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Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth. Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Boris Johnson, Britain 

Back in the 1880s, the mathematician and theologian Edwin Abbott tried to help us better understand our world by describing a very different one he called Flatland.

Imagine a world that is not a sphere moving through space like our own planet, but more like a vast sheet of paper inhabited by conscious, flat geometric shapes. These shape-people can move forwards and backwards, and they can turn left and right. But they have no sense of up or down. The very idea of a tree, or a well, or a mountain makes no sense to them because they lack the concepts and experiences of height and depth. They cannot imagine, let alone describe, objects familiar to us.

ORDER IT NOW

In this two-dimensional world, the closest scientists can come to comprehending a third dimension are the baffling gaps in measurements that register on their most sophisticated equipment. They sense the shadows cast by a larger universe outside Flatland. The best brains infer that there must be more to the universe than can be observed but they have no way of knowing what it is they don’t know.

This sense of the the unknowable, the ineffable has been with humans since our earliest ancestors became self-conscious. They inhabited a world of immediate, cataclysmic events – storms, droughts, volcanoes and earthquakes – caused by forces they could not explain. But they also lived with a larger, permanent wonder at the mysteries of nature itself: the change from day to night, and the cycle of the seasons; the pin-pricks of light in the night sky, and their continual movement; the rising and falling of the seas; and the inevitability of life and death.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our ancestors tended to attribute common cause to these mysterious events, whether of the catastrophic or the cyclical variety, whether of chaos or order. They ascribed them to another world or dimension – to the spiritual realm, to the divine.

Paradox and mystery

Science has sought to shrink the realm of the inexplicable. We now understand – at least approximately – the laws of nature that govern the weather and catastrophic events like an earthquake. Telescopes and rocket-ships have also allowed us to probe deeper into the heavens to make a little more sense of the universe outside our tiny corner of it.

But the more we investigate the universe the more rigid appear the limits to our knowledge. Like the shape-people of Flatland, our ability to understand is constrained by the dimensions we can observe and experience: in our case, the three dimensions of space and the additional one of time. Influential “string theory” posits another six dimensions, though we would be unlikely to ever sense them in any more detail than the shadows almost-detected by the scientists of Flatland.

The deeper we peer into the big universe of the night sky and our cosmic past, and the deeper we peer into the small universe inside the atom and our personal past, the greater the sense of mystery and wonder.

At the sub-atomic level, the normal laws of physics break down. Quantum mechanics is a best-guess attempt to explain the mysteries of movement of the tiniest particles we can observe, which appear to be operating, at least in part, in a dimension we cannot observe directly.

And most cosmologists, looking outwards rather inwards, have long known that there are questions we are unlikely ever to answer: not least what exists outside our universe – or expressed another way, what existed before the Big Bang. For some time, dark matter and black holes have baffled the best minds. This month scientists conceded to the New York Times that there are forms of matter and energy unknown to science but which can be inferred because they disrupt the known laws of physics.

Inside and outside the atom, our world is full of paradox and mystery.

Conceit and humility

Despite our science-venerating culture, we have arrived at a similar moment to our forebears, who gazed at the night sky in awe. We have been forced to acknowledge the boundaries of knowledge.

There is a difference, however. Our ancestors feared the unknowable, and therefore preferred to show caution and humility in the face of what could not be understood. They treated the ineffable with respect and reverence. Our culture encourages precisely the opposite approach. We show only conceit and arrogance. We seek to defeat, ignore or trivialise that which we cannot explain or understand.

The greatest scientists do not make this mistake. As an avid viewer of science programmes like the BBC’s Horizon, I am always struck by the number of cosmologists who openly speak of their religious belief. Carl Sagan, the most famous cosmologist, never lost his sense of awestruck wonder as he examined the universe. Outside the lab, his was not the language of hard, cold, calculating science. He described the universe in the language of poetry. He understood the necessary limits of science. Rather than being threatened by the universe’s mysteries and paradoxes, he celebrated them.

When in 1990, for example, space probe Voyager 1 showed us for the first time our planet from 6 billion km away, Sagan did not mistake himself or his fellow NASA scientists for gods. He saw “a pale blue dot” and marvelled at a planet reduced to a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Humility was his response to the vast scale of the universe, our fleeting place within it, and our struggle to grapple with “the great enveloping cosmic dark”.

Mind and matter

Sadly, Sagan’s approach is not the one that dominates the western tradition. All too often, we behave as if we are gods. Foolishly, we have made a religion of science. We have forgotten that in a world of unknowables, the application of science is necessarily tentative and ideological. It is a tool, one of many that we can use to understand our place in the universe, and one that is easily appropriated by the corrupt, by the vain, by those who seek power over others, by those who worship money.

Until relatively recently, science, philosophy and theology sought to investigate the same mysteries and answer the same existential questions. Through much of history, they were seen as complementary, not in competition. Abbott, remember, was a mathematician and theologian, and Flatland was his attempt to explain the nature of faith. Similarly, the man who has perhaps most shaped the paradigm within which much western science still operates was a French philosopher using the scientific methods of the time to prove the existence of God.

Today, Rene Descartes is best remembered for his famous – if rarely understood – dictum: “I think, therefore I am.” Four hundred years ago, he believed he could prove God’s existence through his argument that mind and matter are separate. Just as human bodies were distinct from souls, so God was separate and distinct from humans. Descartes believed knowledge was innate, and therefore our idea of a perfect being, of God, could only derive from something that was perfect and objectively real outside us.

Weak and self-serving as many of his arguments sound today, Descartes’ lasting ideological influence on western science was profound. Not least so-called Cartesian dualism – the treatment of mind and matter as separate realms – has encouraged and perpetuated a mechanistic view of the world around us.

