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Have you noticed how every major foreign policy crisis since the US and UK’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 US 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 US 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

I 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.

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 US 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 scripted 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 colonised?

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 US, 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 US military-industrial complex is essentially the same as US 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.

 

Events of the past few days suggest British journalism – the so-called Fourth Estate – is not what it purports to be: a watchdog monitoring the centers of state power. It is quite the opposite.

The pretensions of the establishment media took a severe battering this month as the defamation trial of Guardian columnist Carole Cadwalladr reached its conclusion and the hacked emails of Paul Mason, a long-time stalwart of the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian, were published online.

Both of these celebrated journalists have found themselves outed as recruits – in their differing ways – to a covert information war being waged by Western intelligence agencies.

Had they been honest about it, that collusion might not matter so much. After all, few journalists are as neutral or as dispassionate as the profession likes to pretend. But along with many of their colleagues, Cadwalladr and Mason have broken what should be a core principle of journalism: transparency.

The role of serious journalists is to bring matters of import into the public space for debate and scrutiny. Journalists thinking critically aspire to hold those who wield power – primarily state agencies – to account on the principle that, without scrutiny, power quickly corrupts.

The purpose of real journalism – as opposed to the gossip, entertainment and national-security stenography that usually passes for journalism – is to hit up, not down.

And yet, both of these journalists, we now know, were actively colluding, or seeking to collude, with state actors who prefer to operate in the shadows, out of sight. Both journalists were coopted to advance the aims of the intelligence services.

And worse, each of them either sought to become a conduit for, or actively assist in, covert smear campaigns run by Western intelligence services against other journalists.

What they were doing – along with so many other establishment journalists – is the very antithesis of journalism. They were helping to conceal the operation of power to make it harder to scrutinize. And not only that. In the process, they were trying to weaken already marginalized journalists fighting to hold state power to account.

Russian collusion?

Cadwalladr’s cooperation with the intelligence services has been highlighted only because of a court case. She was sued for defamation by Arron Banks, a businessman and major donor to the successful Brexit campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.

In a kind of transatlantic extension of the Russiagate hysteria in the United States following Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, Cadwalladr accused Banks of lying about his ties to the Russian state. According to the court, she also suggested he broke election funding laws by receiving Russian money in the run-up to the Brexit vote, also in 2016.

That year serves as a kind of ground zero for liberals fearful about the future of “Western democracy” – supposedly under threat from modern “barbarians at the gate,” such as Russia and China – and about the ability of Western states to defend their primacy through neo-colonial wars of aggression around the globe.

The implication is Russia masterminded a double subversion in 2016: on one side of the Atlantic, Trump was elected US president; and, on the other, Britons were gulled into shooting themselves in the foot – and undermining Europe – by voting to leave the EU.

Faced with the court case, Cadwalladr could not support her allegations against Banks as true. Nonetheless, the judge ruled against Banks’ libel action, on the basis that the claims had not sufficiently harmed his reputation.

The judge also decided, perversely in a British defamation action, that Cadwalladr had “reasonable grounds” to publish claims that Banks received “sweetheart deals” from Russia, even though “she had seen no evidence he had entered into any such deals.” An investigation by the National Crime Agency ultimately found no evidence either.

So given those circumstances, what was the basis for her accusations against Banks?

Cadwalladr’s journalistic modus operandi, in her long-running efforts to suggest widespread Russian meddling in British politics, is highlighted in her witness statement to the court.

In it, she refers to another of her Russiagate-style stories: one from 2017 that tried to connect the Kremlin with Nigel Farage, a former pro-Brexit politician with the UKIP Party and close associate of Banks, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been a political prisoner in the UK for more than a decade.

At that time, Assange was confined to a single room in the Ecuadorian Embassy after its government offered him political asylum. He had sought sanctuary there, fearing he would be extradited to the US following publication by WikiLeaks of revelations that the US and UK had committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks had also deeply embarrassed the CIA by following up with the publication of leaked documents, known as Vault 7, exposing the agency’s own crimes.

Last week the UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, approved the very extradition to the US that Assange feared and that drove him into the Ecuadorian embassy. Once in the US, he faces up to 175 years in complete isolation in a supermax jail.

Assassination plot

We now know, courtesy of a Yahoo News investigation, that through 2017 the CIA hatched various schemes either to assassinate Assange or to kidnap him in one of its illegal “extraordinary rendition” operations, so he could be permanently locked up in the US, out of public view.

We can surmise that the CIA also believed it needed to prepare the ground for such a rogue operation by bringing the public on board. According to Yahoo’s investigation, the CIA believed Assange’s seizure might require a gun battle on the streets of London.

It was at this point, it seems, that Cadwalladr and the Guardian were encouraged to add their own weight to the cause of further turning public opinion against Assange.

According to her witness statement, “a confidential source in [the] US” suggested – at the very time the CIA was mulling over these various plots – that she write about a supposed visit by Farage to Assange in the embassy. The story ran in the Guardian under the headline “When Nigel Farage met Julian Assange.”

 

Nothing should better qualify me to write about world affairs at the moment – and Western meddling in Ukraine – than the fact that I have intimately followed the twists and turns of Israeli politics for two decades.

We will turn to the wider picture in a moment. But before that, let us consider developments in Israel, as its “historic”, year-old government – which included for the very first time a party representing a section of Israel’s minority of Palestinian citizens – teeters on the brink of collapse.

Crisis struck, as everyone knew it would sooner or later, because the Israeli parliament had to vote on a major issue relating to the occupation: renewing a temporary law that for decades has regularly extended Israel’s legal system outside its territory, applying it to Jewish settlers living on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank.

That law lies at the heart of an Israeli political system that the world’s leading human rights groups, both in Israel and abroad, now belatedly admit has always constituted apartheid. The law ensures that Jewish settlers living in the West Bank in violation of international law receive rights different from, and far superior to, those of the Palestinians that are ruled over by Israel’s occupying military authorities.

The law enshrines the principle of Jim Crow-style inequality, creating two different systems of law in the West Bank: one for Jewish settlers and another for Palestinians. But it does more. Those superior rights, and their enforcement by Israel’s army, have for decades allowed Jewish settlers to rampage against Palestinian rural communities with absolute impunity and steal their land – to the point that Palestinians are now confined to tiny, choked slivers of their own homeland.

