Saturday, April 30, 2016

Anti-Semitism Allegations and the Sound of Silence

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake" - Napoleon Bonaparte

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the UK's Labour Party for 'bringing the party into disrepute' after making comments deemed by observers to be anti-Semitic. Livingstone has denied that he or his comments were anti-Semitic, alleging instead that there is a concerted smear campaign against a number of public figures who oppose and/or criticise the policies and actions of the Israeli government, commonly with regard to its treatment of the inhabitants of Gaza.

Livingstone, in a series of interviews given last week, made his views clear [Emphasis mine]:

She’s [Naz Shah] a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over-the-top but she’s not antisemitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic.

It’s completely over the top but it’s not antisemitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

...

The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians; and there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.

...

After Jeremy became leader I was having a chat with Michael and he said he was very worried because one of his friends who was Jewish had come to him and said ‘the election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same as the first step to the rise of Adolf Hitler to power’. Frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as antisemitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians.

...

You’ve managed to dig out virtually every antisemitic comment that Labour members have made out of half a million people. I’ve never met any of these people. There’s not a problem. You’re talking about a handful of people in a party of half a million people. Jeremy Corbyn has moved rapidly to deal with them.

...

I’d simply say to John Mann go back and check. Is what I say true, or is it not? The BBC, you’ve got a huge team of researchers, it will take just an hour or two to go back and confirm. I was asked a question, I answered it. I have never in 45 years since I won my first election, I have never lied. I have always answered the question.

He was a monster from start to finish but it’s simply the historical fact. His policy was originally to send all of Germany’s Jews to Israel and there were private meetings between the Zionist movement and Hitler’s government which were kept confidential, they only became apparent after the war, when they were having a dialogue to do this.

What John Mann just said isn’t true – I’ve not said that Hitler was a Zionist, what I said was his policy in ‘32 was to deport Germany’s Jews to Israel. I condemn that. I never said it, what I said was that was his policy
.


It is clear from his own words that Livingstone is not anti-Semitic; that instead it is his belief that any attempt by high-profile figures to criticise Israeli policy is systematically smeared by a highly organized, rapid-response network, a network whose existence and misleading/dishonest methodology is beyond doubt, as demonstrated in a detailed, forensic analysis by Asa Winstanley:

[] An investigation by The Electronic Intifada has found that some of the most prominent stories about anti-Semitism in the party are falsified. The Electronic Intifada can reveal that a key player in Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” covered up his involvement in the Israel lobby. Most Labour members so accused are in reality being attacked for expressing opinions in favor of Palestinian human rights and particularly for supporting the boycott of Israel. Labour activists, many of them Jews, have told The Electronic Intifada that false accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a weapon against Corbyn by the party’s right-wing. Corbyn has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement for more than three decades. In an interview with The Electronic Intifada last year, he endorsed key elements of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel. For example, he urged an end to weapons trading with Israel.

...

Charley Allan, a Jewish member of the party, and a Morning Star columnist, has described the current atmosphere in the press and Labour Party as a “witch hunt.” It has reached such an absurd volume that any usage of the word “Zionist” is deemed to be anti-Semitic – although tellingly not when used by self-described Zionists. Where real instances of anti-Jewish bigotry have come to light, the leadership and party machine have taken robust action.


One of many examples provided:

An “anti-Semitism scandal” erupted in the Oxford University Labour Club – an association of student supporters of the party. In a public Facebook posting Alex Chalmers, the co-chair of the club, resigned his position over what he claimed was anti-Semitic behavior in “a large proportion” of the student Labour club “and the student left in Oxford more generally.” But as evidence he cited the club’s decision, in a majority vote, to endorse Oxford’s Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual awareness-raising exercise by student groups which support Palestinian rights. This connection was clearly designed to smear Palestine solidarity activists as anti-Semites – a standard tactic of the Israel lobby. In fact, the similarity was no coincidence. The Electronic Intifada can reveal for the first time evidence that Chalmers himself has been part of the UK’s Israel lobby. Chalmers has worked for BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Funded by the billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, BICOM is a leading pro-Israel group in London.

[Note: See original article for sources and further details of this and several other cases]

As for the historical case cited by Livingstone, Robert Mackey at the Intercept explains:

So what was Livingstone talking about? He appears to have been using “Hitler” as shorthand for the Nazi government and referring to a real instance of cooperation between Germany and the Zionist movement that began in 1933 — an episode Livingstone discussed at length in his 2011 memoir, “You Can’t Say That.” Just months after Hitler came to power, in 1933, the Zionist-led Jewish Agency in British-administered Palestine did strike an agreement with the Nazis to facilitate the emigration of about 20,000 German Jews to Palestine over the next decade. As the Israeli historian Tom Segev described it in his book, “The Seventh Million[]”[:]

The haavara (“transfer”) agreement — the Hebrew term was used in the Nazi documents as well — was based on the complementary interests of the German government and the the Zionist movement: the Nazis wanted the Jews out of Germany; the Zionists wanted them to come to Palestine.