We can briefly grasp how strong the continuing grip of his thinking is on us when we are confronted with more ancient cultures that have resisted the west’s extreme rationalist discourse – in part, we should note, because they were exposed to it in hostile, oppressive ways that served only to alienate them from the western canon.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Conspiracy Theories, Vaccines 

A few lessons to be learnt from the wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death in the British media:

1. There is absolutely no commercial reason for the media to be dedicating so much time and space to the Prince’s death. The main commercial channel, ITV, which needs eyeballs on its programmes to generate income from advertising, saw a 60 per cent drop in viewing figures after it decided to broadcast endless forelock-tugging. Audiences presumably deserted to Netflix and Youtube, where the mood of “national mourning” was not being enforced. Many viewers, particularly younger ones, have no interest in the fact that a very old man just died, even if he did have lots of titles.

The BBC, the state broadcaster, similarly ignored the wishes of its audiences, commandeering all of its many channels to manufacture and enforce the supposedly national mood of grief. That even went so far as placing banners on the CBBC channel for children encouraging them to forgo their cartoons and switch to the BBC’s main channel paying endless, contrived tributes to Philip. The resulting outpouring of anger was so great the BBC was forced to open a dedicated complaints form on its website. It then had to hurriedly remove it when the establishment threw a wobbly about viewers being given a chance to object to the BBC’s coverage.

2. The BBC is reported to have heavily invested in coverage of Philip’s death for fear that otherwise it would face a barrage of criticism from Britain’s rightwing press for demonstrating insufficient patriotism and revealing a supposed “leftwing bias”. That was what apparently happened when the BBC failed to grovel sufficiently to the royal family over the Queen Mother’s death in 2002. But if that is the case, doesn’t it simply underscore quite how vulnerable the supposedly “neutral” state broadcaster is to pressure from the rightwing billionaire owners of the establishment media?

If Rupert Murdoch and company can force the BBC into alienating and antagonising many of its own viewers with endless homilies to a royal little loved by large sections of the population, how else is the BBC’s coverage being skewed for fear of the potential backlash from corporate media tycoons? Is the fear of such repercussions also responsible for the BBC’s complicity in the recent, evidence-free smearing of a socialist Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, or the BBC’s consistent failures in reporting honestly on countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Venezuela – all of them in the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Latin America that the United States and the west demand control over?

If the BBC makes its editorial decisions based on what rightwing and far-right newspaper tycoons think is good both for the country and for the world, then how is the BBC not equally rightwing?

3. The BBC is also reportedly afraid that, if it is not seen to be deferential enough to the royal family, it risks being punished by the ruling Conservative party, which regards the institution of the monarchy as sacrosanct. The BBC’s licence fee and wider funding – which need government approval – might be in jeopardy as a result.

But that is no less troubling than that the BBC is kowtowing to billionaire media magnates. Because if the ruling Conservative party can wield a stick sufficiently big to dictate to the BBC how and to what extent it covers Philip’s death, why can the government not also bully the BBC into giving it an easy ride on its failures to deal with Covid and its cronyism in awarding Covid-related contracts?

Similarly, if the BBC is quite so craven, why can the ruling party not also intimidate it into ignoring the current biggest assault on journalism: Washington’s relentless efforts to imprison for life Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after he exposed US war crimes?

And what would there be to stop Tory leader Boris Johnson from arm-twisting the BBC into ignoring the rampant racism documented in his own party and pressuring the state broadcaster instead into presenting the Labour party as riddled with antisemitism, even though figures show that Labour has less of a problem with racism than wider British society and the Tories?

And there is the rub. Because that is exactly what the BBC has been doing, serving as little more than a propaganda channel for the right.

That same fear of the ruling Conservative party might explain why the BBC keeps filling its top posts, and its most influential editorial jobs, with stalwarts of the right. Most egregiously that includes the BBC’s new chairman, Richard Sharp, who is not only one of the Tory party’s biggest donors but helped to fund a firm accused of “human warehousing” – stuffing benefit recipients into “rabbit hutch” flats – to profit from a Conservative government scheme.

It would also explain the appointment in 2013 as head of BBC news of James Harding, a Murdoch loyalist and former Times editor who vowed that he and his newspaper were unabashedly “pro-Israel”. It would explain too why Sarah Sands, editor of the unapologetically rightwing Evening Standard, was seen as suitable to serve as editor of the Radio 4’s morning news programme, Today.

4. The truth is that these factors and more have played a part in ensuring there have been only wall-to-wall tributes to Prince Philip. Corporate media is not there simply to make quick profits. Sometimes, it is seen by its billionaire owners as a loss-leader. It is there to generate a favourable political and social climate to help corporations accrete ever greater power and profits.

Manufacturing the pretence of patriotic solidarity in a time of supposed national loss or calamity; cultivating a reverence for tradition; promoting unquestioning respect for socially constructed authority figures; reinforcing social hierarchies that normalise grossly offensive wealth disparities is exactly what establishment media is there to do.

The corporate media, from the rightwing Daily Mail to the supposedly liberal BBC and Guardian, is there to make the patently insane – mourning an entitled man most of us knew little about and what little we did know made us care even less for him – seem not only natural but obligatory. To refuse to submit to compulsory grieving, to state that Philip’s death from old age is less important than the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the UK who lost their lives early from the pandemic, is not rudeness, or heartlessness, or a lack of patriotism. It is to cling to our humanity, to prize our ability to think and feel for ourselves, and to refuse to be swept up in a carnival of hollow emotion.

And most important of all, it is to sense – however briefly – that the wall-to-wall propaganda we are being subjected to on the death of a royal may look exceptional but is in fact entirely routine. It is simply that in normal times the propaganda is better masked, wrapped in the illusion of choice and variety.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, BBC, Britain 

Welcome to the age of fear. Nothing is more corrosive of the democratic impulse than fear. Left unaddressed, it festers, eating away at our confidence and empathy.

We are now firmly in a time of fear – not only of the virus, but of each other. Fear destroys solidarity. Fear forces us to turn inwards to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Fear refuses to understand or identify with the concerns of others.

In fear societies, basic rights become a luxury. They are viewed as a threat, as recklessness, as a distraction that cannot be afforded in this moment of crisis.

