Tuesday, July 29, 2014

People Before Profit and the Jewish Lobby

Ray Woolford of Lewisham People Before Profit is a colourful character and prolific tweeter. A few days ago, he tweeted a striking image of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews demonstrating, claiming that New York was at a standstill due to religious Jews protesting about Gaza. I don’t know if this counts as “viral”, but the tweet was retweeted thousands (although not millions) of times.

As it happened, though (and as several people pointed out to Ray on Twitter), the image (a photograph by Craig Ruttle of AP) was actually of an earlier demonstration in March,when New York haredim protested against a change in the law in Israel removing the special exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from military service. 

This kind of reckless retweeting was addressed by Padraig Reidy in an excellent piece here.  It seems innocent enough – although it contributes to the excess of fog around this conflict, obscuring the facts which we need to rationally debate. And we might also wonder what rhetorical role the image of very Jewish-looking people protesting against Israel plays in an anti-Zionist narrative.

However, a couple of days later, Ray tweeted something a bit different. When asked why the mass demonstration of Jews wasn't being reported in New York, Ray suggested it was because a "Jewish lobby" controls the media:


Then, as noticed by local tweeter Peter T, more: 
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Later, Ray added that we needn't worry, because things would soon change:

Peter wrote to Lewisham People Before Profit, noting that the myth of Jewish control has been used for centuries to justify persecution, and asking what action the party might take given its claim to stand up for those overlooked by the powerful. 

He got this back from leader John Hamilton:
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So, Hamilton thinks the claim that an all-powerful Jewish lobby controls the media and people's minds and makes all politicians scared is "not in itself anti-semitic". 

When Hamilton says "it is not surprising that Jews in general get blamed for supporting Israel", I wonder if he would say something similar about EDL attacks on Muslims. To me it seems simple: it is racism and not Israel that makes antisemites blame all Jews for the actions of Israel, just as it is racism that makes Islamophobes blame all Muslims for what jihadis do. There was plenty of antisemitism around before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and I don't think the Jews were any more to blame then. 

It is also interesting that Hamilton finds it difficult to accept that Jews are an ethnic rather than simply a religious group. He thinks it is open to speculation whether the "religious beliefs" of media proprietors generate "the media bias" - ignoring the fact that none of the main media proprietors in the UK (Rupert Murdoch, the Rothermeres, Richard Desmond or Alexander Lebedev) have Jewish religious beliefs. 

We'll see what the outcome is to their chat. But I won't hold my breath. 

And if People Before Profit want a right of reply here, I'm happy for give it to them, as I did to Hamilton last time he dabbled with antisemites

I had missed this from the early hours of 27 July, Ray retweeting about the Rothschilds:


From Lewisham teen to ISIS bride

Last week, it emerged that a local Lewisham young woman who converted to Islam and prayed at Lewisham Islamic Centre has gone to Syria to join the jihadi army Islamic State (usually known as ISIS or ISIL, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), who, after being supported by Assad’s Ba’athist regime in Syria, have now conquered a large swathe of Iraq (in alliance with Sunni and Ba’athist sectarian militias) and are on the offensive against their former sponsor in Syria.

The young woman’s Twitter profile chillingly has a photo of her toddler son with an AK-47. 

The Evening Standard has published a report on the young woman by Joshi Herrmann, based on extensive research on social media and interviews with people connected to the mosque. It is very interesting reading. It suggests that the woman may have been joined by a second Lewisham teen, probably the sixth British woman to join ISIS's foreign fighters.

Local resident and Londonist editor Rachel Holdsworth, felt that the article insinuates that the mosque is extreme while saying that the imams are not in fact radical. Al-Jazeera’s Simon Hooper describes it as sensationalised and recycling tenuous connections. However, I felt that, although the framing is unavoidably sensational, the article does a good job of exploring the complexity, including the extent and the limits of jihadi ideology in the mosque.

