Saturday, June 29, 2019

What's wrong with Chris Williamson?

I've lost count of the number of times I've seen people on Twitter - whether ignorantly or disingenuously - claiming to not know what's wrong with Chris Williamson.

Here are just a few of the things. I'm starting with some that have nothing to do with antisemitism. And the antisemitism issues I'm including having nothing to do with Israel-Palestine, so please don't tell me that all Williamson has done is criticise Israel. Some of this was in my older posts about him (here and here). A lot of the material is via Twitter, because Williamson is a prolific tweeter, but Williamson blocked me on Twitter on Holocaust Memorial Day this year, so I also drew for the antisemitism section on Twitter threads by Marlon Solomon and Barny Skinner and Daniel Sugarman's article.


I want to start with Williamson's politics. The #IStandWithChrisWilliamson online army see him as being under attack because he represents the left of the party. How does that claim stand up?

1. The time Williamson entered into coalition government with the Tories and drove through privatisation

Chris Williamson entered politics in his thirties via local politics in Derby, eventually becoming leader of Derby council. How did that go? He formed an alliance with the Conservatives, demolished council flats to make way for a 5* hotel, and supported PFI initiatives for housing, which he later said did not deliver value for money.

2. The times Williamson didn't vote with the left

Williamson likes to describe himself as a life-long anti-racist, but he didn't vote against the racist immigration legislation that led to the Hostile Environment and Windrush. He also - with Kate Hoey, Ruth Smeeth and John Mann - rebelled against the Labour whip in several of the recent EU debates, voting against the interests of EU migrants.


3. The time Williamson promoted a Syrian war crimes denier

For me, one of the most unforgivable things Williamson has done, last summer, was promote Vanessa Beeley, a war crimes denier and fake news merchant. Here is an extract from Oz Katerji in the New Statesman on this incident:
Williamson, who was attending the Beautiful Days festival, tweeted of his “privilege” in meeting Vanessa Beeley, a blogger who described meeting the Syrian regime’s war criminal president Bashar al Assad as her “proudest moment” and has waged a relentless campaign of lies and distortion to promote the Assad regime abroad... Responding in kind to Williamson’s endorsement, Beeley said in a Facebook post “Hats off to Chris Williamson, Labour MP - a genuine human being.”... 
Williamson’s tweet provoked immediate condemnation, drawing a strong response from James O’Brien, who called Williamson a “disgrace” and referred to Beeley as “Assad’s very own Alex Jones.” The Washington Post’s Middle East correspondent, Louisa Loveluck, responded to Williamson’s endorsement of Beeley’s “reporting” with: “Beeley has justified the use of incendiary weapons against civilians, recycled and championed debunked conspiracy theories, and described a meeting with Assad as her proudest moment. This is cheerleading, not reporting.”
Noting that Beeley has viciously slandered the late Jo Cox (Beeley "has shamelessly accused her of being a “warmongering Blairite” and “al-Qaeda advocate” endorsing a policy of “wholesale devastation” on Syria.) Oz argues that the Labour Party has a choice between being the party of Jo Cox or the party of Chris Williamson.
At the festival, participants were asked to vote between the position put forward by Peter Tatchell, in support of democracy in Syria and in defence of Syrian civilians being bombed, or for Peter Ford and Vanessa Beeley, in support of the Syrian government. Williamson voted for Ford. In voting for the Beeley/Ford position, Williamson is not just calling attention to alleged media distortion of the conflict; he endorses the dictatorship.

Williamson may not have known this when he tweeted about the "privilege" of meeting her, but Beeley herself has some dodgy form: saying that "Zionists rule France", describing Israel's treatment of Gaza "a Holocaust", saying Human Rights Watch is run by "a Jewish organisation called the Washington elite", and has defended well-known antisemites such as Gilad Atzmon (more on him below) and Alison Weir.

4. The times Williamson promoted fake news about chemical weapons in Syria

As Katerji put it when writing about Williamson's support for Beeley, "This is not Williamson’s first dalliance with pro-Assad trutherism, having voiced doubts over allegations that Assad was responsible for the gas attack on Douma while addressing a protest outside parliament in April 2018."

More recently, Williamson has taken up a particular version of Douma trutherism: that the chemical attack was a managed massacre by rebels and the civilians White Helmet civil defence first responders, and that this is somehow proved by a dubious document (read all about it here) leaked from the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog, probably via Russia, to some pro-Assad activists in the UK called the "Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media", with which Beeley is connected.
Williamson is so obsessed with the "leaked document" that he has asked several questions in parliament about it, worded in completely dishonest ways. The theory holds that chemical weapons in Douma were not dropped from above but staged by Syrian rebels or their civilian first defenders, the White Helmets, i.e. that the rebels massacred dozens of their own family members. In my view, this conspiracy theory is borderline Islamophobic, based on the idea of Syrian rebels and civilians in rebel territories as savage, bloodthirsty jihadis.