In international law, that process is called “forcible transfer,” or what we would think of as ethnic cleansing. It’s a major reason that the settlements are a war crime – a fact that the International Criminal Court in the Hague is finding it very hard to ignore. Israel’s leading politicians and generals would all be tried for war crimes if we lived in a fair, and sane, world.

So what happened when this law came before the parliament for a vote on its renewal? The “historic” government, supposedly a rainbow coalition of leftwing and rightwing Jewish parties joined by a religiously conservative Palestinian party, split on entirely predictable ethnic lines.

Members of the Palestinian party either voted against the law or absented themselves from the vote. All the Jewish parties in the government voted for it. The law failed – and the government is now in trouble – because the rightwing Likud Party of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined the Palestinian parties in voting against the law, in the hope of bringing the government down, even though his legislators are completely committed to the apartheid system it upholds.

Upholding apartheid

What is most significant about the vote is that it has revealed something far uglier about Israel’s Jewish tribalism than most Westerners appreciate. It shows that all of Israel’s Jewish parties – even the “nice ones” that are termed leftwing or liberal – are in essence racist.

Most Westerners understand Zionism to be split into two broad camps: the right, including the far-right, and the liberal-left camp.

Today this so-called liberal-left camp is tiny and represented by the Israeli Labour and Meretz parties. Israel’s Labour Party is considered so respectable that Britain’s Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, publicly celebrated the recent restoration of ties after the Israeli party severed connections during the term of Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

But note this. Not only have the Labour and Meretz parties been sitting for a year in a government led by Naftali Bennett, whose party represents the illegal settlements, they have just voted for the very apartheid law that ensures the settlers get superior rights over Palestinians, including the right to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land.

In the case of the Israeli Labour Party, that is hardly surprising. Labour founded the first settlements and, apart from a brief period in the late 1990s when it paid lip service to a peace process, always backed to the hilt the apartheid system that enabled the settlements to expand. None of that ever troubled Britain’s Labour Party, apart from when it was led by Corbyn, a genuinely dedicated anti-racist.

But by contrast to Labour, Meretz is an avowedly anti-occupation party. That was the very reason it was founded in the early 1990s. Opposition to the occupation and the settlements is supposedly hardwired into its DNA. So how did it vote for the very apartheid law underpinning the settlements?

Utter hypocrisy

The naïve, or mischievous, will tell you Meretz had no choice because the alternative was Bennett’s government losing the vote – which in fact happened anyway – and reviving the chances of Netanyahu returning to power. Meretz’s hands were supposedly tied.

This argument – of pragmatic necessity – is one we often hear when groups professing to believe one thing act in ways that damage the very thing they say they hold dear.

But Israeli commentator Gideon Levy makes a very telling point that applies far beyond this particular Israeli case.

He notes that Meretz would never have been seen to vote for the apartheid law – whatever the consequences – if the issue had been about transgressing the rights of Israel’s LGBTQ community rather than transgressing Palestinian rights. Meretz, whose leader is gay, has LGBTQ rights at the top of its agenda.

Levy writes: “Two justice systems in the same territory, one for straight people and another for gay people? Is there any circumstance in which this would happen? A single political constellation that could bring it about?”

The same could be said of Labour, even if we believe, as Starmer apparently does, that it is a leftwing party. Its leader, Merav Michaeli, is an ardent feminist.

Would Labour, Levy writes, “ever raise its hand for apartheid laws against [Israeli] women in the West Bank? Two separate legal systems, one for men and another for women? Never. Absolutely not.”

Levy’s point is that even for the so-called Zionist left, Palestinians are inherently inferior by virtue of the fact that they are Palestinian. The Palestinian gay community and Palestinian women are just as affected by the Israel’s apartheid law favoring Jewish settlers as Palestinian men are. So in voting for it, Meretz and Labour showed that they do not care about the rights of Palestinian women or members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community. Their support for women and the gay community is dependent on the ethnicity of those belonging to these groups.

It should not need highlighting how close such a distinction on racial grounds is to the views espoused by the traditional supporters of Jim Crow in the U.S. or apartheid’s supporters in South Africa.

So what makes Meretz and Labour legislators capable of not just utter hypocrisy but such flagrant racism? The answer is Zionism.

 

The most dangerous thing about Elon Musk buying Twitter outright for \$44 billion is the rapidly spreading notion that his controlling an influential social media platform is dangerous. It is, but not for any of the reasons his critics assert.

The current furor is dangerously misguided for two reasons. First, it assumes that one billionaire owning Twitter is significantly more harmful than a bunch of them owning it. And second, it worries that Musk is committed to an anarchic version of free speech that will undermine the health of our societies.

This is the equivalent of staring resolutely at a single tree to avoid noticing the forest all around it. The fact that so many of us now do this routinely suggests how far we already are from a healthy society.

Money is power. The fact that our societies have allowed a small number of individuals to accumulate untold riches means we have also allowed them to gain untold power over us. Debates, like the current one about the future of Twitter, are now rarely about what is in the interests of wider society. Instead, they are about what is in the interests of billionaires, as well as the corporations and institutions that enrich and protect this tiny, pampered elite.

Musk, as the richest person alive, may have a marginally stronger hand than other billionaires to push things in his direction. But more significantly, all billionaires ultimately subscribe to the same ideological assumption that society benefits from having a class of the super-rich. They are all on Team Billionaire.

Some are more “philanthropic” than others, using the wealth they have plundered from the common good to buy themselves today’s equivalent of an indulgence – a ticket to heaven once sold by the Catholic Church for a princely sum. These “philanthropists” very publicly recycle their riches, while quietly claiming tax exemptions, to make it look as if they deserve their fortunes or as if the planet would be worse off without them.

And some billionaires are more committed to free speech than others, if only – as with the rest of us – by temperament. Certainly, it would be beneficial to have Twitter run using a transparent, open-source algorithm, as Musk says he wants, rather than the secretive algorithms increasingly preferred by the billionaires behind Google, Youtube, and Facebook.

