Journalists love to talk of politicians “flip-flopping” or being “forced into a U-turn”. No politician would recover from conducting the comedy U-turn, wearing flip-flops, carried out by The Independent this month.
The paper carried a wide-ranging interview with actress Maxine Peake in which she mentioned that “the tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”[i]
Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey retweeted the article and a storm duly erupted. Long-Bailey was sacked from the front bench by Keir Starmer “because the article contained antisemitic conspiracy theories”[ii].
The Independent initially stood firm and linked to a 2016 report by Amnesty International describing both “taxpayer funded” and “privately funded” trips in which hundreds of US law enforcement officials “travelled to Israel for training”[iii].
The following Saturday they hung Long-Bailey and Peake out to dry. “In retransmitting a plain antisemitic conspiracy theory,” the paper’s editorial read, “Ms Long-Bailey showed a serious lack of judgment…She had to go”[iv].
Critical observers of the mainstream media may wonder why The Independent published a “plain antisemitic conspiracy” in the first place. Those with a passing knowledge of international affairs may wonder how linking to an article containing a sentence on potential links between police in one nation state and another is anti-Semitic!
For the record, we should state at this point that anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, is a poison that should be condemned and eradicated. However, is it correct to label those who criticise the policies of Israel anti-Semites?
Israel is, after all, a state. It was created inside the borders of Palestine in 1948 – a process in which, according to Al Jazeera, “over 80 percent of Palestinians in what became Israel were expelled”[v].
The remainder of Palestine was divided into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, geographically separate areas that were subsequently occupied by Israel in 1967. In response to this invasion the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 in which they called for “the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories”[vi]
The UN Security Council repeated the call for Israel to withdraw in 1973 (Resolution 338) and have also repeatedly ruled that the building of Israeli settlements in occupied territory is illegal[vii].
Israel has been able to sustain occupation and settlement programs with the support of the US, the UK and other Western states. The United States repeatedly uses its veto powers at the UN to block resolutions saying things like: “Condemning Israeli Killing UN employees of World Food Programme”, “Demanding Immediate Cessation of Israeli-Palestinian Violence” and “Urging Israel to Abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention”[viii].
The BBC, in a rare moment of context, confirm that “the US has traditionally sheltered Israel from condemnatory resolutions”[ix]
A 2004 article[x] by Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group highlights just how rare this moment of MSM context is. A study in which “800 people were interviewed and researchers examined around 200 news programmes” found that “there is almost nothing on the news about the history or origins of the conflict and viewers are extraordinarily confused”.
Viewers are so confused, according to Philo’s study, that some “believed that (the Palestinians) were simply being aggressive and trying to take land from the Israelis”. Considering that “the research found that Israelis were interviewed or reported more than twice as much as Palestinians”, “Israelis were said to be responding to what had been done to them about six times as often as the Palestinians” and “words such as “mass murder”, “atrocity”, and “brutal murder”, were used to describe the deaths of Israelis, but not Palestinians” this is an understandable mistake for viewers to make.
The propaganda model (highlighting, as it does, connections between business ownership of the press and the resulting coverage) predicts that the corporate press will generate a picture of the world favourable to the interests of a wealthy elite. Israel is a key Western ally in an oil rich part of the world, the second largest purchaser of arms from the UK (behind Saudi Arabia)[xi] and supported by powerful organisations like Conservative Friends of Israel and other “Israel lobby” groups. The pattern observed by Philo and co should come as no surprise, but the increasing use of “anti-Semitism” as a slur on those who question Israeli state policies is alarming, to say the least.
We have already documented the extraordinarily successful campaign to tar Jeremy Corbyn, an anti-racist activist, with anti-Semitism. A recent article by The Daily Mail illustrates the close links between this campaign and Corbyn’s activism for Palestinian rights: one of the comments listed as “anti-Semitic jibes” by paper was “Corbyn supports Palestine”[xii]
According to The Daily Mail, simply to ally yourself with Palestine is to take an anti-Semitic position!
This is far from an isolated incident. Zoe Strimpel of The Spectator wrote of “Black Lives Matters Anti-Semitism Blind Spot”[xiii]. The evidence for this? A tweet from the BLM account saying “As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand behind our Palestinian comrades. FREE PALESTINE’.”