(Incidentally, Williamson's views on Douma are shared by Nick Griffin, the Nazi former leader of the BNP. One of Griffin's many tweets on Douma was to promote the exact same "leaked OPCW report" nonsense, from, the pro-Assad "Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media", the exact same source of Williamson's recent interventions.)


5. The times Williamson promoted an antisemitic right-wing pro-Kremlin Spanish conspiracy theorist and then bought into a Russian conspiracy theory about why people don't like the Spanish conspiracy theorist
One of the many bizarre conspiracy theories Williamson has promoted is one about a Scottish-based thinktank called the Integrity Initiative (II), which receives some UK government funding, that was involved in the campaign to stop a right-wing colonel called Pedro Baños from being appointed a national security advisor in Spain. Williamson picked up the story from Russian media outlets like Sputnik after Russia apparently hacked the thinktank; he claimed Integrity Initiative's involvement constituted "foreign interference" in Spanish politics - a meme Russia promotes because it muddies the water over their intervention in the Trump election and the Brexit referendum. The fact is, though, that Baños is a weird crank in the David Icke mold, and suspiciously obsessed with Jewish financiers like the Rothschilds and Soros, and is a strong supporter of the Kremlin - all in all, a serious liability as a national security advisor. Williamson became so obsessed with the case that he asked question after question about it in parliament, wasting parliamentary, ministerial and civil service time with his personal crusade.
This is dangerous, because Williamson has an influence on the Labour Party, so he acts as a gateway between the Kremlin, social media wingnuts and the political mainstream, in the form of Emily Thornberry. Here's Paul Canning breaking it down:
Thornberry promoted a conspiracist campaign led in the UK by Chris Williamson MP, furthered with the help of people like the notorious Kremlinophile American writer Max Blumenthal, about an organisation called the Integrity Initiative. Thornberry's claim was that Integrity Initiative was set up to 'attack Corbyn'. It was based on three tweets by the Initiative to its 2000 followers – one of which was only retweeted because I did it.
The claims were ludicrous... Thornberry's comments in the Commons [didn't] pick up on the many criticisms of the Initiative from those actively engaged in countering Russian disinfo. Instead they played to the crowd. 
The campaign against the Initiative is based on an obvious attack by Russia which aims to establish a counter, 'I'm rubber you're glue', narrative that it's actually the West that's promoting disinformation. The subject of the attack is an organisation funded by government precisely to counter Russian disinformation. Something which a Labour government would supposedly support, surely?

Those central to the online promotion of the 'conspiracy' narrative, most of whom are also coincidentally truthers on Syria and on Salisbury, said that their real objection was that Integrity Initiative had 'contributed to narrowing the range of public discourse so as to marginalize reality-based evaluation of policy options for relations with Russia and evidence-based assessment of events in which Russian involvement is alleged.' 
Williamson's the parliamentary questions about II, as with Douma or others about the UK's Russian language soft diplomacy, are essentially being asked on behalf of President Putin, which is kind of scary.

6. The time Williamson promoted conspiracy theories about the Skripal poisoning

Another conspiracy theory Williamson has shared, again picked up by alt-left media like The Canary, is that it wasn't the Russians who used chemicals against the Skripals in Salisbury. As with Douma and Baños, it's a conspiracy theory that lets Russia off the hook for its crimes, and so gets amplified by Russian media too.

The Red Roar: "Williamson promoted conspiracy theories about the Salisbury poisoning, and shared the views of one blogger who suggested that Israel could have been behind the attempted murder, which was conducted by Russian intelligence officers. Meanwhile, he took money from Kremlin-backed state media channel Russia Today, and has continued to appear on the channel despite the Russian attack last year."


7. The time Williamson has enjoyed the company of Breitbart journalists
In April this year, Williamson went on Russian alt-media site 21st Century Wire with George Galloway and Lee Stranahan. Who is Stranahan? Wikipedia:
Stranahan met Andrew Breitbart while working on assignment in 2010. The two men quickly became friends, and Breitbart converted Stranahan to conservatism, became his mentor, and hired him to work at Breitbart News. Stranahan has also described Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as being his mentor... During the 2016 presidential election, while working for Breitbart News, Stranahan communicated with Russian hackers via Guccifer 2.0 to leak illicitly obtained material about the Democratic Party. Stranahan claimed on Twitter in March 2017 that he had introduced Guccifer 2.0 to Roger Stone. Stranahan, managed to obtain material from Guccifer 2.0 about Black Lives Matter. Stone and Stranahan, who was then assisting him, disputed that Guccifer 2.0 was a front for Russia during the 2016 election. An article by Stone on this issue appeared on Breitbart News; Stranahan has said he was the piece's ghost writer. In July 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian agents and described Guccifer 2.0 as a Russian government front. Mueller's indictment referred to an unnamed reporter who had conferred with the Russians about the timing of a leak; Stranahan has confirmed that he was the journalist concerned
8. The time Williamson promoted a bow-tied Holocaust revisionist 