Herrmann shows how the attendees and the roster of preachers at mosques such as Lewisham are fluid in a way that would not be typical of Christian congregations, but that the Lewisham mosque is viewed as “hot” compared to others. However, once the young and angry convert was drawn into jihadi ideology, she found the mosque and its imams too tepid and “soft”.
the local source suggests that radicals operate independently of the centre because they regard the imam and senior figures there as “soft”. “I think a lot of them [radicals in the community] don’t even go to the mosque. As soon as they see people at the mosque like the imam going soft and asking people to vote and doing stuff in the community they branch off,” she says. It is notable that a representative for the mosque has attended Holocaust Memorial Day, at the suggestion of the council.
This was apparently also the case with Michael Adebolajo, who felt the imams were too co-operative with the police. She then left in order to find the real thing, which she has tragically found in Syria.

Gender politics seems also to have played a part in her development, with some of Herrmann’s interviewees talking about how a prevailing patriarchal culture in the mosque was one of the things that turned her away from its brand of Islam and towards a more radical version.

There is a danger that circulating these stories will fuel the potential for attacks from far right racists capitalising on these sorts of incidents. The Dad’s Army fascists of Britain First and the EDL splinter group South East Alliance have been targeting mosques and other Islamic sites in Kent and London. We need to be vigilant against such attacks, and act in solidarity with Muslims in our community under siege. But it is also right that we are vigilant and critical about the ideas circulating in our community and that we work to make them marginal.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gaza/Warsaw Ghetto

Auschwitz wasn’t any kind of positive learning experience, and the overwhelmingly majority of the Jews who had anything to do with the Holocaust learned nothing from it because they were killed by it. It wasn’t a learning experience and it wasn’t an experience which made people better, or more left-wing, or more anti-racist. There was no silver lining to the Holocaust. --David Hirsh
I am not going to say anything here for now about the current, awful round of Israel/Palestine conflict. I haven't worked out my thoughts and feel too much anguish to be able to articulate a response. The denseness of the fog of this war - and the manifold untruths, fake pics, claims, counterclaims and viral lies circulating in the media and especially on social media - makes it hard to call what's actually going on.

But something that I do want to comment on is the inappropriate comparisons people make in discussing the situation.

For instance, I've seen pro-Israelis claim Israel is experiencing a 9/11 24/7, because of Hamas rockets, and I've seen anti-Israelis claim that Palestine is experiencing the same thing. Of course, the notion is ridiculous: 3000 people died in a single day in the September 2001 attack (not counting the rescue workers who died later as a result). 3000 is greater the death toll of the entire Second Intifada. Even Assad's Ghouta chemical attack killed only half that number; even Syria is not experiencing a 9/11 every day.

But for me the most pernicious comparison is of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. Pernicious because the two events are utterly incomparable, and additionally offensive because it uses Jewish suffering against Jews.

Melvin Goodman, one of those ex-CIA paleocon wingnuts beloved of Counterpunchwrote a stupid piece there comparing the two, for example noting that unemployment was a problem in the Ghetto, just like Gaza. Marginally smarter, Glenn Greenwald didn't invoke Warsaw, but did compare Netanyahu to Goebbels, then disingenuously added that to compare two things isn't to say they're the same. A retired academic writing for MondoWeiss uses the Warsaw Ghetto because an Auschwitz comparison is not quite right; what's going on in Gaza, thankfully, is "not exactly the same" as the actual death camps, but is comparable to the Ghetto.

Here's some more examples:

What do these comparisons actually mean?

The Twitter account RealTimeWWII, a project of history graduate Alwyn Collinson, has been tweeting the history of the Second World War as it unfolded on this day 72 years ago. It is now up to 1942: the Warsaw Ghetto. It makes for difficult reading.

In the Warsaw Ghetto, 400,000 Jews were forced into an area of 3.4 square km (1.3 square miles). Gaza is 139 square miles with a population of 1.8 million. The population density of Gaza is high: 13,069.1/sq mi, twice that of Tokyo (but much less than, say Manila's 111,000, Chennai's 67,000, Macau's 55,000, or Paris' 54,000). The population density of the Warsaw Ghetto was 307,692.

