The recent furore surrounding a supposed ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’ is a classic propaganda blitz of the kind described in Part 1 of this alert.
Dramatic New Evidence
As with so many propaganda blitzes, intense media coverage was triggered by ‘dramatic new evidence’; namely, the discovery of a graphic posted by Naz Shah two years ago, before she became a Labour MP. The graphic shows a map of the United States with Israel superimposed in the middle, suggesting that a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict would be to relocate Israel to the US.
Shah’s post was highlighted by right-wing political blogger Paul Staines who writes as Guido Fawkes:
‘Naz Shah… shared a highly inflammatory graphic arguing in favour of the chilling “transportation” policy two years ago, adding the words “problem solved”.’
Jonathan Freedland, comment editor at the Guardian, argued that leftists view Israel as ‘a special case, uniquely deserving of hatred’, and that this hatred ‘lay behind’ Shah’s call ‘for the “transportation” [of Israel to America] – a word with a chilling resonance for Jews’.
In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley claimed that Shah believed ‘that Israelis should be put on “transportation” to America, with all the chilling echoes that has for Jews’.
Guardian assistant editor Michael White reported that Shah had been suspended from the Labour party ‘while the context of her antisemitic comments… are thoroughly investigated’. Clearly then, the jury was in – the comments were ‘anti-semitic’.
By contrast, Israel-based former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook, who was given a Martha Gellhorn special award for his work on the Middle East, argued that the map ‘was clearly intended to be humorous rather than anti-semitic. I would make a further point. It is also obvious that the true target of the post is the US, not Jews or even Israel – making the anti-semitism claim even more ridiculous’.
Norman Finkelstein, Jewish author of ‘The Holocaust Industry’ and the son of Holocaust survivors, commented that he had originally posted the graphic on his website in 2014:
‘An email correspondent must have sent it. It was, and still is, funny. Were it not for the current political context, nobody would have noticed Shah’s reposting of it either. Otherwise, you’d have to be humourless. These sorts of jokes are a commonplace in the U.S. So, we have this joke: Why doesn’t Israel become the 51st state? Answer: Because then, it would only have two senators. As crazy as the discourse on Israel is in America, at least we still have a sense of humour. It’s inconceivable that any politician in the U.S. would be crucified for posting such a map.’
Finkelstein responded powerfully to the idea that Shah’s posting of the image was an endorsement of a ‘chilling “transportation” policy’:
‘Frankly, I find that obscene. It’s doubtful these Holocaust-mongers have a clue what the deportations were, or of the horrors that attended them. I remember my late mother describing her deportation. She was in the Warsaw Ghetto. The survivors of the Ghetto Uprising, about 30,000 Jews, were deported to Maijdanek concentration camp. They were herded into railroad cars. My mother was sitting in the railroad car next to a woman who had her child. And the woman – I know it will shock you – the woman suffocated her infant child to death in front of my mother. She suffocated her child, rather than take her to where they were going. That’s what it meant to be deported. To compare that to someone posting a light-hearted, innocuous cartoon making a little joke about how Israel is in thrall to the U.S., or vice versa… it’s sick. What are they doing? Don’t they have any respect for the dead? All these desiccated Labour apparatchiks, dragging the Nazi holocaust through the mud for the sake of their petty jostling for power and position. Have they no shame?’
Emotional Tone And Intensity – Demonising Dissent
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, a ‘long-time ally‘ of Jeremy Corbyn but not an MP, defended Shah from the accusation of anti-semitism. He said:
‘When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’
This was met with the kind of cross-‘spectrum’ moral outrage that is so characteristic of a propaganda blitz. Again, everyone knew – or did they? – that Livingstone’s comments were outrageous, monstrous, rabidly anti-semitic.
John Mann MP confronted Livingstone, calling him a ‘a disgusting racist’, ‘a fucking disgrace‘ and ‘a Nazi apologist’. The lengthy tirade was broadcast widely, with Mann thoughtfully checking to ensure the camera was catching the action. His denunciation was more ‘dramatic new evidence’ of a scandal, ideal ammunition for a propaganda blitz.
Few TV viewers will have been aware that Mann is ‘one of Corbyn’s strongest critics’. Last July, after Corbyn had become frontrunner in the leadership election race, Mann called for the Labour party to suspend the contest ‘over fears of an “infiltration” by hard-left activists’. Mann said:
‘It is pretty clear that what is happening amounts to infiltration of the Labour party.’
Mann’s concern at the time was not anti-semitism but ‘the Militant Tendency-types coming back in’.
The website TheyWorkForYou records that Mann ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in operations overseas’, ‘Consistently voted for the  Iraq war’ and ‘Consistently voted against an investigation into the Iraq war.’ He voted for war on Libya in 2011, and again for war on Iraq in 2014. If any journalist highlighted the ironic location of the moral ‘high ground’ from which Mann was so volubly preaching at Livingstone, we missed it.
The Jewish Chronicle certainly agreed on Livingstone:
‘Labour now seems to be a party that attracts antisemites like flies to a cesspit. Barely a week goes by without the identification of a racist party member or allegations of racist behaviour by those involved in the party.’
Under the title, ‘Labour’s Sickness’, a Times leader presumably written by Blairite neocon Oliver Kamm denounced the ‘grotesque analogies’ offered by Livingstone, a ‘trivial ignoramus’. The leader concluded:
‘The tropes of antisemitism are… a stain on British public life. A great political party is harbouring a sickness and has a moral obligation to purge itself.’ (Leader, ‘Labour’s Sickness,’ The Times, April 28, 2016)
Under the headline, ‘Labour’s anti-semites put the party in peril,’ the Daily Mail commented:
‘Mr Corbyn gave not the faintest sign of understanding how monstrously and deliberately offensive it was of his long-term ally Ken Livingstone to make the absurd claim that Hitler was a Zionist.’