In his articles in the alternative media and in his parliamentary speeches, Williamson regularly cites the lawyer Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, famous for, among other things, his love of bow ties.
The Venezuelan economy has been cripped by US sanctions, and the UN rapporteur said that UN sanctions are illegal and could amount to a war crime any intervention from the US could precipitate a civil war & lead to a humanitarian catastrophe @DerbyChrisW

As Paul Canning puts it:
de Zayas is the former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. McInnes told the Commons that this 'UN expert' had called sanctions on Venezuela a 'war crime', a statement which drew an audible response. de Zayas and his 'war crimes' claim is a major theme of Chris Williamson's routine, whose Commons outing on Venezuela featuring de Zayas has been heavily promoted by Corbynite social media in marked contrast to Thornberry's effort in the very same Parliamentary session. Williamson appeared on TV numerous times spouting falsehoods about Venezuela....
de Zayas is a Holocaust denier and is a 'huge fan' of the German far-right party the AfD. He's reportedly worn blackface. He's currently saying that Venezuela's electricity blackouts are because of the gringos.

He's also being mentioned in a Parliamentary statement by the Labour Party.
De Zayas' Wikipedia page documents his far right activism:
De Zayas is a registered Republican voter, although he supported Bernie Sanders in 2016.Writing  in 2018, he has criticised "Antifa" activists, saying "They engage in 'hate speech' against those who cite the Bible to oppose the imposition of gender and LGBT ideologies"; and has described a "new wave of totalitarianism is sweeping through Germany with the collusion of the mainstream media" originating in the 1968 student revolts, which leads the "mainstream media" to be biased towards topics such as "multiculturalism" and against groups such as Pegida. He is close to the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany, for instance joining the board of trustees of their ""Desiderius Erasmus Foundation" thinktank in 2018 and speaking to their parliamentary group in 2019 on the dangers of "globalism".
His page also documents his Holocaust revisionism, his work on the "genocidal" expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe which has been used to relativise the Nazi genocide - work which has been condemned by Holocaust scholars and championed by the far right.

de Zayas with the AFD's Jürgen Braun at a lecture evening of the AFD parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, March 2019
Image result for "de zayas" holocaust

Which brings us to...


9. The time Williamson signed a petition defending a Holocaust denier

In late 2018, Williamson signed a petition defending Gilad Atzmon, tweeted the petition, then deleted the tweet, and later wrote a half-arsed non-apology. (Atzmon had been banned by Islington council from playing there in the Blockheads. Not sure I approve of this ban, as when he is playing saxophone in someone else's band he hasn't got a platform for his politics. But given how toxic he is, I'm not going to complain about him being considered a pariah.)

If you don't know who Atzmon is, here's over 13 years' worth of my blogposts about him. The short version is he is an Israeli-born jazz musician who long ago renounced his Jewishness, became a Holocaust revisionist and antisemite. Atzmon has promoted Holocaust denial, blamed the Grenfell  fire on “Jerusalemites” who were “following mitzvot”, and suggested that Hitler’s actions against the Jews were a “direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership.” He is not only denounced by anti-fascists like Hope not Hate but also by anti-Zionists such as As’ad AbuKhalil, Michael Rosen and Tony Greenstein.

Williamson's apology reveals he is either more stupid or more dishonest than we already realised but either way confirming he doesn't care at all about racism against Jews. Because either he saw a petition complaining about someone being accused of antisemitism and just assumed the accusation was false without bothering to research it (in which case he is remarkably stupid and irresponsible, as well as automatically assumes accusations of antisemitism are always false) or he's lying.

In August 2018 Williamson had already defended Cyril Chilson, a dedicated follower of Atzmon, who Williamson said should not have been expelled from Labour.

10. The time Williamson trolled Jews in their time of grief by accusing the Board of Deputies of British Jews of being antisemitic hours after the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre.

In October 2018, as Rosa Doherty describes, "While his colleagues were sending messages of condolences to the Jewish community, the Derby North MP shared a link from the far-left blog Skwawkbox of an article titled: “Board of Deputies president accused of using an antisemitic trope.” He wrote: “Well, well blow me down with a feather.”" (This was not the only time Williamson gratuitously attacked the Board, the representative body of British Jews. A few weeks earlier he attacked them because of the wording when they were condemning Orban's antisemitism.)

11. The bunch of times Williamson said that antisemitism is made up by Jews to damage Jeremy Corbyn.

Chris Williamson said claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party were "proxy wars and bullshit" and "a lowdown dirty trick."

12. The time he defended the guy who ranted about Tesco's having Jewish blood.
One of the many people kicked out of the Labour Party defended by Williamson is Scott Nelson. In late 2014 and again in late 2015, Nelson tweeted: “Deaths of workers abroad caused by appalling conditions working for Jewish companies”. Defending this a couple of days later, he tweeted: “Jewish ancestors created those companies. These companies have Jewish blood. My ancestors were Irish, so I have Irish blood”. He added that: “Pointing out the Jewish ancestors of Tesco and M&S and the human rights abuses of workers abroad doesn’t make me an antisemite.” After his (actually very prompt) removal from the Labour Party, Nelson supported UKIP, but he continues to be a well-known rallying point for antisemites and cranks on the margins of the Corbyn scene. He has continued to post offensive things, e.g. calling Israel similar to the Nazis, calling the Jewish Labour Movement "toxic parasites" while defending Ken Livingstone, repeatedly blaming "the Israel Lobby" for the "witch hunts" against himself and Corbyn, calling people who make allegations of antisemitism "lower than vermin", and publishing a defence of the Holocaust denier Alison Chabloz.