Once again, a statement expressing solidarity with one nation state under illegal occupation by another (as per the UN) is somehow anti-Semitic. It’s true that the use of “Zionism” could be construed as going further than criticism of a state. Equally, only the corporate media can bend the boundaries of language enough to link it to criticism of all Jews.
Zionism is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a political movement that had as its original aim the creation of a country for Jewish people, and that now supports the state of Israel”[xiv]. Not inclusive of all Jews then – as confirmed by countless high-profile Jewish groups and figures such as the Jewish Voice for Labour, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Seth Rogen[xv] who have been critical of Israel state policy and attempts by the press to frame any criticism as anti-Semitic.
Maxine Peake and Rebecca Long-Bailey are the latest victims of a form of Establishment shorthand for silencing criticism of capitalism and state violence. It is sinister beyond words to misappropriate one form of oppression to silence those seeking to stand up against other forms of oppression, but now par for the course in UK media and political circles.
1 – Maxine Peake: ‘People who couldn’t vote Labour because of Corbyn? They voted Tory as far as I’m concerned’. 2020. The Independent. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/maxine-peake-interview-labour-corbyn-keir-starmer-black-lives-matter-a9583206.html [Accessed 27 July 2020]
2 – Starmer sacks Long-Bailey in row over left-wing actor’s ‘antisemitic’ comments. 2020. The Independent. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/keir-starmer-rebecca-long-bailey-step-down-maxine-peake-antisemitism-a9585601.html [Accessed 27 July 2020]
3 – With whom are many U.S. police departments training? With a chronic human rights violator – Israel. 2020. Amnesty International. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amnestyusa.org/with-whom-are-many-u-s-police-departments-training-with-a-chronic-human-rights-violator-israel/ [Accessed 27 July 2020]
4 -Keir Starmer’s choice to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey over antisemitism will help Labour to reclaim its integrity. 2020. The Independent. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/keir-starmer-rebecca-long-bailey-antisemitism-labour-corbyn-a9587506.html [Accessed 27 July 2020]
5 – Timeline of Palestine’s history. 2015. Al Jazeera. [ONLINE] Available at: https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/PalestineRemix/timeline_main.html#tl-3 [Accessed 27 July 2020]
6 – Security Council Resolution 242: The Situation in the Middle East. 1967. [ONLINE] Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/middle-east-resolution242 [Accessed 27 July 2020]
7 – Israeli settlements: UN Security Council calls for an end. 2016. BBC. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38421026 [Accessed 27 July 2020]
8 – U.N. Security Council: U.S. Vetoes of Resolutions Critical to Israel. 2018. Jewish Virtual Library. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/u-s-vetoes-of-un-security-council-resolutions-critical-to-israel [Accessed 27 July 2020]
9 — Israeli settlements: UN Security Council calls for an end. 2016. BBC. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38421026 [Accessed 27 July 2020]
10 – What you get in 20 seconds. 2004. The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2004/jul/14/israel.middleeastthemedia [Accessed 27 July 2020]
11 – UK almost doubles arms sales to countries on governments list of human rights abusers, figures reveal. 2018. The Independent. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-arms-sales-double-human-rights-abusers-china-saudi-arabia-israel-yemen-a8452101.html [Accessed 27 July 2020]
12 – Jeremy Corbyn supporters leave ‘anti-Semitic’ jibes on Go Fund Me page raising cash to defend him as he faces legal fight over criticism of Labour’s £500,000 whistleblower payout. 2020. Daily Mail. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8555875/Labour-Party-bankrupted-fresh-legal-claims-anti-Semitism-whistleblowers.html [Accessed 27 July 2020]
13 – Black Lives Matter’s anti-Semitism blind spot. 2020. The Spectator. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/black-lives-matter-s-anti-semitism-blind-spot [Accessed 27 July 2020]
14 – Zionism. 2020. Cambridge Online Dictionary. [ONLINE] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/zionism [Accessed 27 July 2020]
15 – Seth Rogen: ‘I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel’. 2020. Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/29/seth-rogen-israel-palestinians-jewish-actor [Accessed 27 July 2020]