Segev notes that the agreement, which remained in force until the middle of World War II, was a point of contention between the Zionist leadership in Tel Aviv and Jewish leaders in the United States, who still hoped in 1933 that an international economic and diplomatic boycott of Germany could “force the Nazis to halt their persecution, so that Jews could continue to live in Germany.”


Livingstone may well have made the error of oversimplification, but for any impartial observer it is obvious he is simply referring to the Haavara agreement - the existence of which is historical fact. It is a common pitfall for anyone who speaks with unprepared comments to say something that will ruffle feathers and be misinterpreted. It is also fertile ground for cynical propagandists - their dishonest methods long established and proven - to exploit for their own agendas:

But when he was asked why Shah’s use of the meme about Hitler was not anti-Semitic, Livingstone veered off-topic, into an over-simplified and misleading account of German history that enraged many of his own colleagues. “Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel — he was supporting Zionism,” Livingstone claimed. “This was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Within minutes, as Livingstone’s comments were reported in shorthand as “Hitler was a Zionist,” senior members of his party, including Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in next week’s London mayoral election, called for him to be expelled for what sounded like an absurd attempt to smear Israel by numbering history’s most infamous anti-Semite among the ranks of its supporters.


All this despite Livingstone explicitly stating [full quote above] that "I’ve not said that Hitler was a Zionist".

It is long-established practice in the field of propaganda to lift words out of context to smear opponents, as has been done to Livingstone here, or to falsely assign a rare instance of bad behaviour to a broad group that are guilty only by association. This case is no different. Vladimir Putin was recently smeared in this way as a tax cheat because a childhood friend was mentioned in the [now mysteriously absent] Panama Papers, despite the fact that his name appeared nowhere in the documents. Allies of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party are victims of a similarly clumsy campaign.

The key to deciphering whether mass condemnation in the media is bogus or not lies in the kind of truth-seeking journalism that (often unpaid) writers and bloggers produce. The highest quality independent sites and writers put the corporate media to shame, writing detailed analyses that contain numerous links for readers to follow for verification of claims.

However, the first signs of a dishonest or cynical campaign can be found in the calibre of its chief proponents. Iraq War supporter and apologist, Oliver Kamm, who writes for The Times as a columnist and once wrote 'George W Bush made the world a safer place' has enthusiastically jumped on the Livingstone smear bandwagon. [Kamm's 'credibility' is summed up in conclusive fashion by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson here.] Fellow Times columnist David Aaronovitch, who also supported the Iraq debacle, has enthusiastically joined the fray. James Kirkup - The Telegraph's Executive Editor (Politics) - described Livingstone as a 'cockroach', seemingly content in a senior position at a national newspaper of record to use the dehumanizing language of genocide to describe a person he disagrees with.

A whole coterie of corporate media writers along with public officials have lined up to pile on the condemnation. More than anything, the episode has been an instructive illustration of Glenn Greenwald's famous description of UK media journalists: "I've never encountered any group more driven by group-think and rank-closing cohesion than British journalists."

The real disgrace here is not Livingstone at all but the absolute silence of these same critics when Israel is accused of actual war crimes by credible human rights groups like Amnesty International while the US supplies it with arms:

The USA is by far the largest exporter of military equipment to Israel. According to data made public by the US government, its arms transfers to Israel from January to May 2014 included nearly $27million for “rocket launchers”, $9.3 million worth in “parts of guided missiles” and nearly $762,000 for “bombs, grenades and munitions of war”.

Since 2012, the USA has exported $276 million worth of basic weapons and munitions to Israel, a figure that excludes exports of military transport equipment and high technologies.

The news on 30 July that the USA had allowed the resupply of munitions to Israel came the same day the US government condemned the shelling of a UN school in Gaza which killed at least 20 people, including children and UN humanitarian workers.

“It is deeply cynical for the White House to condemn the deaths and injuries of Palestinians, including children, and humanitarian workers, when it knows full well that the Israeli military responsible for such attacks are armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment bankrolled by US taxpayers,” said Brian Wood.


The UK also plays its part:

The Government has been accused of failing to regulate arms sales to Israel following evidence that weapons containing British-made components are being used in the bombardment of Gaza.

Documents shown to The Independent reveal that arms export licences worth £42m have been granted to 130 British defence manufacturers since 2010 to sell military equipment to Israel. These range from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles.

Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.

...

Israel is one of the biggest customers for British exports of so-called “dual-use” equipment capable of both civilian and military deployment in a trade worth more than £7bn last year.