Williamson has retweeted Nelson more than once. When picked up on this by a leftist in 2018, Williamson replied "I am sure he said no such thing. These smears are so wrong, let's please stand together to beat racism and replace of [sic] this abysmal Tory Govt with a Corbyn-led Labour Govt to build a society and an economy that works for the many not the few". So, absolute certainty that an allegation of antisemitism (easy to verify) was not true and a smear. When presented with screenshots, Williamson abruptly changed course, saying Nelson "repeatedly apologised for those comments. He is opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry and he never called for a boycott [of "Jewish companies"]. Please give him a chance." So, the smear wasn't a smear after all but the guy said sorry so it's OK. This is kind of like "He didn't  kill anyone at all and to suggest it is evil but anyway he said he was sorry and only killed one person so give him a chance."

13. The times he's diminished the significance of racism against Jews

I think the earliest time he did this was when he responded to a tweet by Ian Austin (son of a refugee from Hitler) about antisemitism in Oxford Uni Labour Club with a tweet about Israeli brutality. Switching from one topic to another is saying the racism concerns are trivial, and the raising of Israel, simply because the topic is Jews, is, well, racist, because it is associating Jewish students in Oxford with the crimes of the state thousands of miles away, simply because of common ethnicity. A bit like responding to a tweet about Islamophobia with a tweet about the Islamic Republic of Iran or responding to a tweet about anti-black racism with a tweet about Robert Mugabe.
14. The times he's defended people justifiably accused of anti-Jewish racism

Later, when Pete Willsman's NEC candidacy was disowned by the left when a recording of an antisemitic rant by him in which he daubed Jews with being right-wing Trump supporters, Williamson defended Willsman.

Willsman is not the only person with an antisemitism allegation who Williamson has stood by. Maybe some of these by themselves could be defended, but standing by all of them constitutes a pattern. Here he is standby Miko "people should be free to debate the Holocaust, yes or no" Peled:

15. The times he retweeted antisemites

Anti-Nazis United has documented the many, many borderline (and worse) antisemitic accounts Williamson has promoted. "They vary between simple misanthropes, conspiracy theorists to the odd antisemite or 3+. Some are very happy in the company of neo-Nazis or promoting material from Holocaust denying propagandists. The common theme is that all express contempt for Jews in one way shape or form."

One of the worst was Sonia Mata, a Holocaust denier who says the Talmud promotes paedophilia.


16. The times Williamson told lies to defend authoritarian governments in Latin America

Williamson is regularly on British and Russian media outlets defending governments like Maduro's in Latin America. One of the most jaw-dropping of such moments was in January this year, when Venezuelan starvation was so intense that thousands were fleeing the country daily, and Williamson said to the BBC that they were not "genuinely" starving.
Another lie Williamson told the BBC was that the poor voted for Maduro in big numbers in the last election.
Another was that Maduro is housing the poor.
And a final lie Williamson told on TV is that "none other than Jimmy Carter" endorsed Maduro's election.

17. The bunch of times Williamson has promoted fake news websites

As one blogger puts it, "Williamson promoted pro-Corbyn media outlet Skwawkbox, who wrote about the ‘Jewish war on Corbyn’. IPSO, the press watchdog ruled they are officially a fake news outlet. As well as writing about antisemitic conspiracies, Skwawkbox were also accused of bullying MPs who attended the ‘enough is enough’ rally against antisemitism . Williamson calls Skwawkbox ‘superb’." He is also of course a regular with The Canary, which is at least as bad.

18. The time Williamson shared a fake Nelson Mandela quote

I said I wouldn't include things related to Israel-Palestine, but I thought this was both minor and telling. In 2017, a week after he called allegations of antisemitism in the party "proxy wars and bullshit", Williamson tweeted a fake Mandela quote, and then later deleted it. The quote itself - comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa - is not actually antisemitic. But why it's telling is that it shows the milieu where Williamson moves, a world where fake news and fake memes circulate. Williamson, who has flip-flopped from Blairism to Corbynism and embraces all sorts of cranky positions, lacks the political education or critical imagination to distinguish truth from fact or to recognise antisemitism.

As I've strayed on to Israel/Palestine, it's worth saying that, while Williamson's defenders say he is being attacked because he supports Palestine, Williamson is not recognised as a pro-Palestinian activist by most people who really are active in Palestine solidarity work.