Once fear takes hold, populations risk agreeing to hand back rights, won over decades or centuries, that were the sole, meagre limit on the power of elites to ransack the common wealth. In calculations based on fear, freedoms must make way for other priorities: being responsible, keeping safe, averting danger.

Worse, rights are surrendered with our consent because we are persuaded that the rights themselves are a threat to social solidarity, to security, to our health.

‘Too noisy’ protests

It is therefore far from surprising that the UK’s draconian new Police and Crime Bill – concentrating yet more powers in the police – has arrived at this moment. It means that the police can prevent non-violent protest that is likely to be too noisy or might create “unease” in bystanders. Protesters risk being charged with a crime if they cause “nuisance” or set up protest encampments in public places, as the Occupy movement did a decade ago.

And damaging memorials – totems especially prized in a time of fear for their power to ward off danger – could land protesters, like those who toppled a statue to notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last summer, a 10-year jail sentence.

In other words, this is a bill designed to outlaw the right to conduct any demonstration beyond the most feeble and ineffective kind. It makes permanent current, supposedly extraordinary limitations on protest that were designed, or so it was said, to protect the public from the immediate threat of disease.

Protest that demands meaningful change is always noisy and disruptive. Would the suffragettes have won women the vote without causing inconvenience and without offending vested interests that wanted them silent?

What constitutes too much noise or public nuisance? In a time of permanent pandemic, it is whatever detracts from the all-consuming effort to extinguish our fear and insecurity. When we are afraid, why should the police not be able to snatch someone off the street for causing “unease”?

The UK bill is far from unusual. Similar legislation – against noisy, inconvenient and disruptive protest – is being passed in states across the United States. Just as free speech is being shut down on the grounds that we must not offend, so protest is being shut down on the grounds that we must not disturb.

From the outbreak of the virus, there were those who warned that the pandemic would soon serve as a pretext to take away basic rights and make our societies less free. Those warnings soon got submerged in, or drowned out by, much wilder claims, such as that the virus was a hoax or that it was similar to flu, or by the libertarian clamour against lockdowns and mask-wearing.

Binary choices

What was notable was the readiness of the political and media establishments to intentionally conflate and confuse reasonable and unreasonable arguments to discredit all dissent and lay the groundwork for legislation of this kind.

The purpose has been to force on us unwelcome binary choices. We are either in favour of all lockdowns or indifferent to the virus’ unchecked spread. We are either supporters of enforced vaccinations or insensitive to the threat the virus poses to the vulnerable. We are either responsible citizens upholding the rules without question or selfish oafs who are putting everyone else at risk.

A central fracture line has opened up – in part a generational one – between those who are most afraid of the virus and those who are most afraid of losing their jobs, of isolation and loneliness, of the damage being done to their children’s development, of the end of a way of life they valued, or of the erasure of rights they hold inviolable.

The establishment has been sticking its crowbar into that split, trying to prise it open and turn us against each other.

‘Kill the Bill’

Where this heads was only too visible in the UK at the weekend when protesters took to the streets of major cities. They did so – in another illustration of binary choices that now dominate our lives – in violation of emergency Covid regulations banning protests. There was a large march through central London, while another demonstration ended in clashes between protesters and police in Bristol.

What are the protesters – most peaceful, a few not – trying to achieve? In the media, all protest at the moment is misleadingly lumped together as “anti-lockdown”, appealing to the wider public’s fear of contagion spread. But that is more misdirection: in the current, ever-more repressive climate, all protest must first be “anti-lockdown” before it can be protest.

The truth is that the demonstrators are out on the streets for a wide variety of reasons, including to protest against the oppressive new Police and Crime Bill, under the slogan “Kill the Bill”.

There are lots of well-founded reasons for people to be angry or worried at the moment. But the threat to that most cherished of all social freedoms – the right to protest – deserves to be at the top of the list.

If free speech ensures we have some agency over our own minds, protest allows us to mobilise collectively once we have been persuaded of the need and urgency to act. Protest is the chance we have to alert others to the strength of our feelings and arguments, to challenge a consensus that may exist only because it has been manufactured by political and media elites, and to bring attention to neglected or intentionally obscured issues.

Speech and protest are intimately connected. Free speech in one’s own home – like free speech in a prison cell – is a very stunted kind of freedom. It is not enough simply to know that something is unjust. In democratic societies, we must have the right to do our best to fix injustice.

Cast out as heretics

Not so long ago, none of this would have needed stating. It would have been blindingly obvious. No longer. Large sections of the population are happy to see speech rights stripped from those they don’t like or fear. They are equally fine, it seems, with locking up people who cause a “nuisance” or are “too noisy” in advancing a cause with which they have no sympathy – especially so long as fear of the pandemic takes precedence.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Britain, Civil Liberties, Coronavirus 

This is an extraordinary – and dangerous – five minutes of “mainstream” TV. It is five minutes of a black women’s rights activist trashing Piers Morgan to his face and on his own show, Good Morning Britain, as he tries to defend the Royal Family from the fallout of the Meghan and Harry interview.

Shola Mos-Shogbamimu hurls a barrage of unprecedented invective against Morgan, calling him a “liar and disgrace”, “disgusting”, a “racist and misogynist” and all but tells him to shut up. This treatment doubtless paved the way to his walk-out a day later and his departure from the show.

Even though I agree with pretty much everything Mos-Shogbamimu says, especially the parts of about the Royal Family and Britain’s racist, colonial past, the interview nonetheless made me feel almost – but only almost – sorry for Piers Morgan, one of the most thoroughly obnoxious narcissists on TV.

I strongly urge everyone to watch this clip, but only after you have inoculated yourself from its powerful narcoleptic effects by reading my health warning below.

The segment is a masterclass in how the corporate media so capably and thoroughly manipulates us that we end up willing our own hypnotisation into a political trance.

Every moment of Mos-Shogbamimu’s attack on Morgan is being stage-managed – though not by her, she’s simply the unwitting medium through which the deception is perpetrated. View it as a sophisticated lullaby, masquerading as fearless honesty, singing us deeper into sleep.