In the Ghetto, nearly a quarter died of starvation and disease (that's comparable to 450,000* Gazans). Of those that remained, most were taken to Treblinka and killed, along with 2000 Romani people and some million other Jews. 7000 Jews were taken from the Ghetto to the camp every day in the summer of 1942. Around 20,000 survived after less than three years.

That is what genocide looks like. I don't think that is what Gaza, however bad it gets, looks like. I understand your anguish about Gaza, but please don't make this kind of comparison.

For pointing out that these comparisons are not on, here is the kind of response one gets:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alison Weir: If Americans Knew

This is a guest post by Spencer Sunshine. It is extracted from the recently published Political Research Associates report Constructing Campus Conflict. I strongly recommend that report, and in particular its opening section "Setting the Scene" by Chip Berlet. A later part of the report consists of profiles of US universities and of key groups and individuals involved in propagating or campaigning against anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racism on campus. The profile of Alison Weir and her organisation "If Americans Knew" is from that section. ---B.

“Alison Weir: If Americans Knew”
Spencer Sunshine

In Chip Berlet, ed., Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses, 2007–2011 (Boston: Political Research Associates, 2014), http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/06/CCC_May2014.pdf, pp. 103–4.

Few political writers today appear in the publications of both the Left and the Far Right. One rare exception is Alison Weir, the founder of If Americans Knew. Her denunciations of the vast power that Israel and its supporters in the United States allegedly wield resonate on the Far Right with figures like former Klansman and politician David Duke, the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review, antisemitic talk radio host Clay Douglas, and the Pacifica Forum at the University of Oregon, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group. (1)

At the same time, she can be found on the Left in the pages of Z Magazine, Project Censored, and CounterPunch. She has been praised by Socialist Worker, broadcast on affiliates of the Pacifica radio network, and spoken at the Left Forum conference. (2)

Weir is a regular speaker on college campuses. She has appeared at Harvard Law School, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Stanford University, American University, the University of Chicago, Vassar College, and elsewhere. In 2003, she received death threats after she and Hatem Bazian debated with David Meir-Levi and Eric Sirkin at the University of California, Berkeley about how to achieve peace in the Middle East. (3)

Alison Weir blogs at www.alisonweir.org and edits “Israel-Palestine: The Missing Headlines” (http://israel-palestinenews.blogspot.com). While there is no editor listed by name at the site, it seems that she is also editor of the new IAK blog http://israelpalestineanalysis.wordpress.com. Weir is president of the Council for the National Interest and sometimes hosts its radio show, “Jerusalem Calling.”

At first glance, Weir seems like a typical Palestine solidarity activist. She says that she founded IF Americans Knew (IAK) after she visited the Occupied Territories in 2001 and witnessed numerous human rights violations that were not covered in the United States press. IAK is sometimes portrayed as a media watchdog group and its tagline is “What Every American Needs to Know About Israel-Palestine.”

But a closer inspection of Weir and IAK reveals disturbing elements. The main focus of their work is not on Palestinian conditions or rights, but on the power of the so-called Israel lobby in the United States. Weir describes the U.S. media’s tilt toward Israel as possibly “the most monumental cover-up in media history.”(2) While she admits that a number of factors may account for this alleged pro-Israel bias, she consistently targets the Jewish backgrounds of editors and reporters.(4) Even if they think they are unbiased, she says, unconscious family influences are likely to sway their opinions. (5)

IAK’s criticisms of Zionism and Israel dovetail with traditional antisemitic narratives, and Weir often cites antisemitic writers and publications as her sources. When asked if the work of antisemitic authors including Israel Shamir, Gilad Atzmon, and Kevin MacDonald were truly legitimate, she replied, “Yes. I suggest people read their work for themselves.” (6)

In 2005, IAK analyzed the coverage of deaths in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the New York Times and other newspapers, and concluded the outlets had a pro-Israel bias. (7) It met with New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent, who did not accept their findings. (8) The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a pro-Israel media-watchdog group, criticized IAK’s report for methodological errors. (9)

In 2008, another controversy erupted after the public library in Greenwich, Connecticut cancelled a talk by Weir that had been scheduled by a member of IAK in one of the library’s public meeting rooms. Under pressure from free-speech advocates, such as the American Library Association, the talk was rescheduled. The controversy received national media attention. (10)

In 2009, based on stories that had appeared in a Swedish newspaper, Weir published articles in CounterPunch and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs accusing Israel of harvesting organs from Palestinians. (11) Weir’s claim was widely denounced as a modern version of the antisemitic blood libel—the myth that Jews use the blood of sacrificed Christian children to make Passover matzos.