I'll leave you with Williamson's endorsement by Nick Griffin, Nazi former leader of the British National Party. Obviously, you can't blame Williamson for this, but you have to ask why Williamson has become a poster boy for fascism. A Labour Party with Williamson in it, which Nick Griffin calls "a clean, radical party", is a party unbearable for Jews and anti-racists to be near. If you think Williamson should be in the Labour Party, that's what you are supporting.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Terry Burke: 'Russiagate', Syria and the left

This is a cross-post, also appearing in CounterVortex and AntidoteZine. It is a really important text which I'm pleased to publish here. --B

The last major national protest in the US was "Families Belong Together" in June 2018. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country demonstrated against the Trump administration's policy of separating children and families at the border. People who had never protested before brought their families. It's now a year later and the situation for immigrant families has only gotten worse. Where is the outrage?

Plans for ICE raids targeting millions of immigrants. Preparing military strikes on Iran. Pulling the US out of climate and arms-control treaties. Conniving with "alt-right" and ultra-nationalist movements around the world. Defying congressional subpoenas. Corrupt, incompetent people heading every federal agency. The list of destructive Trump policies and provocations seems endless.

Trump's recent visit to London brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets. Where are the protests in the US? Where are the coalitions in the US organizing against Trump's anti-democratic, inhumane policies? Where is the left?

Part of the problem is the enormous amount of disinformation that has been specifically directed at the left, disinformation that most of those targeted don't recognize. The disinfo uses anti-imperialist language and is posted on "left" sites that usually have nominally accurate stories on issues such as Palestine, climate change, corporate corruption, and other questions of concern to progressives.

In addition to the disinfo media sites, authors respected by left have confused their readers by dismissing "Russiagate" as a hoax, claiming that Russian interference in the US elections has been greatly exaggerated to provide the Democrats an excuse for Clinton's loss.

Eight years of steady disinformation on Syria have created a split in the peace movement. The enormous amount of time and energy spent debating Syria could have gone to building the peace movement instead of dividing it. The doubts raised repeatedly about Russian interference and Mueller's investigation have weakened the opposition to Trump. Some people don't know which news sources they can trust. Others restrict themselves only to sources that support their ideological line.

Steve Bannon famously said, "The Democrats don't matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit." That is exactly what has happened. There are thousands of new media organizations on the internet—and a growing proportion are not what they seem.

As Syria solidarity activists, we have been struggling against extensive, sophisticated disinformation regarding Syria for years—and it's largely not from the US mainstream media. Syria is not Iraq, where the New York Times helped Bush lead us into war with disinformation about weapons of mass destruction. Syria is not Kuwait, where there were false stories planted about babies torn from incubators by Iraqi troops.

The mainstream media articles "demonizing" Assad are fundamentally true—his regime is one of the world's most repressive, with a vast police and prison torture system of historic proportions. Unlike in Iraq, and contrary to the propaganda claims, the US did not instigate a serious covert regime change operation in Syria. The US efforts in Syria are well documented in Shane Bauer's recent two part article for Mother Jones. He writes that "American involvement in Syria has been as fragmented and volatile as the conflict itself." In this ground-breaking article, he documents how the US has spent billions, initially aiding the Free Syrian Army, but ultimately focused on combating ISIS. It actually became policy to forbid US-backed groups from fighting Assad's forces.

His article corroborates the stories of Syrians who oppose Assad: of a genuine uprising against a brutal dictator that was only later co-opted into a proxy war; of Assad bombing and starving civilians. In 2011, the Syrian people were caught up in the fervor of the Arab Spring and surprised themselves (and the CIA) by going to the streets in the hundreds of thousands, demonstrating for democracy, overcoming their deep fears of reprisal. And this civil resistance movement survives even now.

However, most of the peace movement in the US still doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the Syrian people's eight-year struggle against the Assad dictatorship. There have been so many articles in "progressive" media promoting Assad's narrative of another US "regime change" effort that they have buried the voices of Syrians.

The voices of Syrian communists, anarchists, democracy activists, writers, artists, intellectuals, and nonviolence activists have rarely been represented in "progressive” media. The majority of these "progressive" media articles on Syria have been written by non-Syrians and they usually promote Assad's line that he is protecting his sovereign country from US-backed terrorists.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Behind The Lines