But documents obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time the full extent of sales of military-only equipment, along with the names of the companies granted export licences by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Of the £42m of so-called “military list” exports approved since 2010, some £10m has been licensed in the last 12 months.

The data reveals that dozens of highly specialised UK defence companies have secured deals with Israeli partners and the Israeli military, ranging from bulletproof garments to naval gun parts and small arms ammunition. The sales are entirely lawful and form part of Britain’s £12bn annual arms export trade.

But evidence exists that British-made components feature in weapons being deployed during Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military has been criticised for what some see as heavy-handed tactics during its assault on Gaza. Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died, alongside 63 Israelis, including three civilians.


The lesson is simple: the moral crusaders that spend days loudly condemning Livingstone for an ill-advised [in the insane modern media soundbite environment] comment that he later clarified in a way that made it clear that he was absolutely not being anti-Semitic utter nary a squeak when Israel bombs schools or murders children on a beach; remain silent in the face of the documented day-to-day atrocities of the Israeli government and its soldiers with Western-supplied equipment in Gaza, including the killings of pregnant women and children.

Misconstrued comments by a lifelong anti-racist: one, murdered children: nil. That there in a nutshell is the moral standing of Livingstone's critics. And if you're still assigning them credibility, it might be time to seek analysis elsewhere.

Written by Simon Wood

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Panama Papers: Bear in the Woods

"Though the president’s name does not appear in any of the records, the data reveals a pattern – his friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage. The documents suggest Putin’s family has benefited from this money – his friends’ fortunes appear his to spend." - Luke Harding - The Guardian [Source]

"The evidence for corruption at the Kremlin looks devastating, whereas Mr Cameron can fairly protest that the son is not responsible for the deeds of the father, especially not as he has taken some steps – such as banning the “bearer shares” that Cameron Sr’s fund long ago used – to protect the public interest." - Guardian editorial [Source]

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored" - Aldous Huxley

In what can only be described as a bike, car, train and plane crash of epic proportions, the global corporate media this month tried its hand at emulating WikiLeaks with the release of the Panama Papers:

The exposé of Panama-based Mossack Fonseca has been made possible by an unprecedented leak of more than 11 million documents to German investigative newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The leak came from an anonymous source and was then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which organised an investigation by news organisations around the world. The cache of documents includes emails, banking details and client records dating back 40 years and reveals the inner workings of a law firm famed for its secrecy.

No time was wasted in splashing pictures of Vladimir Putin all over the internet when the story first broke, despite the tiny problem that the Russian President is not actually mentioned in the documents. OffGuardian's Kit broke it down efficiently:

Luke Harding, a bastion of ethical journalism (and not at all a paranoid lunatic), has churned out 2 articles totaling over 5000 words, each using the word “Putin”, almost as often as they use the phrases “allegedly”, “speculation suggests”, “has been described as” and “may have been”.

Neither of his articles mentions by name any of the 12 world leaders, past and present, actually identified in the documents, nor do they mention David Cameron’s dad, who is also in there. No, they focus on a cellist friend of Putin’s, talk about his daughter’s marriage, and include an awful lot of diagrams with big arrows that point at pictures of...Vladimir Putin. This is, apparently, all evidence of...something.

...I’m not sure what, but it will probably be discussed at length in the “book” Luke Harding is probably planning to publish in a couple of weeks. That’s if the NSA don’t delete it all while he’s typing.

The only important, or even true, phrase Harding uses appears at the very top of this article:

"...the president’s name does not appear in any of the records..."


Indeed, the Guardian's decision to allow an alleged plagiarist and relentless critic of Russia like Luke Harding to write the first story, which condemns Putin for the crime of having a cellist friend mentioned in the documents, can mean only two things: that the Guardian's editorial staff are either indifferent to the desire of their readers for neutral, fact-based reporting...or simply incompetent. Or both. Whatever the reason, it was another slap in the face of its dwindling readership - an insult to the intelligence of those few readers who have not yet realised the tragic truth of the Guardian: a once proud newspaper now reduced to peddling weak propaganda for powerful Western interests.

The blanket smearing of Putin (and Assad) - both coincidentally current Western targets - with no direct evidence in the documents of wrongdoing on their parts was balanced on the US side by McClatchy Newspapers, who found four little-known Americans in the documents, all previously accused or convicted of financial crimes such as fraud and tax evasion.

Any reporting on this issue by corporate media has therefore been definitely proven as slanted and should henceforth be regarded as such. As correctly pointed out by WikiLeaks and others, full disclosure of the Panama Papers with a public, searchable database is the only way to actually call this a leak. As it stands, it is selectively exposed information that only tells us (apart from a few names) what we already know: that rich individuals and corporations everywhere are very often corrupt, and that they hide their money offshore.