Meritocracy race

But one thing the super-rich are not open to is the idea that billionaires should be a thing of the past, like slavery or the divine right of kings. Instead, they are all equally committed to their own ongoing power – and whatever planet-destroying economic model is required to sustain it.

And they are committed, too, to the idea that they should have much more power than the general population because they are supposedly the winners in a global meritocracy race. They believe they are better than the rest of us – that natural selection has selected them.

Musk appears more open than some billionaires to allowing the expression of a wide range of views on social media. After all, someone who believes he should face no consequences for vilifying a rescue worker as a “pedo guy” for having a better idea than himself about how to save children trapped in a cave probably prefers to see free speech defined as broadly as possible.

“Controversy” is Musk’s shtick, and being a “free speech absolutist” serves his aim of winning popular consent for his billionairedom in exactly the same way profiteering from vaccines does for Bill Gates. While they are busy raking in billions more at our expense, we are busy dividing into Team Musk or Team Gates. We cheer from the sidelines at our own irrelevance.

But one thing that Musk and Gates most assuredly agree on is that they and their ilk must never be swept into the dustbin of history. If we could ever harness Twitter to that end, we would quickly find out just how much of a “free speech absolutist” Musk really is.

‘King of trolls’

This brings us to the second misguided “row” about Musk buying Twitter and its 217 million users: that his supposed commitment to free speech will further tear apart the health of our democracies. Put bluntly, the fear is that allowing Donald Trump and his followers back into the Twitterverse will unleash the forces of darkness we have been struggling to keep at bay.

Environmentalist George Monbiot, a columnist at the liberal establishment newspaper The Guardian, calls Musk’s influence “lethal.”

His colleague Aditya Chakrabortty visibly quivers with anxiety at the prospect of a Twitter molded in Musk’s image, calling him the “king of trolls.” Democracy, Chakrabortty avers, must defend itself not only from the Trumps but from those who enable them through their “free speech absolutism.”

As is expected in such articles, Chakrabortty bolsters his argument with a statistic or two. For example, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) finds that false stories on Twitter are 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth. Putting Musk in charge of this lie factory will bring civilization crashing down, we are warned.

Let us set aside for a moment how MIT defines truth and falsehood, and assume it is capable of divining such things correctly. Again the study’s logic is compelling only so long as we stare at a single tree and ignore the forest all around.

The reason billionaires and corporations – as well as states – want to control the media is precisely that a lie is more likely to fly than the truth. Our societies have been engineered on this principle since we divided into leaders and followers.

If truth reigned supreme, and media platforms could do little to sway us from seeing reality clearly, the richest people on the planet would not be investing their money in buying their own bit of real estate in the media landscape.

But then again, if we could all see reality clearly – unclouded by corporate media interference – there wouldn’t be any billionaires. We would have understood that their extreme wealth was too much of a threat to be allowed, that their fortunes could too easily be turned against us, buying our politicians and turning our democracies into increasingly hollow shells, stripped of the good things we intended.

If billionaires weren’t making fortunes from weapons sales, we surely wouldn’t be endlessly cheering on wars.

If billionaires didn’t demand the right to buy politicians, we might be more ready to address our dysfunctional political and media systems.

If billionaires weren’t profiting from the destruction of the natural world, we might be having a more realistic conversation about the impending extinction of our species.

Censorship as panacea

But, unable to maintain their attention on the structural deformations caused by the rule of the billionaires, left-liberals like Monbiot and Chakrabortty keep deflecting to the cause of censorship. They speak of unspecified “curbs” and approve of blocking “Russian news sources” as though this is the panacea for society’s ills.

 

After Trump’s shock success, centrists urgently need a narrative that leaves untouched the status quo and its claim to moral superiority

Back in the dark days of the Soviet Union, dissidents risked being locked up – but not, officially at least, on the grounds that they had committed a political crime. In the Soviet regime’s imagination, treason and mental illness were often two sides of the same coin.

Here’s a brief description from Wikipedia of the phenomenon:

The KGB [the Soviet secret police] routinely sent dissenters to psychiatrists for diagnosing to avoid embarrassing public trials and to discredit dissidence as the product of ill minds. Highly classified government documents which have become available after the dissolution of the Soviet Union confirm that the authorities consciously used psychiatry as a tool to suppress dissent.

The weaponization of mental illness by the Soviet Union against internal critics has been described as “punitive psychiatry.”

Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian human rights activist who spent many years confined to psychiatric hospitals and labor camps, wrote “A Manual on Psychiatry for Dissenters”, together with a Ukrainian psychiatrist, Semyon Gluzman. The pair observed: “The Soviet use of psychiatry as a punitive means is based upon the deliberate interpretation of dissent … as a psychiatric problem.”

The medicalization of dissent was not unique to the Soviet Union, of course. It is a feature of authoritarian and repressive states. An ideological consensus is cultivated in the population by portraying opponents as traitors whose behavior is proof of a mental disturbance or insanity.

Publicizing dissent, and the reasons for it, through criminal trials risks dangerously challenging dominant social assumptions inculcated by propaganda. Instead, the dissenter can be quietly detained for his or her own good without their political ideology getting an airing.

Medicalizing dissent

This is why the growing trend in the West’s supposedly free and open societies towards conflating dissent with treason – and medicalizing its causes – should concern us. It is likely to be a barometer of how authoritarian our liberal democracies are rapidly becoming.

This has not happened overnight. It has been a gradual process that accelerated with the trauma for liberals of discovering that the political system they so revered was capable of spawning a president like Donald Trump. How could the most evolved of the Western democracies – which had defeated the evil Soviet empire ideologically, economically, and militarily – end up electing such a wretch for a leader?

The proper conclusion to draw was that Trump was a symptom of an entirely dysfunctional, corrupt Western political system – one with which liberals had closely identified even when it was being led by the right. (United States politics had thrown up plenty of other clearly lamentable presidents, such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but none exhibited the same degree of vulgarity and vanity that so troubled liberals.)

It should have been a moment for the scales to fall from their eyes. But that would have meant questioning everything liberals held dearest. So Instead they found other reasons to explain the rise of President Trump.