"Behind the Lines", a huge piece of writing about Syria by Shane Bauer that I have only just begun to dive into. For a flavour, here he is in the NE of Syria, in territory taken by Kurds from ISIS:
We pull up to Omar, Syria’s largest oil field. It’s an industrial ghost town, a heap of mangled pipes and charred oil tanks. The coalition has claimed part of it as a base. I ask the Kurdish guards if I can talk to the Americans. They say no. 
Here the US special forces are just one player in a region full of international fighters. In addition to other coalition troops, there are the Russians and ISIS, many of whom are foreigners, as well as the Afghan Fatemiyoun mercenaries, Shiite refugees recruited by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. And there are the soldiers of fortune of the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian Blackwaterlike private army that is said to have 2,500 fighters in Syria.
Here he is talking to Robert Ford about Obama's failed policy:
Ambassador Ford told me he wishes, in retrospect, that he had advised Obama against calling for Assad to step down. Even though the president had said the United States would not impose regime change on Syria, the “nuance in what Obama said…was totally lost.” It wasn’t just opposition activists like Ahmed who were banking on US intervention. Many in the budding armed opposition were certain they would soon receive support from the Americans. Ford insisted to them this would never happen, but “they just wouldn’t believe it,” he recalled. Obama’s statement “in the long run didn’t help anything. It probably made it worse.” 
Obama had no plan to push Assad out. At that moment, his administration was busy juggling the NATO no-fly zone in Libya and unrest in Bahrain, where the United States has a major naval base. According to Philip Gordon, a former White House coordinator for the Middle East, Obama’s team believed Assad would be chased out by protests like other dictators were, so they “might as well align the United States on the right side of the conflict.”
Here he is with leftist volunteers in Kurdish Rojava:
The international fighters bristle when I point out that the supposedly anti-authoritarian PYD [the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party] seems to control everything in Rojava. Its constitution guarantees freedom of the press and the freedom to organize, but Berzan Liyanî, a Kurdish journalist I’d met, was imprisoned for six months in 2017 on charges of practicing journalism without a license and being part of an unapproved TV channel. He was held in solitary confinement for 45 days in a five-by-seven-foot cell in a “counterterrorism” prison. Later, he was put in a cell with ISIS fighters. His interrogators accused his network of inciting opposition to the local security forces and the self-administration.
And taking up the theme of American involvement in Part II:
Initially, the Obama administration had hoped the war would lead to what Alexander Bick, the director for Syria at the National Security Council, called a “wholesale renova­tion of the government,” in which Syrians friendly to the United States would come together to shape a new government in Damascus. But as the war expanded and more Islamist groups joined the opposition, that idea became “extremely worrying,” according to Bick. “We did not want a military victory by the opposition,” he recalls. Former officials say the White House hoped to press the Syrian government and the rebels into a stalemate, forcing them into UN-led negotiations in which the United States and Russiawould have a high degree of influence. Until then, the United States would provide aid to the rebels, but it would also try to “fine-tune and calibrate the level of assistance to reach that magic temperature of just enough pressure but not so much that it actually spills over into victory,” according to a former senior State Department official with direct knowledge of the issue. 
Many inside the government worried that aiding secular rebels would inadvertently benefit the Islamist factions springing up in Syria. In late 2013, what Bick called a “holy shit meeting” was held at the State Department to evaluate the growing relationship between the FSA and Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. “Alarm bells were beginning to go off,” Bick recalls. The two groups seemed to be setting aside their ideological differences to team up against Assad, which complicated the American plan to arm the rebels. “If you’re going to give support to the opposition, you want to be confident that support is going to people that you trust,” Bick says. “You don’t want it filtering into terrorist groups”—or indirectly making them stronger.
Gradually, the Obama administration walked back its goal of speeding the end of the Assad regime, former officials at the State Department, the National Security Council, and the White House tell me. “The terms kept lowering from immediate departure of the entire regime…to a departure of just Assad and his cronies,” says Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East from 2013 to 2015. By the end of Obama’s second term, Bick says, “If Assad and a handful of his advisers had left and been replaced by an Alawite general chosen by Russia, the United States would have been willing to call that a political transition.”
Read the whole thing.

I recently re-read two older pieces on the war in Syria and the left. From a hard left perspective, Jamie Allinson in Salvage, in a piece called "Disaster Islamism" from 2017 brilliantly dissected the left's myth of US regime change that Bauer's piece also reflects on. (I haven't listened to it yet, but there's a 2018 podcast by Allinson on the same topic.) From a more right-wing perspective from 2016 Jamie Palmer channels the spirit of Christopher Hitchens in this long read on how Syria exposed the "anti-imperialist" left's betrayal of the Palestinian people and democracy in the Arab world.

Antidote has published a 2016 interview with the recently killed Syrian revolutionary Abdel Basset al-Sarout, entitled "The hope and the tragedy". And, zooming out a bit further, Sam Hamad's latest argues that Libya and Sudan show that the "Arab spring" is still alive.

Syria and the truth war
This is my perennial topic. A short piece: How Trolls and Conspiracy Theorists Spun the Syrian War, by Dan Spinelli in Mother Jones. And a fine longer piece: Bellingcat and How Open Source Reinvented Investigative Journalism, by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in the NYRB. Here's an extract:
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, for example, has been dismissive of open-source investigations. It was the August 21, 2013, chemical attack on Ghouta, Syria, that first put them at odds. Eliot Higgins, then running an obscure blog named Brown Moses, had quickly gathered data from YouTube videos, satellite imagery, and UN reports to verify the dimensions of the munitions used in the attack and confirm their make and likely trajectory. The rockets matched a model in the regime’s arsenal and the trajectory could be traced back to regime-held territory.