In fact, this bedtime song has three verses, intended to transform us each time into a zombie cheerleader for a different cause: first, either for Meghan or the Royals; then, for Morgan or Mos-Shogbamimu; and thirdly, for Morgan or the Good Morning Britain execs who are really pulling the strings.

This is a trilogy of corporate media-managed celebrity drama designed to prevent us from thinking about what’s really going on in our societies, societies run by and for psychopathic corporations like Good Morning Britain’s broadcaster, ITV.

Thought experiment

To fully understand how confected and bogus this segment is from start to finish, I suggest you carry out a small thought experiment.

Imagine for a moment this same scene playing out but not between Morgan and Mos-Shogbamimu feuding over Meghan’s personal, celebrity agonies. Imagine it taking place instead two years ago between Morgan and an equally outspoken supporter of the then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Imagine this isn’t about the issue of whether a mix-race boy will be allowed to call himself “prince”, or whether Meghan has felt depressed and isolated by her treatment from the Royals, but about much larger matters of political and public urgency: say, the antisemitism smears used to demonise Corbyn and his party, or the sinister corporate media campaign against him.

Then imagine that, like Mos-Shogbamimu, Corbyn’s ally is given five minutes to berate Morgan, calling him a liar, a racist, a misogynist, and telling him to his face to keep quiet and listen.

Imagine further, if you can, that the Corbyn supporter not only feels bold enough to say all these things on Morgan’s own show but is allowed to get away with it. Not only does Morgan fight back with one arm very visibly tied behind his back, but his own GMB execs let the segment run and run, preventing him from shutting down the interview, either verbally or by turning off the video connection.

Can’t imagine it? Of course, you can’t. Because it would never be allowed to happen. No ally of Corbyn’s would ever be given five minutes to trash Piers Morgan while upholding the rights of working people or criticising the rigged nature of the corporate media.

Car-crash TV moment

Which means, of course, that Mos-Shogbamimu got to bad-mouth Morgan at length – however justifiably – only because GMB execs wanted her to.

They used her to send a message to Morgan that he was on the way out, which is why he sits and takes the tirade sheepishly (for him). They used her to wash their corporate hands of any taint that they might condone racism. They used her to persuade viewers that GMB and other corporate media are able to hold themselves up to fearless scrutiny. And most important of all, they used her to engineer a car-crash TV moment that has dominated headlines across the media and will gain them a larger audience and bigger profits.

And all of that happened at no meaningful political cost to corporate Britain. The same racist, corrupt, war-mongering system will carry on as before.

Piers Morgan was set up, first with this confrontation with Mos-Shogbamimu and then the following day in a more restrained clash with his own weather presenter, Alex Beresford. Morgan got the message loud and clear. He was being played by the programme he fronts.

Sadly, too many of us still don’t understand that we are being played too. And unlike Piers Morgan, we have everything to lose and nothing to gain from this cynical corporate power game.

 
• Category: Culture/Society, Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Blacks, Britain, Racism 

Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan and Harry is a perfect case study of how an important political debate about the corrupting role of the monarchy on British life gets shunted aside yet again, not just by the endless Royal soap opera but by supposedly progressive identity politics.

As so often, a focus on identity risks not only blunting our capacity for critical thinking but can be all too readily weaponised: in this case, as the media’s main take-away from the Oprah interview illustrates, by providing an implicit defence of class privilege.

The racism directed at Markle – sorry, the Duchess of Sussex – and baby Archie is ugly, it goes without saying (but maybe more to the point, must be stated to avoid being accused of ignoring or trivialising racism).

The concern expressed by a senior royal during Markle’s pregnancy about Archie’s likely darker skin colour does indeed reveal how deeply ingrained racism is in the British establishment and how much it trickles down to the rest of British society, not least through the billionaire-owned media.

Princely ‘birthright’

But more significant is how the racism demonstrated towards Markle and Archie has played out in the media coverage of the interview and the resulting “national conversation” on social media – nowadays, the only real barometer we have for judging such conversations.

The problem is that, via Oprah, the Sussexes get to frame the significance of the House of Windsor’s racism: both in the threat that, when Charles ascends to the throne, grandson Archie will be deprived of his princely “birthright” because he is of mixed race; and in the fact that Harry and Meghan have been hounded from Palace life into celebrity-style exile in the US.

In the process, an important, democratic conversation has yet again been supplanted about why Britain still maintains and reveres these expensive relics of a medieval system of unaccountable rule based on a superior (if no longer divine) blood line.

Instead, the conversation initiated by Oprah is a much more politically muddled one about whether it is right that a “commoner” woman of colour and her mixed-race son are obstructed from fully participating in this medieval system of privilege.

Image makeover

A real political debate about privilege – one that demands greater equality and an end to racist presumptions about blood lines – has been obscured and trivialised once again by a row of the kind preferred by the corporate media: whether most of the Royal Family are too racist to realise that a woman of colour like Meghan could help them with a twenty-first-century image makeover.

As a result, we are presented with a false binary choice. Either we cheer on the Royal Family and implicitly condone their racism; or we cheer on Meghan and implicitly support her battle to better veil the feudal ugliness of the British monarchy.

It ought to be possible to want Archie to live a life equal to “white” babies in the UK without also wanting him to live a life of pomp and circumstance, designed to ensure that other babies – white, black and brown – grow up to be denied the privileges he enjoys by virtue of royal birth.

Divisive and enervating

What the Oprah interview does – is designed to do – is derail the intersection of class and race in politically damaging ways.

A meaningful democratic struggle prioritises class unity as the battering ram against establishment power that long ago learnt to protect itself by dividing us through our competing identities. Class struggle does not ignore race; it embraces it and all other socially constructed identities used by power to rationalise oppression. Class subsumes them into a collective struggle strengthened by numbers.

Struggle based on identity, by contrast, is inherently divisive and politically enervating, as the Meghan Markle case illuminates. Her challenge to Royal “tradition” alienates those most invested in ideas of monarchy, “Britishness” or white identity. And it does so while offering no more than a sop to those invested in breaking glass ceilings, even of the kind that aren’t worth smashing in the first place.