He had to be treated as an aberration, not the exemplar of a system that had long served people very much like Trump: whether it was the billionaire-owned media, the moneyed donors that had captured both political parties, or the corporate lobbies that deprived the public of proper health care and channeled public wealth into endless, devastating wars that enriched a narrow elite.

What was needed urgently was a theory that would leave the status quo – and its claim to moral superiority – untouched.

The neatest candidate, for those committed to liberalism, or its modern incarnation as neoliberalism, was the idea that Western democracies had become so open, free, fair, and honest that they had developed an inherent vulnerability – an Achilles’ heel – that could be easily exploited by malicious actors. According to this reasoning, liberal democracy was uniquely susceptible to sabotage.

Fake news ‘threat’

From 2016 onwards, the corporate media was awash with warnings that Trump was the product of dangerous new trends: populism, fake news, Russian disinformation, and online bots. These quickly became shorthand for the same supposed phenomenon.

Paradoxically, these “threats” derived from the rapid technological development of unique forms of popular engagement and more democratic media. Social media leveled the media playing field for the very first time, challenging the traditional top-down model in which state and corporate media – the latter owned and controlled by a fabulously wealthy elite – reserved for themselves an exclusive right to decide what counted as news and how news events should be interpreted and assessed.

There was indeed a problem with fake news on social media, even if it paled in comparison to the much more influential and damaging fake news on corporate media. But the real cause of the proliferation of fake news and wild conspiracies on these platforms could not be genuinely addressed by the corporate elites running our societies – and for good reason.

Fake news, like genuine news, thrives in the more democratic environment of social media only because political and media elites have kept so much real information – information that might make them look less virtuous – under wraps. It is the tight secrecy of Western democracies that has encouraged such variety of news and views, informed and uninformed alike, to proliferate.

Social media “conspiracy theories” are not evidence of how a section of the public has fallen under the malign influence of “Russian disinformation”. Rather they are a sign of how a growing number of Westerners have become so deeply distrustful of their elites and what they are concealing that they are ready to believe almost anything about their depravity, however incredible.

‘Russiagate’ born

There were two other, self-interested reasons for the billionaires and the journalists who work for them to vilify users of social media, painting them as either victims of, or colluders in, “Russian disinformation.”

First, social media made it possible for the first time to illuminate the inherent weaknesses of the traditional media’s reporting and analyses. Users could highlight what was being ignored or misrepresented, and the glaring double standards at play. Voices that had been disregarded or actively silenced suddenly had visibility.

And second, those offering a mode of critical thinking that has always been impermissible in the corporate media were positioned to question the foundations of the political and economic systems on which the billionaires – and those they employed – depended for their power and privilege.

The foundations of a political system with which liberals deeply identified were being shaken. As a result, a whole industry sprang up to insulate them from the terrifying thought that maybe Trump both personified, and represented a reaction to, something already unwholesome about the US and its values.

 
In moving from Nazareth back to the UK, I have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire

[This is the transcript of a talk I gave to Bath Friends of Palestine on 25 February 2022.]

Since I arrived with my family in the UK last summer, I have been repeatedly asked: “Why choose Bristol as your new home?”

Well, it certainly wasn’t for the weather. Now more than ever I miss Nazareth’s warmth and sunshine.

It wasn’t for the food either.

My family do have a minor connection to Bristol. My great-grandparents on my mother’s side (one from Cornwall, the other from South Wales) apparently met in Bristol – a coincidental stopping point on their separate journeys to London. They married and started a family whose line led to me.

But that distant link wasn’t the reason for coming to Bristol either.

In fact, it was only in Nazareth that Bristol began occupying a more prominent place in my family’s life.

When I was not doing journalism, I spent many years leading political tours of the Galilee, while my wife, Sally, hosted and fed many of the participants in her cultural café in Nazareth, called Liwan.

It was soon clear that a disproportionate number of our guests hailed from Bristol and the south-west. Some of you here tonight may have been among them.

But my world – like everyone else’s – started to shrink as the pandemic took hold in early 2020. As we lost visitors and the chance to directly engage with them about Palestine, Bristol began to reach out to me.

Toppled statue

It did so just as Sally and I were beginning discussions about whether it was time to leave Nazareth – 20 years after I had arrived – and head to the UK.

Even from thousands of miles away, a momentous event – the sound of Edward Colston’s statue being toppled – reverberated loudly with me.

Ordinary people had decided they were no longer willing to be forced to venerate a slave trader, one of the most conspicious criminals of Britain’s colonial past. Even if briefly, the people of Bristol took back control of their city’s public space for themselves, and for humanity.

In doing so, they firmly thrust Britain’s sordid past – the unexamined background to most of our lives – into the light of day. It is because of their defiance that buildings and institutions that for centuries bore Colston’s name as a badge of honour are finally being forced to confront that past and make amends.

Bath, of course, was built no less on the profits of the slave trade. When visitors come to Bath simply to admire its grand Georgian architecture, its Royal Crescent, we assent – if only through ignorance – to the crimes that paid for all that splendour.

Weeks after the Colston statue was toppled, Bristol made headlines again. Crowds protested efforts to transfer yet more powers to the police to curb our already savagely diminished right to protest – the most fundamental of all democratic rights. Bristol made more noise against that bill than possibly anywhere else in the UK.

I ended up writing about both events from Nazareth.

Blind to history

Since my arrival, old and new friends alike have started to educate me about Bristol. Early on I attended a slavery tour in the city centre – one that connected those historic crimes with the current troubles faced by asylum seekers in Bristol, even as Bristol lays claim to the title of “city of sanctuary”.

For once I was being guided rather than the guide, the pupil rather than the teacher – so long my role on those tours in and around Nazareth. And I could not but help notice, as we wandered through Bristol’s streets, echoes of my own tours.

Over the years I have taken many hundeds of groups around the ruins of Saffuriya, one of the largest of the Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel in its ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, the Nakba or Catastrophe.

What disturbed me most in Saffuriya was how blind its new inhabitants were to the very recent history of the place they call home.