Months later, Hersh published a long story in the London Review of Books claiming that the Obama administration had manipulated evidence and colluded in a false-flag operation to implicate the Syrian regime of President Assad. In making this incendiary claim, Hersh relied on the testimony of an unnamed “former senior intelligence official.” Although central claims in Hersh’s story were soon challenged, he simply redoubled his efforts and published an even longer version, also published by the London Review of Books. That trusty warhorse the “former intelligence official” told Hersh: “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish President Recep] Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line.” 
Hersh was demanding the reader’s trust while relying on a single anonymous source whose credibility he could not establish, citing documents he hadn’t seen, making allegations he could not substantiate. He also failed to acknowledge extant evidence that contradicted his story. Higgins, on the other hand, had relied on verifiable data and a robust method to prove beyond doubt that the rockets were of a manufacture used by the Syrian regime and that their trajectory placed their provenance in government-controlled territory. For Hersh’s story to be true, not only did everyone else have to be wrong, they also had to be colluding (since they had all independently reached the same conclusion about the attack); Higgins’s analysis, on the other hand, was based on accessible information and supported by physical evidence, witnesses on the ground, as well as numerous international observers and institutions, including the UN, human rights groups, and the US, British, German, and French governments.

The cycle repeated in April 2017, after the Syrian regime launched another chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun (sometimes also spelled Sheikhoun). Hersh presented an alternative narrative that relied on an unnamed “senior adviser to the US intelligence community,” but he got the time of the attack wrong, could not identify the location, and seemed oblivious of the fact that the impact site bore no resemblance to the scene he described. A comprehensive investigation by the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism would corroborate the details of Bellingcat’s open-source analysis, leaving Hersh and his German publishers humiliated. (On this occasion, after the LRB declined to publish his story, Hersh had turned to the German conservative daily Die Welt.) Although Russia had restricted the OPCW’s remit to prevent it from identifying the perpetrator, the UN researchers later confirmed to Reuters that the sarin gas used in August 2013 came from the same regime stock used in Khan Shaykhun.
Read the whole thing.

Anarchist Jews
Flawed but interesting three-part series in The Tablet by Paul Berman entitled "Tales of the Jewish Working Class". Part 1: The Ancient Dream of the Jewish Left; 2: Crackup and Transformation of the Jewish Left; 3: Anarchism and the Multicultural Joys of New York.

The fascist international
A really great piece: The Balkans in Rightwing Mythology, by Adnan Delalić and Patricia Zhubi, in Antidote.

In the NYT: "The Making of a YouTube radical", on one man's online journey into the darkest reaches of the far right. In the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum blogs about this, and how YouTube's algorithms radicalise. (Above is an image from the story, with the guy's watching habits, in this case an InfoWars video of the far right Australian blogger Maram Susli, connected to a story above because she worked with Ted Postol in his chemical weapons conspiracy theories, as defended by Seymour Hersh.)

Boris Johnson
My friend Otto English has a brilliant two-part piece on our next prime minister in Byline Times: 1. A Role on which the Curtain Never Falls, and 2. Keeping the Show on the Road. I was going to quote an extract, but it's

The hostile environment
Gracie Bradley: From Grenfell to Windrush, state racism kills – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Bethany Morris: Britain’s BAME community will fall through the cracks due to Brexit.

Against left nationalism: Red-brown alliances in Brexit Britain
As ever, Coatesy continues to chart the rise of left nationalism and right-wing national populism. Here he looks at Boris Johnson and the Trumpification of British politics (an issue addressed by Will  Davies here). Here he summarises good and (more often) bad left takes on the Peterborough by-election. Here he charts Spiked's unseemly defence of the homophobic Brexit right. Elsewhere, the AWL's guru Sean Matgamna argues that Cotbyn's Brexit position is reactionary, Jim Denham takes apart the lie that Brexit is a working class cause, Seema Syeda on why Len McCluskey's vision of a monolithically white and monolithically reactionary working class is wrong, and the great Eric Lee on why, in the fight for workers’ rights, there are no borders.

Londonism and the metropolitan elite
Dave Hill: Will the left media please stop portraying London as a threat to the rest of the UK? He's aiming at Huffington Post, but this discourse crosses the left and not just the left.

Keith Kahn-Harris has a new book out on antisemitism. He's written a bunch of articles related to it: “All the world is a very narrow bridge” — A correction, an apology, a reflection on irony (Repeater), If you are the ‘right kind of Jew’, you’re empowering racists (Jewish Chronicle), How a radical new form of anti-racism can save Labour (The Guardian), Removing certain kinds of Jews from anti-racist protection is wrong (Fathom Journal), and Don’t Fall For Selective Anti-Semites Just Because You’re Their ‘Good’ Jew (The Forward).

Peter Hain and Daniel Levy make a really important intervention in the Labour debate. And David Feldman is illuminating on Hobson, Corbyn, “Imperialism”, and Labour’s Antisemitism Problem.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Max Blumenthal, Stop The War and Jenny Tonge

Max Blumenthal with Tucker Carlson on Fox TV; Stop The War vice president George Galloway; Baroness Jenny Tonge

A couple of minor brouhahas have erupted in the small UK left social media galaxy this week, about topics I've been blogging about here over the years. This post is a quick set of links to stuff in my archive.