Meghan’s fight for the first mixed-race British prince is no more politically progressive than the celebration by the media two years ago of the news that for the first time women were in charge of the military-industrial complex – the one that rains down death and destruction on “Third World” men, women and children.

Value for money

Strange as it is to recall now – in an age of social media, when anyone can comment on anything, and the “mainstream” media’s billionaire gatekeepers have supposedly been sidelined – ordinary Britons discussed abolishing the monarchy far more in the 1970s, when I was a child, than they do nowadays.

Getting rid of the Royal Family – like getting rid of nuclear weapons, another topic no one talks about seriously any more – was mainstream enough then that Royalists were often forced on to the defensive. As the mood soured among a vocal section of the population, the Queen’s defenders were forced hurriedly to switch from arguments rooted in deference and tradition to more utilitarian claims that the Royals offered “value for money”, supposedly boosting commerce and tourism.

Prince Charles’ engagement in 1981 to a beautiful, demure teenage “English rose”, Princess Diana, looked to many, even at the time, suspiciously like a move to reinvigorate a tired, increasingly unpopular brand.

The media spectacle of a fairytale romance and wedding, followed by years of controversy, disillusionment and betrayal, culminating in divorce and finally Diana’s death / murder, very effectively distracted the British public for the next 16 years from the question of what purpose a Royal Family served. It became only too clear what role they played: they kept us engrossed in a real-life, better-than-TV drama.

Champions of identity

Diana’s supposed struggle to grow from adolescence to womanhood in the glare of media intrusion and under the strictures of “The Firm” created the prototype for a new type of apolitical, Mills and Boon-style identity politics.

Following Diana’s escapades – from the secular saint who cleared landmines to the raunchy princess who had illicit sex with her riding instructor, an army major no less – was far more thrilling than the campaign to end the monarchy and the regressive landed class it still represents.

Diana’s life story helped pave the way to the reinvention of the left through the 1990s – under Tony Blair in the UK and Bill Clinton in the US – as champions of a new social issues-obsessed non-politics.

Both were ushered into power after reassuring the newly triumphant corporate elite that they would harness and divert popular energy away from dangerous struggles for political change towards safe struggles for superficial social change.

In the UK, that was achieved most obviously in Blair’s assiduous courtship of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Importantly, Blair persuaded Murdoch that, as prime minister, he would not only preserve the economic legacy of the Thatcher years but head further down the path of deregulation.

 

There is an entirely predictable but ugly political atmosphere developing in the two states where vaccination is most advanced: Israel and the UK. I currently live in one, Israel, and was born and spent the majority of my life in the other.

As each country moves closer to vaccinating a majority of its population, national conversations are quickly turning to concern about what needs to be done about those who have not yet been vaccinated, or refuse to be vaccinated.

Israel has already rushed through a so-called “Green Passport” – its version of the “immunity passport”. In part, it is a cynical move by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to improve his prospects in this month’s general election by finding a pretext to quickly reopen the economy and give the Israeli public a sense that things are “returning to normal”.

Israel is preparing to make vaccination a pre-requisite for engaging in activities like going to the cinema, having a meal out, exercising in the gym, or staying at a hotel. The debate is also rapidly expanding to whether some jobs should be made dependent on having a jab.

‘Nanny state’

None of this is surprising. Israel is a largely conformist society, where a tribal sense of solidarity can invariably be relied on against supposed enemies – whether they be the traditional, generic one of “Arabs” or a more recent interloper like a threatening virus.

It is in those parts of Israeli society where trust in state authorities is lowest that the vaccination campaign is struggling to make inroads: among Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens (Palestinians under occupation, by contrast, have no say in the matter as they are being denied vaccination by Israel), and Israel’s religious ultra-Orthodox community who look to God for direction, not secular officials.

Perhaps a little more surprisingly, the UK government is considering following Israel’s lead, despite the Conservative party’s long-professed commitment to an “Englishman’s freedoms” and its traditional resistance to an interfering “nanny state”. (That resistance, of course, applies only when demands on the state relate to helping the poor and marginalised rather than big business.)

Boris Johnson, ever the populist, wants to keep a British public onside that is keen to get back to the pub, while the Tory party more generally needs the economy recovering and its corporate donors placated if its claims to being the party of private enterprise and economic growth continue to sound plausible.

‘Vaccine apartheid’

The ethics of immunity passports is also being hotly debated – if only in slightly more serious terms – in the pages of my old newspaper, the liberal Guardian.

Nick Cohen, a columnist whom in normal circumstances I would scrupulously avoid citing, writes of imminent “vaccine apartheid” and notes – in vaguely approving terms – that “It is only a matter of time before we turn on the unvaccinated”. What will be needed, he argues, is yet more crackdowns on free speech, on “fake news”, to bolster the public’s trust in government and increase vaccine take-up.

Cohen’s only reticence is that black and Asian populations, because they are least likely to trust the British state and get vaccinated, will be the main victims of any popular backlash against the unvaccinated. That, he fears, will test the consciences of identity-focused liberals like himself.

Another Guardian opinion writer presumptuously cites the philosopher John Stuart Mill in arguing that stripping the unvaccinated of basic rights – vaccine apartheid again – can be made more palatable if it is presented positively as “incentivisation” rather than negatively as punishment. Helpfully, we are told: “The aim might be the same, but the moral reasoning behind it is crucially different.” What a relief!

Again, only the danger that black and Asian communities may end up as the collateral damage of these coercive or exclusionary measures pricks the writer’s conscience.

A future of Sneetches

All this circumspection is being fleshed out below the line by Guardian readers, who are offering their own potted versions of “common sense”. Popular punishments include sacking the unvaccinated from their jobs to protect others and denying them medical treatment in an over-stretched NHS (apparently even if they have spent a lifetime paying their taxes).