New Jewish immigrants were moved on to the lands of Saffuriya weeks after the Israeli army destroyed the village and chased out the native Palestinian population at gunpoint. A new community built in its place was given a similar Hebrew name, Tzipori. These events were repeated across historic Palestine. Hundreds of villages were razed, and 80 per cent of the Palestinian population were expelled from what became the new state of Israel.

Troubling clues

Even today, evidence of the crimes committed in the name of these newcomers is visible everywhere. The hillsides are littered with the rubble of the hundreds of Palestinian homes that were levelled by the new Israeli army to stop their residents from returning. And there are neglected grave-stones all around – pointers to the community that was disappeared.

And yet almost no one in Jewish Tzipori asks questions about the remnants of Palestinian Saffuriya, about these clues to a troubling past. Brainwashed by reassuring state narratives, they have averted their gaze for fear of what might become visible if they looked any closer.

Tzipori’s residents never ask why there are only Jews like themselves allowed in their community, when half of the population in the surrounding area of the Galilee are Palestinian by heritage.

Instead, the people of Tzipori misleadingly refer to their Palestinian neighbours – forced to live apart from them as second and third-class citizens of a self-declared Jewish state – as “Israeli Arabs”. The purpose is to obscure, both to themselves and the outside world, the connection of these so-called Arabs to the Palestinian people.

To acknowledge the crimes Tzipori has inflicted on Saffuriya would also be to acknowledge a bigger story: of the crimes inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people as a whole.

Shroud of silence

Most of us in Britain do something very similar.

In young Israel, Jews still venerate the criminals of their recent past because they and their loved ones are so intimately and freshly implicated in the crimes.

In Britain, with its much longer colonial past, the same result is often achieved not, as in Israel, through open cheerleading and glorification – though there is some of that too – but chiefly through a complicit silence. Colston surveyed his city from up on his plinth. He stood above us, superior, paternal, authoritative. His crimes did not need denying because they had been effectively shrouded in silence.

Until Colston was toppled, slavery for most Britons was entirely absent from the narrative of Britain’s past – it was something to do with racist plantation owners in the United States’ Deep South more than a century ago. It was an issue we thought about only when Hollywood raised it.

After the Colston statue came down, he became an exhibit – flat on his back – in Bristol’s harbourside museum, the M Shed. His black robes had been smeared with red paint, and scuffed and grazed from being dragged through the streets. He became a relic of the past, and one denied his grandeur. We were able to observe him variously with curiousity, contempt or amusement.

Those are far better responses than reverence or silence. But they are not enough. Because Colston isn’t just a relic. He is a living, breathing reminder that we are still complicit in colonial crimes, even if now they are invariably better disguised.

Nowadays, we usually interfere in the name of fiscal responsibility or humanitarianism, rather than the white man’s burden.

 

There is a discursive nervous tic all over social media at the moment, including from prominent journalists such as Guardian columnist George Monbiot. The demand is that everyone not only “condemn” Russian president Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, but do so without qualification.

Any reluctance to submit is considered certain proof that the person is a Putin apologist or a Kremlin bot, and that their views on everything under the sun – especially their criticisms of equivalent Western war crimes – can be safely ignored.

How convenient for all those Western leaders who have committed war crimes at least as bad as Russia’s current ones.

I have repeatedly described Russia’s invasion as illegal; I have regularly called Putin a war criminal (you may not have noticed but I just did it again in the two preceding paragraphs); and I have consistently compared Putin’s deeds to the very worst actions taken by the West over the past two decades. But none of that is enough. More is always needed.

The demand for unequivocal denunciation is a strange, if common, one and suggests that those insisting on it are being dishonest – if only with themselves. The function of the demand is not to clarify whether any particular piece of information or an argument is credible; it is intended purely as a “gotcha” meme.

I don’t remember an insistence that anyone condemn Tony Blair or George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 before they could be heard or taken seriously. Or that they denounce the US-backed overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that plunged that country into murderous chaos. Or that they deplore the West’s material support for Saudi Arabia’s slaughter of Yemen’s population, including Britain’s sale of planes, bombs and training to Riyadh. Or that they criticize the West’s backing of head-chopping jihadists in Syria (who coincidentally now appear to be drifting into Ukraine to become our allies again). Or that they decry decades of Western support for Israel as it has disappeared the Palestinian people.

And those are things for which we – meaning Westerners – are directly responsible. We elected the politicians who caused this unquantifiable suffering. Those bombs were ours. We ought to be clamoring for our leaders to be dragged to The Hague to be tried for war crimes.

By contrast, we – meaning Westerners – are not responsible for Putin or his actions. I cannot vote him out of office. Nothing I say will make him alter course. And worse, anything I do say against him or Russia simply amplifies the mindless chorus of self-righteous Western commentary intended to cast stones at Russia’s warmongers while leaving our own home-grown warmongers in place.

Westerners denouncing Putin won’t make compromise and peace more likely. It will make it less likely. Russians need to be highlighting Putin’s crimes as best they can to drive him to the negotiating table, while we need to be doing the same to our leaders to push them to the same table. As long as our attention is on Putin and his crimes, it is not on our leaders and their crimes.

Fog of war

Those who insist it is quite possible to denounce both Putin and Western leaders at the same time are precisely the people who have been so half-hearted in holding our own leaders to account.

Monbiot, let us note, has not used a single one of his weekly columns at The Guardian to highlight the years-long plight of Julian Assange, locked away in a British dungeon for revealing US and UK war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the gravest attack on a free press in living memory, and yet Monbiot used his most recent column to attack Assange supporters, such as veteran journalist John Pilger, for not being voluble enough in denouncing Putin.

Those who require unequivocal condemnation of Putin insist that now – in the midst of a war – is not the time to be sowing doubt or undermining morale in the rightness of “our” cause. (A small giveaway that they think of this as a Western, not Ukrainian, war with Russia.)

Again conveniently, that is precisely the message Western leaders want to send too – just ask Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, whose “partygate” scandal is now a distant memory as he seeks to evoke Churchillian gravitas in facing off with Russia. Instead, the parties in the British parliament put aside their very superficial differences this week as the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, rallied them with a “historic address.”

What, really, is the point of demanding Westerners denounce Putin unequivocally when the entire Western media and political class is directing our gaze exclusively at Russia’s crimes precisely so Westerners don’t look at equivalent Western crimes?