Max Blumenthal

New Statesman economics writer, Novara media regular and Oxbridge Lexiteer Grace Blakeley this week endorsed - and then to her enormous credit swiftly withdrew the endorsement when his awfulnesss was pointed out - a new book by Max Blumenthal.

Critics pointed to Blumenthal smearing civilian first responders in Syria, the White Helmets:
Blakeley said she hadn't read this bit before recommending it. The bits of his book smearing the White Helmets are on pp.207-218 of a 400 page book. The footnoted sources include Leith Fadel (mainly known for participating in a far right smear campaign against a Syrian refugee in Hungary, and for employing an Australian Nazi activist) and a bizarre sectarian pro-Assad crank on Twitter called @EHSANI22.

Other critcisms could be made too:

Friday, June 07, 2019

Friday round-up

Truth wars
Excellent piece by Uğur Ümit Üngör in the consistently good al-Jumhuriya on the coming narrative war. Keith Kahn-Harris on the dangers of denialism.

Pplswar on a new racist video about Venezuelan refugees. Concludes:
Means TV’s racist video (endorsed by Sam Seder) about Venezuelans makes this scabbing by Codepink, PSL, and DSA easier to do, just as peddling Islamophobic tropes about Syrians enables the regime of Bashar al-Assad to engage in mass murder and the proliferation of anti-Semitism leads to synagogues being shot up.
The red-brown alliance
Rosalind Robson in Workers Liberty on Bannon and Galloway. Coatesy on Galloway's charity collapse.

Critique and theory

Dan Davison on the legacy of the great Marxist thinker Robert Fine. The Enemy’s Enemy is Not Your Friend - an interview with Rohini Hensman in Democratic Left.

Resisting global authoritarianism
Gabriel Levy on the torture of anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia. A call for solidarity with detained LGBT activists and anarchists in Cuba. From the archive: Sinclair Lewis – Profile of an American Demagogue.

Banned bombs fall on Idlib, by Ty Joplin:
“The Syrian-Russian military alliance is using a cocktail of internationally banned and indiscriminate weapons on a trapped civilian population,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said. These weapons include incendiary munitions, which are wreaking havoc on Idlib’s farmlands, bunker-buster missiles used against hospitals built deep underground, indiscriminate cluster munitions and payloads of barrel bombs dropped on civilian targets. 
Though horrific, the tactics being deployed now in Idlib and northern Hama closely follow a key strategy the regime has used since it began losing territory early in the civil war: terrorize civilians in rebel-held territory so thoroughly that they are pressed into making an impossible choice, try to brave the bombing campaign or relent and move to the relative safety of regime-controlled areas.
These "conventional" weapons, and the massive slaughter caused by them, are the central story of Syria's war. Obama spoke about chemical weapons as a "red line" for the "international community", but then failed to enforce it after Ghouta. See Regime preservation: How US policy facilitated Assad’s victory, by Michael Karadjis.

Only twice has the West stirred from its hand-wringing apathy: after the 2017 chemical strike on Khan Sheykoun and the 2018 chlorine bombing of Douma. Because these are iconic moments,  they have been seized on by conspiracy theorists who want to deny Assad's slaughter, deflecting from the big picture of the on-going "conventional" genocide.

In that effort, the most recent episode has been a "leaked" document relating to Douma. Here are some of the key reads on that: Bill Weinberg: New spasm of Syria chemwar denial - don't buy it; Clay Claibourne: Lies, damned lies, and engineering sub-team reports; Where in the world is Ian Henderson?; More on the silent Ian Henderson and his "leaked" OPCW paper; Dr. Ted Postol rides again - right into the OPCW "leak" controversy; OPCW Word Games - Exposing the Politics of the Henderson "leak"; Brian Whitaker: Leaked OPCW document: where’s the conspiracy?OPCW replies to Russian and Syrian critiques of its Douma report; and Louis Proyect: Was the Douma chlorine gas attack a “false flag”?

Meanwhile, on the history of the revolution, via Joey Ayoub: Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising (Free PDF). And via Dick Gregory: Extracts from Samar Yazbek's A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution. Also read: Alex Rowell: The blood of the people of Idlib speaks.

Shalom Lappin in Fathom on the re-emergence of the Jewish question and the moral panic about globalism. A Stir in the Suburbs - Rosie Bell on Pete Grigson and Labour antisemitism in Edinburgh.

Against Stalinism
Stanning for the saffron fascists
Todd Hamer in Workers Liberty on Labour's Barry Gardiner and his long-term association with Hindu pogromists in India. (In the US, of course, the leading advocate of Modi's Hindutva movement is fake-leftist Tulsi Gabbard.)

Brexit and the working class
Jim Denham on whether Brexit is a workers' cause. Important, nuanced new research on Remain and Vote supporters. Here's a key bit of information about the class nature of the Leave support:
Resourcing anti-fascism
My comrade Spencer Sunshine has a new Patreon and newsletter to sustain his vital work on the the American far right. Please consider supporting him.