The future, at least the one envisioned by these liberals, echoes Dr Seuss’ story of the disdain faced by the Plain-Belly Sneetches at the hands of the snooty Star-Belly Sneetches:

When the Star-Belly Sneetches had frankfurter roasts
Or picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts,
They never invited the Plain-Belly Sneetches.
They left them out cold, in the dark of the beaches.
They kept them away. Never let them come near.
And that’s how they treated them year after year.

 

The pandemic drama

Let us pause for a brief intermission. This is not a post for or against vaccination. I will leave that to others, not least because the polarised nature of that discussion entirely distracts and detracts from what I think are deeper matters relating to trust in the Covid vaccines that reflect wider problems of trust in our state institutions and the values they uphold.

I want, as I have done before, to use this space to switch our attention, even if briefly, from the debate everyone is having to a debate almost no one is having.

In fact, I want to deconstruct the debate entirely and reframe it. If you are heavily invested in the arguments of the pro- and anti-vaccination camps – or the more often overlooked concerns of the vaccine hesitant – this article may not be what you were hoping for.

Instead, this is a call to draw ourselves back from the drama of the pandemic to consider the bigger picture of a virus that – if we would listen – offers us a warning of where we might be going wrong.

A faux debate

The problem with the debate about whether we should be able to bully people into getting a Covid vaccine is that it isn’t really a debate at all. It’s a faux debate, because a real debate needs two sides. What we are getting, as so often with these corporate media-framed moral “dilemmas”, is one side of the debate masquerading as both sides.

The ethics of immunity passports, or vaccine apartheid, depends on a wider debate about what our societies mean – and what they obscure – when they discuss issues of trust, the public good and social solidarity. A real discussion of these matters, not the phoney one presented by politicians and Guardian writers, should be at the heart of how we address concerns about privacy, personal choice, social pressure and mob tyranny.

When columnists, politicians and liberal newspaper readers argue that we should all abide by the communal good in taking the vaccine, they are suddenly imposing an ethical yardstick they rarely use in weighing other issues. The sudden concern for the entire public’s welfare sounds hollow and self-serving when it is uttered by those who normally express only the most perfunctory interest in the common good and social solidarity.

Past the clown mask

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Britain, Coronavirus, Neoliberalism 

I have spent the past several years on this blog trying to highlight one thing above all others: that the institutions we were raised to regard as authoritative are undeserving of our blind trust.

It is not just that expert institutions have been captured wholesale by corporate elites over the past 40 years and that, as a result, knowledge, experience and expertise have been sidelined in favour of elite interests – though that is undoubtedly true. The problem runs deeper: these institutions were rarely as competent or as authoritative as we fondly remember them being. They always served elite interests.

What has changed most are our perceptions of institutions that were once beloved or trusted. It is we who have changed more than the institutions. That is because we now have far more sources – good and bad alike – than ever before against which we can judge the assertions of those who claim to speak with authority.

Hanging out together

Here is a personal example. When I started work as an editor at the foreign section of the Guardian newspaper in the early 1990s, there were few ways, from the paper’s London head office, to independently evaluate or scrutinise the presentation of events by any of our correspondents in their far-flung bureaus. All we could do was compare the copy they sent with that from other correspondents, either published in rival newspapers or available from two or three English-language wire services.

Even that safeguard is far less meaningful than it might sound to an outsider.

The correspondents for these various publications – whether based in Bangkok, Amman, Moscow, Havana or Washington – are a small group. Inevitably they each bring to their work a narrow range of mostly unconscious but almost identical biases. They hang out together – like any other expat community – in the same bars, clubs and restaurants. Their children attend the same international schools, and their families socialise together at the weekends.

Similar pasts

Correspondents from these various newspapers also have similar backgrounds. They have received much the same privileged education, at private or grammar schools followed by Oxford or Cambridge, and as a result share largely the same set of values. They have followed almost identical career paths, and their reports are written chiefly to impress their editors and each other. They are appointed by a foreign editor who served a decade or two earlier in one of the same bureaus they now head, and he (for invariably it is a he) selected them because they reminded him of himself at their age.

The “local sources” quoted by these correspondents are drawn from the same small pool of local politicians, academics and policymakers – people the correspondents have agreed are the most authoritative and in a position to speak on behalf of the rest of the local population.

Nowhere in this chain of news selection, gathering, editing and production are there likely to be voices questioning or challenging the correspondents’ shared view of what constitutes “news”, or their shared interpretation and presentation of that news.

Working in the guild

This is not the news business as journalists themselves like to present it. They are not fearless, lone-wolf reporters pursuing exclusives and digging up dirt on the rich and powerful. They comprise something more akin to the guilds of old. Journalists are trained to see the world and write about it in near-identical terms.

The only reason the media “guild” looks far less credible than it did 20 or 30 years ago is because now we can often cut out the middleman – the correspondent himself. We can watch videos on Youtube of local events as they occur, or soon afterwards. We can hear directly from members of the local population who would never be given a platform in corporate media. We can read accounts from different types of journalists, including informed local ones, who would never be allowed to write for a corporate news outlet because they are not drawn from the narrow, carefully selected and trained group known as “foreign correspondents”.

A partial picture

In this regard, let us consider my own area of specialist interest: Israel and Palestine. Jewish settlers in the West Bank have been beating up and shooting at Palestinian farmers trying to work their land or harvest their olives for more than half a century. It is one of the main practical means by which the settlers implement an ethnic cleansing policy designed to drive Palestinians off their farmland.

The settlers have thereby expanded their “municipal jurisdictions” to cover more than 40 per cent of the West Bank, territory under Israeli occupation that was supposed to form the backbone of any future Palestinian state. This settler violence is part of the reason why Palestinian statehood looks impossible today.

But until a decade or so ago – when phone cameras meant that recorded visual evidence became commonplace and irrefutable – you would rarely have had a way to know about those attacks. Correspondents in Jerusalem had decided on your behalf that you did not need to know.

Maybe the correspondents refused to believe the accounts of Palestinians or preferred the explanations from Israeli officials that these were just anti-Israel lies motivated by antisemitism. Or maybe the correspondents thought these attacks were not important enough, or that without corroboration they themselves risked being accused of antisemitism.