The truth is that, in power politics, unequivocal denunciations are for politicians and diplomats – and virtue-signalers. Condemnations may be emotionally satisfying, but the rest of us can put our energies to far better use.

For most of us, the better course would be to blow away the immediate fog of war and instead analyze our – meaning the West’s – role in the unfolding events.

NATO insurance policy

Even a cursory glance shows that the West’s hands are not clean in Ukraine. Not at all. The meddling – and hypocrisy – have occurred in two stages, first from politicians and then from the media.

It was the choices made by Western politicians that provoked the invasion. (What’s coming next is an explanation, not a justification, of those developments, for those who need such things spelled out clearly).

Russian troops are in Ukraine not because Putin is “Hitler,” “mad,” or a “megalomaniac” – though, again, the invasion makes him a war criminal in the same mold as Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Russian troops are there because he and his officials judged the West to be acting malevolently and in bad faith in their dealings with Ukraine.

The Putin as “madman” or “Hitler” script deflects attention away from the very obvious fact that Western leaders wilfully played fast and loose with the security of Ukraine and the safety of its population.

The West encouraged Ukrainians to believe that they would soon fall under NATO’s security umbrella, when in fact the West had no intention of protecting them, as is now only too evident. Ukrainians were led to believe that the more Russia’s posture turned belligerent towards Ukraine the more likely NATO would be to come to Ukraine’s rescue and act as its savior.

Which, of course, incentivized the Ukrainian government to keep poking the Russian bear in the expectation that Kyiv would have a NATO insurance policy up its sleeve. It didn’t. It never did, as current events show.

 

Divide and rule, the cultivation of tribalism, is an insurance policy against successful dissent and the threat of revolution

If you were Canada’s prime minister, what would you be prepared to do to enforce Covid restrictions on large swaths of your population? No one need ask that question any longer. Now we know the answer.

For the first time in the country’s history, Justin Trudeau has invested his office with sweeping and undemocratic powers under the 1988 Emergencies Act in a bid to stop the so-called “Truckers’ Protests” against Canada’s pandemic restrictions. But, as one might expect, Trudeau has promised to use those powers briefly and sparingly – at least, until he decides otherwise.

His government can ban protests, seize protesters’ income and property without court oversight, and effectively appropriate many millions of dollars raised by supporters on crowdfunding sites to finance the protests. That isn’t a theoretical danger. Even before the current emergency powers were invoked, the Canadian government did just that. Almost certainly under federal pressure earlier in the month, GoFundMe withheld some 10 million Canadian dollars donated by protest supporters.

Trudeau has brought Canada as close to martial law as he dares without drafting platoons of soldiers on to the streets of Ottawa and Toronto and having the army seize control of the TV stations.

And paradoxically, he has responded to protesters, whose rallying cry is that the Canadian government is using the pretext of Covid to accrete more powers and behave undemocratically, by actually accreting more powers and behaving undemocratically. Trudeau acts as though this will dampen down tensions. Or maybe he is simply pandering to his electoral base.

A wiser approach has been taken by Ontario’s premier, who started lifting some of the largely redundant restrictions in his province this week as a way to take the wind out of the protesters’ sails.

Draconian measures

But let us stand back from Canada’s drama for a moment and consider both the purported and actual reason for the declaration of a state of emergency – a peacetime equivalent of Canada’s earlier War Measures Act.

The truckers’ protests have been largely peaceful – at least in the sense that there have been very few arrests and relatively minor criminal damage. The protesters have caused inconvenience but only of the kind that is inevitable in any civil disobedience campaign.

Emergency powers have been invoked because the protesters have refused to disperse and because officials warn of some future scenario of potential violence – exactly the sort of accusation leveled against any unwelcome mass protest.

However, the more pressing reason is that the truckers’ actions have impeded cross-border deliveries from Canada to US factories, such as car plants. That has started to have a damaging impact on the US economy, and President Joe Biden has been making his view on the matter only too clear to Trudeau.

It is worth considering a comparison to see how draconian and dangerously unreasonable Trudeau is being. Over several years, protests in the UK by the environmental action group Extinction Rebellion have repeatedly caused similar levels of disruption – and similar levels of antipathy from sections of the British public. Protesters have blocked highways, railway lines and airports. Some have been arrested and fined.

But despite all of this, even the right-wing government of Boris Johnson has not suggested going as far as Canada’s current state of emergency.

Pull the rug

To put the gravity of Trudeau’s decision – and the flimsiness of the justification for it – in proper perspective, consider what the Canadian prime minister needs to do to put an end to the truckers’ protests compared to what would be required of Johnson for Extinction Rebellion’s climate emergency protests to be brought to a halt.

Johnson would have to radically overhaul the entire British economy, quickly ending its reliance on fossil fuels, while abandoning his entire political ideology of individualist, dog-eat-dog capitalism and replacing it with the far more collectivist approach inherent in a Green New Deal. That is a tall order indeed. Should they spread, Extinction Rebellion’s protests really could become an emergency for Johnson.

Trudeau, on the other hand, could easily pull the rug from under the truckers’ protests – as Ontario officials are trying to do – with nothing more than a decision to relent on many of the most grating restrictions, especially mandated vaccines for some professions and the requirement on unvaccinated truckers to quarantine for 14 days on their return from the US.

That would not touch Trudeau’s political program. It would not cost the Canadian taxpayer a cent. It would not require a reorganization of Canadian society.

So why has he chosen this particular hill to make his stand?

Those who are still singularly focused on the dangers of Covid presumably think that Trudeau is right. But with the highly infectious and much milder omicron variant, hospitalization and death rates are plummeting worldwide, as the virus, after spreading like wildlife, starts to burn itself out.

Even if vaccine mandates are enforced, few of the unvaccinated will manage to get both doses before they are exposed to the virus and develop natural immunity anyway. Omicron has made the already dubious need for vaccine mandates and quarantines largely moot. The evidence suggests natural infection provides – for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike – stronger and longer-term immunity of the kind the vaccines have so far failed to deliver.