The funding of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that has directed the reporting of this leak should also be a matter of concern to any observer familiar with recent history. ICIJ is funded by - among others - the George Soros-founded Open Society Foundations. This name crops up again and again when governments hostile to Washington are removed and replaced, a documented fact that instantly destroys the credibility of any ostensibly benign enterprise linked to him, with the modern US 'soft power' tactic of 'democracy promotion' long established and understood.

To the likely chagrin of those behind the selective reporting of the Panama Papers, the affair has backfired spectacularly, as the public quickly saw through the comically inept attempts to smear Putin and Assad and leapt on the information that has not been released. As many Western observers have justifiably pointed out: 'OK, so now we know there are some corrupt people in Russia and China - even though we already knew that. Now tell us about the ones in our own governments'. As a result, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior members of the Conservative Party have been put under extreme public pressure to provide full disclosure on their own tax affairs after Cameron's father's name was exposed, with thousands of protestors descending on Downing Street this weekend to demand the PM's resignation.

Missing from much of the reporting and analysis is what we already know about tax havens:

An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world. Illicit cross-border financial flows add up to an estimated $1-1.6 trillion each year. Since the 1970s African countries alone are estimated to have lost over $1 trillion in capital flight, dwarfing their current external debts of 'just' $190 billion and making Africa a major net creditor to the world. But those assets are in the hands of a few wealthy people, protected by offshore secrecy, while the debts are shouldered by broad African populations.

Yet rich countries suffer too: in the recent global financial crisis, European countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal have been brought to their knees by decades of secrecy and tax evasion.

A global industry has developed involving the world's biggest banks, law practices and accounting firms which not only provide secretive offshore structures to their tax- and law-dodging clients, but aggressively market them. 'Competition' between jurisdictions to provide secrecy facilities has, particularly since the era of financial globalisation took off in the 1980s, become a central feature of global financial markets.


More:

According to a (highly recommended) website dedicated to providing information on this issue, there are 18,857 companies registered at one address in the Cayman Islands and 217,000 registered to a '1209 North Orange Street, Wilmington, Delaware', including Coca Cola, Google, Verizon, KFC, American Airlines and GM. We also learn that 83 of the largest 100 US companies use tax havens, as do 98% of the companies registered on the London Stock Exchange.

Aside from the fact that tax havens enable the rich to hide money that they are legally obliged to pay for the vital public services that societies need to survive, they also ultimately force the poor to pick up the tab. Tax havens further enable financial criminals to hide their booty; corrupt leaders or dictators to plunder the resources of poor and/or developing nations; and also allow banks to dodge financial laws. They create a private world of unaccountable power for the very rich, enabling them to do as they wish as the rest of the planet's inhabitants slide deeper and deeper into inequality, poverty and suffering.

Tax havens are a key means of escape for the rich and powerful from the rules that bind ordinary citizens, from the law of the land(s) itself. They enable rich people and companies to avoid paying their fair share for the very infrastructure they depend upon for their financial success: the roads that transport their products, the courts that protect and uphold their contracts, the education systems that prepare their work forces and the health systems that keep staff healthy.

And the police forces that protect their premises and persons from protestors.


[Note: a short video on the US itself as a tax haven here]

If the auspiciously named ICIJ and their partner journalists were actually interested in excising this offshore cancer for want of a better world, they would be demanding that all corporations and officials in positions of significant influence publish their tax affairs for ICIJ or public examination. It would be releasing all the Panama Papers: at the very least to independent journalists for them to report on or at best in a public database. While taxes may be private for ordinary citizens who have no choice but to pay and no means to avoid them, when a rich individual or company uses publicly funded infrastructure for their own benefit, tax affairs are by definition in the public interest.

The ICIJ would be demanding that all companies providing 'offshore services' be forced (in the public interest) to open their files to prosecutors and journalists in order to expose all who use such destructive and immoral entities. The Panama Papers, after all, concern just one such company: the tip of a very large, very dirty iceberg.

But the ICIJ is demanding no such exposure, and that can only mean one thing: that it is just one more of the thousands of organizations in the pockets of the rich and powerful. It means that it cannot be regarded as a neutral media organ; that it is merely another tool with an agenda.

The release of the Panama Papers has attracted enormous and welcome public scrutiny to an issue that has long been studiously ignored by the corporate media, providing a much-needed outlet for public frustration and anger with the dismantling of their public services for the benefit of the extremely wealthy while millions starve or live in misery. This atmosphere is a symptom of the deeper malaise gripping the planet: the utterly discredited capitalist (profit motive) con game that has enriched a tiny few at the expense of the planet's people, wildlife and environment. It is one more step along the road to radical systemic change.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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