Whatever the reason, the fact is they did not tell their readers. This absence of information meant, in turn, that when Palestinians retaliated – in acts that were much more likely to be reported by correspondents – it looked to readers back home as if Palestinian violence was unprovoked and irrational. Western coverage invariably bolstered racist stereotypes suggesting that Palestinians were innately violent or antisemitic, and that Israelis, even violent settlers, were always victims.

Unreliable experts

This problem is far from unique to journalism. There are similar issues with any of the professions – or guilds – that comprise and service today’s corporate establishment, whether it is the judiciary, politicians, the military, academics or non-profits. Those supposedly holding the establishment to account are usually deeply invested, whether it be financially or emotionally, in the establishment’s survival – either because they are part of that establishment or because they benefit from it.

And because these self-selecting “guilds” have long served as the public’s eyes and ears when we try to understand, assess and hold to account the corporate elites that rule over us, we necessarily have access only to partial, self-justifying, establishment-reinforcing information. As a result, we are likely to draw faulty conclusions about both the establishment itself and the guilds that prop up the establishment.

 
• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: American Media, Coronavirus, vitamin D 

It is probably not a good idea to write while in the grip of anger. But I am struggling to suppress my emotions about a wasted year, during which politicians and many doctors have ignored a growing body of evidence suggesting that Vitamin D can play a critically important role in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

It is time to speak out forcefully now that a new, large-scale Spanish study demonstrates not a just a correlation but a causal relationship between high-dose Vitamin D treatment of hospitalised Covid patients and significantly improved outcomes for their health.

The pre-print paper in the Lancet shows there was an 80 per cent reduction in admission to intensive care units among hospitalised patients who were treated with large doses of Vitamin D, and a 64 per cent reduction in death. The possibility of these being chance findings are infinitesimally small, note the researchers. And to boot, the study found no side-effects even when these mega-doses were given short term to the hospitalised patients.

Those are astounding figures that deserve to be on front pages, especially at a time when politicians and doctors are uncertain whether they can ever find a single magic-bullet vaccine against Covid as new variants pop up like spring daffodils.

If Vitamin D can approximate a cure for many of those hospitalised with Covid, one can infer that it should prove even more effective when used as a prophylactic. Most people in northern latitudes ought to be taking Vitamin D through much of the year in significant doses – well above the current, outdated 400IU recommended by governments like the UK’s.

Knee-jerk dismissals

This new study ought to finally silence the naysayers, though doubtless it won’t. So far it has attracted little media attention. What has been most troubling over the past year is that every time I and others have gently drawn attention to each new study that demonstrated the dramatic benefits of Vitamin D, we were greeted with knee-jerk dismissals that the studies showed only a correlation, not a causal link.

That was a deeply irresponsible response, especially in the midst of a global pandemic for which effective treatments are urgently needed. The never-satisfied have engaged in the worst kind of blame-shifting, implicitly maligning medical researchers for the fact that they could only organise small-scale, improvised studies because governments were not supporting and funding the larger-scale research needed to prove conclusively whether Vitamin D was effective.

Further, the naysayers wilfully ignored the fact that all the separate studies showed very similar correlations, as well as the fact that hospitalised patients were invariably deficient, or very deficient, in Vitamin D. The cumulative effect of those studies should have been persuasive in themselves. And more to the point, they should have led to a concerted campaign pressuring governments to fund the necessary research. Instead much of the medical community has wasted valuable time either ignoring the research or nitpicking it into oblivion.

There should have come a point – especially when a treatment like Vitamin D is very cheap and almost entirely safe – at which the precautionary principle kicked in. It was not only foolhardy but criminally negligent to be demanding 100 per cent proof before approving the use of Vitamin D on seriously ill patients. There was no risk in treating them with Vitamin D, unlike most other proposed drugs, and potentially much to gain.

Stuck in old paradigm

Already the usual voices have dismissed the new Barcelona study, saying it has yet to be peer-reviewed. That ignores the fact that it is an expansion on, and confirmation of, an earlier, much smaller study in Cordoba that has been peer-reviewed and that similarly showed dramatic, beneficial outcomes for patients.

In addition to the earlier studies and the new one showing a causal link, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to bolster the case for using Vitamin D against Covid.

For many years, limited studies – ones that Big Pharma showed no interest in expanding – had indicated that Vitamin D was useful both in warding off respiratory infections and in treating a wide variety of chronic auto-immune diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis by damping down inflammatory responses of the kind that often overwhelm hospitalised Covid patients.

But many doctors and politicians were stuck in an old paradigm – one rooted in the 1950s that viewed Vitamin D exclusively in terms of bone health.

The role of Vitamin D – produced in the skin by sunlight – should have been at the forefront of medical research for Covid anyway, given that the prevalence of the disease, as with other respiratory infections, appears to slump through the sunny, summer months, and spikes in the winter.

And while the media preferred to focus exclusively on poverty and racism as “correlative” explanations for the disproportionate number of deaths among BAME doctors and members of the public, Vitamin D seemed an equally, if not more plausible, candidate. Dark skins in cloud-covered northern latitudes make production of Vitamin D harder and deficiency more likely.

Magic bullet preferred

We should not be surprised that Big Pharma had no interest in promoting a vitamin freely available through much of the year and one they cannot license. They would, of course, rather patent an expensive magic bullet that offers the hope of enriching company directors and shareholders.

But that is why we have governments, isn’t it? They could have stepped in to pick up the bill for the research after profit-motivated firms had refused to do so – if not to safeguard the health of their populations, at least to keep their health budgets under control. Most developed countries, even those with lots of sunshine, have large sections of their population that are Vitamin D deficient, especially among the elderly and housebound, the very groups most affected by Covid.

But governments shirked their responsibility too. Most have not offered supplements beyond measly and largely useless 400IU tablets to the elderly, and they have failed to fortify foods. Those taking small doses are unlikely to significantly and quickly address any deficiency they have or maximise their resistance to Covid.