Even the argument that vaccines should still be insisted upon in case omicron mutates into another nastier variant is looking decidedly weak. Infection with omicron will provide a much closer immunity match to any future variant derived from omicron than vaccines based on the now-distant original variant of Covid.

Veil of democracy

In other words, Trudeau has ostensibly chosen to grab for himself autocratic powers, undermining Canadian democracy, for the sake of a pig-headed commitment to mandate and quarantine rules that no longer fit the science or help with the pandemic. Rather than back down in the face of changing circumstances, he has invoked extreme powers to enforce those rules.

Remember, Trudeau considered, but did not invoke, the Emergencies Act when the pandemic – a genuine emergency – hit Canada at a time when the country had no tools, such as vaccines, to deal with it. Is the need to impose vaccine mandates now really more of an emergency than the need to deal with the outbreak of Covid was two years ago?

For that reason, we all ought to be deeply troubled by what Trudeau has done. He has shown how power works and whom it benefits by stripping off the veil of democracy. As a result, Canada is in a state of emergency entirely of Trudeau and Biden’s making.

‘Shock’ experiments

Those sympathetic to Trudeau’s action, or ready to turn a blind eye to it, especially on the left, have failed to absorb the lessons of Naomi Klein’s book “Shock Doctrine.”

 

“Why is Boris Johnson making false claims about Starmer and Savile?” runs a headline in the news pages of the Guardian. It is just one of a barrage of indignant recent stories in the British media, rushing to the defence of the opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

The reason? Last week the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, blamed Starmer, now the Labour party leader, for failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, a TV presenter and serial child abuser, when his case came under police review in 2009. Between 2008 and 2013, Starmer was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Savile died in 2011 before he could face justice.

Johnson accused Starmer, who at the time was Director of Public Prosecutions, of wasting “his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.

The sudden chorus of outrage at Johnson impugning Starmer’s reputation is strange in many different ways. It is not as though Johnson has a record of good behaviour. His whole political persona is built on the idea of his being a rascal, a clown, a chancer.

He is also a well-documented liar. Few, least of all in the media, cared much about his pattern of lying until now. Indeed, most observers have long pointed out that his popularity was based on his mischief-making and his populist guise as an anti-establishment politician. No one, apart from his political opponents, seemed too bothered.

And it is also not as though there are not lots of other, more critically important things relating to Johnson to be far more enraged about, even before we consider his catastrophic handling of the pandemic, and his raiding of the public coffers to enrich his crony friends and party donors.

Jumping ship

Johnson is currently embroiled in the so-called “partygate” scandal. He attended – and his closest officials appear to have organised – several gatherings at his residence in Downing Street in 2020 and 2021 at a time when the rest of the country was under strict lockdown. For the first time the public mood has shifted against Johnson.

But it was Johnson’s criticisms of Starmer, not partygate, that led several of his senior advisers last week to resign their posts. One can at least suspect that in their case – given how quickly the Johnson brand is sinking, and the repercussions they may face from a police investigation into the partygate scandal – that finding an honorable pretext for jumping ship may have been the wisest move.

But there is something deeply strange about Johnson’s own Conservative MPs and the British media lining up to express their indignation at Johnson’s attack on Starmer, a not particularly liked or likable opposition leader, and then turning it into the reason to bring down a prime minister whose other flaws are only too visible.

What makes the situation even weirder is that Johnson’s so-called “smears” of Starmer may not actually be smears at all. They look like rare examples of Johnson alluding to – admittedly in his own clumsy and self-interested way – genuinely problematic behaviour by Starmer.

One would never know this from the coverage, of course.

Here is the Guardian supposedly fact-checking Johnson’s attack on Starmer under the apparently neutral question: “Is there any evidence that Starmer was involved in any decision not to prosecute Savile?”

The Guardian’s answer is decisive:

No. The CPS has confirmed that there is no reference to any involvement from Starmer in the decision-making within an official report examining the case.

Surrey police consulted the CPS for advice about the allegations after interviewing Savile’s victims, according to a 2013 CPS statement made by Starmer as DPP.

The official report, written by Alison Levitt QC, found that in October 2009 the CPS lawyer responsible for the cases – who was not Starmer – advised that no prosecution could be brought on the grounds that none of the complainants were ‘prepared to support any police action’.

That’s a pretty definite “No”, then. Not “No, according to Starmer”. Or “No, according to the CPS”. Or “No, according to an official report” – and doubtless a determinedly face-saving one at that – into the Savile scandal.

Just “No”.

Here is the Guardian’s political correspondent Peter Walker echoing how cut and dried the corporate media’s assessment is: “[Starmer] had no connection to decisions over the case, and the idea he did emerged later in conspiracy theories mainly shared among the far right.”

So it’s just a far-right conspiracy theory. Case against Starmer closed.

But not so fast.

Given Savile’s tight ties to the establishment – from royalty and prime ministers down – and the establishment’s role in providing, however inadvertently, cover for Savile’s paedophilia for decades, it should hardly surprise us that the blame for the failure to prosecute him has been placed squarely on the shoulders of a low-level lawyer in the Crown Prosecution Service. How it could be otherwise? If we started unpicking the thorny Savile knot, who knows how the threads might unravel?

Sacrificial victim

Former ambassador Craig Murray has made an interesting observation about Johnson’s remark on Starmer. Murray, let us remember, has been a first-hand observer and chronicler of the dark arts of the establishment in protecting itself from exposure, after he himself was made a sacrificial victim for revealing the British government’s illegal involvement in torture and extraordinary rendition.

As Murray notes:

Of course the Director of Public Prosecutions does not handle the individual cases, which are assigned to lawyers under them. But the Director most certainly is then consulted on the decisions in the high profile and important cases.

That is why they are there. It is unthinkable that Starmer was not consulted on the decision to shelve the Savile case – what do they expect us to believe his role was, as head of the office, ordering the paperclips?

And of the official inquiry into Starmer’s role that cleared him of any wrongdoing, the one that so impresses the Guardian and everyone else, Murray adds:

When the public outcry reached a peak in 2012, Starmer played the go-to trick in the Establishment book. He commissioned an “independent” lawyer he knew to write a report exonerating him. Mistakes have been made at lower levels, lessons will be learnt… you know what it says. Mishcon de Reya, money launderers to the oligarchs, provided the lawyer to do the whitewash. Once he retired from the post of DPP, Starmer went to work at, umm,…

Yes, Mischon de Reya.

