are again directing and controlling our gaze, though at least this time those in authority include doctors and scientists. And they are guiding our attention in ways that serve their interests – for good or bad.

Endless tallies of infections and deaths, rocketing graphs, stories of young people, along with the elderly, battling for survival serve a purpose: to make sure we stick to the lockdown, that we maintain social distancing, that we don’t get complacent and spread the disease.

Here our interests – survival, preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed – coincide with those of the establishment, the “agents of authority”. We want to live and prosper, and they need to maintain order, to demonstrate their competence, to prevent dissatisfaction bubbling up into anger or open revolt.

Crowded out by detail 

But again the object of our attention is not as much ours as we may believe. While we focus on graphs, while we twitch the curtains to see if neighbours are going for a second run or whether families are out in the garden celebrating a birthday distant from an elderly parent, we are much less likely to be thinking about how well the crisis is being handled. The detail, the mundane is again crowding out the important, the big picture.

Our current fear is an enemy to our developing and maintaining a critical perspective. The more we are frightened by graphs, by deaths, the more we are likely to submit to whatever we are told will keep us safe.

Under cover of the public’s fear, and of justified concerns about the state of the economy and future employment, countries like the US are transferring huge sums of public money to the biggest corporations. Politicians controlled by big business and media owned by big business are pushing through this corporate robbery without scrutiny – and for reasons that should be self-explanatory. They know our attention is too overwhelmed by the virus for us to assess intentionally mystifying arguments about the supposed economic benefits, about yet more illusory trickle-down.

There are many other dramatic changes being introduced, almost too many and too rapidly for us to follow them properly. Bans on movementIntensified surveillanceCensorship. The transfer of draconian powers to the police, and preparations for the deployment of soldiers on streets. Detention without trialMartial law. Measures that might have terrified us when Trump was our main worry, or Brexit, or Russia, may now seem a price worth paying for a “return to normality”.

Paradoxically, a craving for the old-normal may mean we are prepared to submit to a new-normal that could permanently deny us any chance of returning to the old-normal.

The point is not just that things are far more provisional than most of us are ready to contemplate; it’s that our window on what we think of as “the real world”, as “normal”, is almost entirely manufactured for us.

Distracted by the virus 

Strange as this may sound right now, in the midst of our fear and suffering, the pandemic is not really the big picture either. Our attention is consumed by the virus, but it is, in a truly awful sense, a distraction too.

In a few more years, maybe sooner than we imagine, we will look back on the virus – with the benefit of distance and hindsight – and feel the same way about it we do now about Putin, or Trump, or Brexit.

It will feel part of our old selves, our old priorities, a small part of a much bigger picture, a clue to where we were heading, a portent we did not pay attention to when it mattered most.

The virus is one small warning – one among many – that we have been living out of sync with the natural world we share with other life. Our need to control and dominate, our need to acquire, our need for security, our need to conquer death – they have crowded out all else. We have followed those who promised quick, easy solutions, those who refused to compromise, those who conveyed authority, those who spread fear, those who hated.

If only we could redirect our gaze, if we could seize back control of our attention for a moment, we might understand that we are being plagued not just by a virus but by our fear, our hate, our hunger, our selfishness. The evidence is there in the fires, the floods and the disease, in the insects that have disappeared, in the polluted seas, in the stripping of the planet’s ancient lungs, its forests, in the melting ice-caps.

The big picture is hiding in plain sight, no longer obscured by issues like Russia and Brexit but now only by the most microscopic germ, marking the thin boundary between life and death.

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