To give a sense of what was potentially at stake, consider the findings of one of last year’s correlative studies, done by a team in Heidelberg. Their work implied that, had the UK ensured its population was not widely Vitamin D deficient, many tens of thousands of lives might have been saved.

Science not ‘followed’

There are lessons – ones we seem very reluctant to learn – from the catastrophic failures of the past year. And they aren’t just lessons for the politicians.

If doctors and medical organisations had really been “following the science”, they would have led the clamour both for properly funded Vitamin D research and for its early use, if only on the precautionary principle. The reality is that very few did. In the UK it was left to MP David Davis, who trained as a molecular scientist, to take up the cause of Vitamin D and badger a government that has shown no inclination to listen.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Coronavirus, Disease, Medicine, vitamin D 

The revelation that a leftwing journalist, Nathan J Robinson, has been sacked as a Guardian US columnist for criticising Israel on Twitter – and that he was pressured to keep quiet about it by Guardian editors – should come as no surprise. He is only the latest in a long line of journalists, myself included, who have run foul of the Guardian’s unwritten but tightly policed constraints on what can be said about Israel.

In the tweet below, I have listed a few of the more prominent – and public – examples of journalists who have suffered at the Guardian’s hands over their coverage of Israel. The thread can opened by clicking on the tweet:

The unspoken Guardian rule we broke was to suggest one of the following: that there might be inherent contradictions between Israel’s claim to be a democracy and its self-definition in exclusivist, chauvinist, ethnic terms; or that Israel’s self-declared status as a militaristic, ethnic, rather than civic, state might be connected to its continuing abuses and crimes against Palestinians; or that, because Israel wishes to conceal its ugly, anachronistic ethnic project, it and its defenders might act in bad faith; or that the US might be actively complicit in this ethnically inspired, colonial project to dispossess Palestinians.

Equivocating editorial

Paradoxically, the Guardian is widely seen as the “mainstream” English-language publication most critical of Israel. It has long shored up its reputation with the left by publishing seemingly forthright, uncompromising material on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Part of that is a historic credit it earnt. There was a time, long ago, when the Guardian’s pages were, for example, the only place in the mainstream to host – if rarely – the late, great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. The paper even once allowed its former South Africa correspondent, who had transferred to Israel, to compare in detail the two countries’ systems of apartheid. It caused a furore – much of it instigated by the Israeli embassy in London – that made the paper even more shy of taking on the Israel lobby.

That is reflected in the perverse fact that today Israeli human rights groups are far more courageous in speaking plainly about Israel than the Guardian. When B’Tselem recently published a report stating that Israel operated an apartheid system oppressing Palestinians not just in the occupied territories but in the whole area under its rule – including inside Israel where officials falsely claim 1.8 million Palestinian citizens have equal rights with Jewish citizens – the paper published a mealy-mouthed editorial whose equivocations contrasted starkly with B’Tselem’s passionate and clear critique of a racist system of separate rights.

Even then, the Guardian would never have conceded what it reluctantly did in the editorial had B’Tselem not forced its hand.

Low bar on Israel

The other reason why the Guardian looks so good on Israel and Palestine is that the rest of the corporate media is far, far worse. The bar is so low that the Guardian has to do very little to impress. Its unwavering support for Israel – and we will get to the reasons for that in a moment – only becomes clear when someone prominent steps forward to speak as clearly about what’s really wrong with Israel as B’Tselem recently did.

That invisible line on Israel was crossed by Jeremy Corbyn too, of course – one of the many aspects of his socialist-lite platform the corporate Guardian could not abide. That was why the Guardian was only too ready to join – and often lead – the campaign of smears against him and the Labour party under his leadership that conflated trenchant criticism of Israel (anti-Zonism) with antisemitism. One has to be naïve indeed to believe that the Guardian’s treatment of Corbyn – its simplistic regurgitation of the Board of Deputies’ talking points – was done in good faith.

In fact, the Guardian’s relations with Israel and Zionism date back to the founding editor of the modern paper, C P Scott. A staunch Zionist, Scott was critically important in liaising between the British government and the Zionist movement in the drafting of the 1917 Balfour Declaration – the colonial document that effectively committed Britain to dispossessing the native Palestinians, who weren’t even named in it, of their homeland.

The Guardian acted effectively as midwife both to the self-declared Jewish state of Israel and to the Nakba – the mass programme of ethnic cleansing – that was necessarily required to create a Jewish state on the Palestinians’ homeland. And, as documented in the book Disenchantment, the Guardian has indulged Israel ever since, much as a parent would a wayward child. It can be critical, even sharply sometimes, but it is resolutely protective of Israel’s image and the interests Israel has defined for itself as a Jewish state.

And for that reason, the Guardian historically developed close ties to the liberal Jewish community in the UK, much of it in London and Manchester. Many liberal Jewish journalists found the paper a natural home and an ideological fit in contrast to the rest of the UK’s corporate media, which was highly conservative and often openly antisemitic. A culture of critical but unerring support for Israel was always the Guardian’s default position.

Antisemitism smears

But to understand why Robinson became the latest victim of the Guardian’s tough policing of speech around Israel, we need to dig a little deeper.

Robinson is also editor of a small, independent, socialist magazine called Current Affairs. As such, the issues he highlights invariably break with the US corporate media’s craven coverage on a wide range of issues.

His sarcastic, but pointed tweet criticising the billions of dollars the US is sending to Israel so it can buy more weapons to kill Palestinians – and during a pandemic in which Americans are being denied the full promised $2,000 checks – was treated by the Israel lobby, as most criticism of Israel is nowadays, as evidence of “antisemitism”. This was the same kind of antisemitism that Corbyn, Ken Loach and many others on the socialist left have been accused of indulging.

The tweet, which Robinson deleted under Guardian pressure, was only antisemitic if you choose to see it that way – which, of course, is exactly how Israel’s apologists would like you to see it. Understandably, the nearer critics get to the nub of what is wrong with a self-declared Jewish state ruling over Palestinians, or with the US blank cheque for that Jewish state, the more this lobby goes into overdrive.

 
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