Starmer and Assange

 

Whoopi Goldberg is not someone I would normally rush to defend. Our politics are too far apart on too many issues. And many will doubtless take delight in the fact that the queen of cancel culture has just found herself canceled.

But the pile-on against Goldberg for expressing a non-conventional view about the Holocaust needs examination – less for the content of the furore it has provoked than for what that furore tells us about power relations in our society. And for what the furore says about the things we hold dear and the things we don’t.

What seems to have done for Goldberg – leading to her suspension from a popular daytime TV talk show, The View, even after she apologized – was her comment that the Holocaust “isn’t about race.” Rather, she said, “it’s about man’s inhumanity to man, that’s what it’s about. These are two groups of white people…”

We don’t know exactly where Goldberg was heading with this particular line of thought because nervous fellow panelists shut it down. But she had a chance to clarify later on the Colbert Show, where she appeared to suggest that distinctions of “race” relate chiefly to the color of one’s skin.

“Race,” of course, is a socially constructed idea. Goldberg’s critics are right that calling Jews “white” in the context of the Holocaust is not only historically inaccurate but unhelpful to a clearer understanding of what the Holocaust was about. In Nazi Germany, it was the Nazis, not Whoopi Goldberg, who got to decide which groups constituted a “race.”

Nonetheless, her later apology seemed a good corrective: “On today’s show, I said the Holocaust ‘is not about race, but about man’s inhumanity to man’. I should have said it is about both … I stand corrected.”

‘Dangerous’ comment

But that, of course, was not enough. Much of the coverage has subtly implied that Goldberg skated a little too close to Holocaust denial or antisemitism. Kim Godwin, president of ABC News, reinforced that impression with a statement that presumed all Jews were offended by Goldberg’s remark: “The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League, went even further, labeling Goldberg’s comment “dangerous.” But in what meaningful sense was her remark dangerous rather than naïve, ignorant or misguided?

Goldberg wasn’t excusing or even minimizing the Holocaust. Nothing in her remarks makes a repetition of the Holocaust more likely, or encourages hatred or prejudice towards Jews. She simply reframed the Holocaust in ways that made sense to her given her own experiences of racism. Like many people, she struggled to see clearly enough another person’s viewpoint. We all do that, most of the time.

The question is: So what? Isn’t that what we have TV talk shows for? So people get to talk and exchange ideas, often worthless ones on subjects they know little about.

Moments after she had made her initial comment, Goldberg sought to expand on it in more interesting and helpful ways: “You’re missing the point … let’s talk about it for what it really is. It’s about how people treat each other. It’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, Jews … everybody eats each other.”

Within the limits of TV talk shows’ soundbite culture, she appeared to be making a universal point about how each of us is susceptible to being manipulated into hatred and violence against other groups, especially if those groups have been demonized.

‘Reflect and learn’

That was a reminder – one we hear too rarely – that the Holocaust was not a crime only against Jews. It was equally a crime against the Roma people. Half of each “race” was exterminated. The Nazis also sent other groups to the concentration camps, including socialists, gays and the disabled, none of whom could be described in racial terms.

With Western politicians and the media dehumanizing the Russian, Chinese and Iranian peoples by vilifying their leaders – and thereby driving us towards potentially catastrophic wars – it is no bad thing to be reminded that Hitler had larger ambitions even than a genocide of the Jewish people.

It is worth being reminded too that propaganda, and groupthink, occur in every period of history. It is not just one state at one time that has duped its people into committing crimes against humanity. And similarly, many groups and “races” have been victims of others’ greed and fear. To pretend otherwise is to make the repetition of such crimes more likely.

It is quite possible for Goldberg’s comment to be unhelpful or simplistic – this is daytime TV, after all – without it being especially harmful.

Nonetheless, not only was she required to apologize but she was barred from the show for two weeks “to reflect and learn.” It seems a Black woman is in greater need of reflecting on her racism than the ABC News organization and her white colleagues.

That makes sense only in the modern world of souped-up liberal identity politics, where each “race” gets to have exclusive rights over their own concerns. Black Americans can talk about slavery, though not so much about poverty and the justice system. Jews, or rather Jewish organizations, get exclusive rights to define and contextualize the Holocaust. Hispanics get … well, it’s too early to decide what they get.

And whites – the rich ones, at least – get to act as referee while all the other “races” argue about who’s been victimized most.

Schooled on racism

But here we get to the trickiest part of the Whoopi Goldberg episode. The Anti-Defamation League’s Greenblatt appears to have adopted the role of mentor as Goldberg “reflects” on her black privilege. He accompanied her as she made a second apology live on The View, the seeming first step on her path to re-education.

Does Goldberg really need to be schooled on racism by those like Greenblatt who shout their offense loudest?

In fact, Greenblatt joined the pile-on against Goldberg fresh from dealing with another pressing problem that needed his attention. He and the Anti-Defamation League had just emerged from dealing with the renowned human rights group Amnesty International, which offended their sensibilities even more grossly.

The misnamed Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is only very secondarily concerned with defamation. Its real purpose is much narrower. It works day and night to shield Israel from scrutiny so that the self-declared Jewish state can continue being a racist state oppressing and dispossessing the Palestinians it rules over. (A documentary, “Defamation,” by the Israeli film-maker Yuval Shamir, on the ADL’s role in manipulating public discourse about both the Holocaust and antisemitism is a must watch.)

That is why the ADL has just invested so much of its energies in vilifying Amnesty. This week the human rights group joined Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, an Israeli group that monitors the Israeli army’s abuses of Palestinians in the occupied territories, in declaring Israel an apartheid state. Israel is increasingly being understood as the successor to apartheid South Africa.

Victims, not perpetrators

Let us back up a minute. Remember Greenblatt said Goldberg’s comments – including her highlighting the universal message of the Holocaust as “man’s inhumanity to man” – were “dangerous.” That seems a strange assessment until we consider what the Holocaust represents to Greenblatt and other fanatical defenders of Israel.

 
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