Weir says “Israel’s core identity is based on ethnic and religious discrimination by a colonial, immigrant group,” and that it has an “exclusionist identity.” (12) She describes the 1948 founding of Israel as “one of the modern world’s most successful ethnic cleansings,” and a “holocaust” for Palestinians; elsewhere she implies this holocaust continues today. (13)

She has also said that “Israel struck first in all its wars except one. Historically, it was the initiator of conflict.” (14) IAK writers such as Mazin Qumsiyeh, Jeffrey Blankfort, and Kathy Christison and the late Bill Christison claim that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was planned and executed by groups that are identified as being overwhelmingly Jewish.

Weir has been on the board of NewPolicy.org, an offshoot of the New Policy PAC, whose mission is “to work with citizens, lawmakers, and administration officials to implement longstanding American positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the interest of enhancing American security” (15) whose antisemitic website http://windowintopalestine.blogspot.com/ includes assertions that Israel was behind the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In one radio interview, Weir also referred to “the significant role that Zionists played in pushing the U.S. into World War I,” and said, “these same groups [are] trying to push us into a war with Iran.” (16)

IAK claims that Israel, together with its supporters in the United States, controls many aspects of the U.S. government. Weir says, “The Israel lobby became far more powerful than those who originally tried to oppose it: the State Department, the Pentagon, the oil lobby.” (17) IAK board member Paul Findley (a former Republican congressional representative from Illinois) describes the United States as in “bondage to Israel’s misdeeds.” (18) Weir summarizes the situation by saying, “What Israel says, our media repeat. What Israel demands, our government gives. What Israel wants, its well-greased lobby delivers.” (19)

IAK is careful never to blame “the Jews”; instead it consistently refers to subsets of Jews such as “the Zionists,” “the Israel lobby,” or “the neocons.” American neoconservatives in particular are specifically identified as being overwhelmingly Jewish. (20) Jewish subgroups are described consistently as elites who subvert national sovereignty. The “dual loyalties” of these subgroups is a common theme on the IAK website. “Neocons” in the United States and “oligarchs” in Russia receive special attention. Weir says that IAK “is opposed to discrimination in all its forms,” and one of her articles is subtitled “Antisemitism is Wrong.” However, the article does not address the issue other than to say that people should not be dissuaded from criticizing Israel because they fear being called antisemitic. (21) When asked about what constitutes an antisemitic view that she would oppose, she identified statements which refer explicitly and collectively to “the Jews.” (22)

IAK narratives are consistent with the antisemitic conspiracisms of the past century, including the claims that Jews are clannish and cabal-like, have dual loyalties, control the media and the government, steal the body parts of non-Jews, and start wars, often in countries where they are a minority and where the wars are against the country’s interests. Following a classic populist narrative, Weir says that the American people must be informed about this situation to start “reclaiming our nation, our principles and our souls.” (23) One email sent by the Council for the National Interest and signed by Weir even deploys one of the most famous antisemitic images, claiming that liberal J Street and the conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee are “two tentacles of the same lobby.” (24)

Like many populist and conspiratorial narratives, some of IAK’s information is true and has potentially important things to contribute to public discourse; some of it is misleading, biased, or suffers from serious omissions; and much of it repeats traditional antisemitic conspiracisms. Alison Weir is not a recognized scholar on Middle East affairs, and campus groups and activists working for recognition and rights for Palestinians would be well advised to seek out more legitimate sources of information on the conflict than IAK. (25)