Richard Littlejohn wrote in the Mail under the title, ‘The fascists at the poisoned heart of Labour’:
‘Naz [Shah] by name, Nazi by nature, was revealed to have backed the transportation of Jews in Israel to the United States. Red Ken rallied to her defence by claiming, absurdly, that Hitler was a Zionist.’
In the Mirror, the commentator Fleet Street Fox damned ‘Ken Livingstone’s ridiculous assertion that Hitler and the Jews were on the same side.’
A Guardian leader commented that the Labour party ‘finds itself charged with being contaminated by antisemitism. And with singular crassness, instead of clearing the air on Thursday, Mr Livingstone encouraged the accusation’.
Jonathan Freedland wrote in the paper of Livingstone’s comments:
‘His version of history was garbled and insulting, suggesting that the Hitler who had already written Mein Kampf had not yet gone “mad” and was “supporting Zionism” – as if there is any moral comparison between wishing to inflict mass expulsion on a minority and the desire to build a thriving society where that minority might live.’
In fact, it is hardly in doubt that Livingstone intended to suggest that Hitler had become more insane when he committed genocide. This is not the same as arguing that he had previously been sane. Livingstone later commented of Hitler:
‘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 [sic] 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.’
The late historian Howard Zinn supported the assertion of a Nazi descent into more extreme madness and also the claim that the Nazis initially planned to expel the Jews:
‘Not only did waging war against Hitler fail to save the Jews, it may be that the war itself brought on the Final Solution of genocide. This is not to remove the responsibility from Hitler and the Nazis, but there is much evidence that Germany’s anti-Semitic actions, cruel as they were, would not have turned to mass murder were it not for the psychic distortions of war, acting on already distorted minds. Hitler’s early aim was forced emigration, not extermination, but the frenzy of it created an atmosphere in which the policy turned to genocide. This is the view of Princeton historian Arno Mayer, in his book Why Did the Heavens Not Darken, and it is supported by the chronology – that not until Germany was at war was the Final Solution adopted.
‘[Raul] Hilberg, in his classic work on the Holocaust, says, “From 1938 to 1940, Hitler made extraordinary and unusual attempts to bring about a vast emigration scheme… The Jews were not killed before the emigration policy was literally exhausted.” The Nazis found that the Western powers were not anxious to cooperate in emigration and that no one wanted the Jews.’
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust, also discusses ‘The Transfer Agreement’.
Jonathan Cook wrote:
‘Livingstone’s mistake was both to express himself slackly in the heat of the moment and to refer to a history that was supposed to have been disappeared down the memory hole. But what he is saying is, in essence, true.’
‘The Nazis considered many “resettlement” schemes – the Jews wouldn’t have physically survived most of them in the long run – before they embarked on an outright exterminatory process. Livingstone is more or less accurate about this – or, as accurate as might be expected from a politician speaking off the cuff.’
As so often, the propaganda coup de grace was supplied by a Guardian leftist; this time, Owen Jones, who tweeted:
‘John McDonnell [Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer] was right to swiftly force Naz Shah’s resignation – but now the party has to suspend her.’
One day later, Jones issued a further decree:
‘Ken Livingstone has to be suspended from the Labour Party. Preferably before I pass out from punching myself in the face.’
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, commented:
‘Didn’t always agree with Ken Livingstone but he’s been an anti-racist fighter & took on Thatcher before @OwenJones84 was born. Sad to watch.’
‘To watch @OwenJones84 throw Ken Livingstone under the bus to appease a bunch of hard-right racists is a truly pitiful sight.’
Jones’ tragicomic McCarthyist stance in all but ordering the suspension of Shah and Livingstone for supposed anti-semitism strongly reminds us of the way the Guardian’s George Monbiot supported a nugatory smear of progressives promoted by his notoriously non-credible interlocutor, Oliver Kamm. Monbiot wrote that Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger and Media Lens were part of a ‘malign intellectual subculture’ that sought ‘to excuse savagery by denying the facts’ of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. Monbiot even wrote an article titled, ‘Media Cleanse’. As recently as March 25, Monbiot tweeted:
‘Still waiting for Hume, Herman, Pilger, Media Lens etc to acknowl[edge] their terrible mistakes on Srebrenica’
Timing and Strange Coincidences
George Eaton, fiercely anti-Corbyn political editor of the hard-right ‘centre-left’ New Statesman, tried and failed to coin the term ‘Hitlergate’ to describe the scandal that had engulfed Livingstone (the Nexis media database finds no other mentions of the term). Eaton cited an anonymous MP arguing ‘it firmly pins responsibility for next week’s [local election] results on the hard-left antics’. This at least gave a good idea of the motivation behind the propaganda blitz.
Norman Finkelstein was again far beyond the corporate ‘mainstream’ in asking some obvious questions:
‘The question you have to ask yourself is, why? Why has this issue been resurrected with a vengeance, so soon after its previous outing was disposed of as a farce?… The only plausible answer is, it’s political. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual situation; instead, a few suspect cases of antisemitism – some real, some contrived – are being exploited for an ulterior political motive. As one senior Labour MP said the other day, it’s transparently a smear campaign.’
‘You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn.’
Israeli historian Ilan Pappé noted how the young electorate supporting Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in the US have a ‘desire for cleaner, more moral politics that dare to challenge the neoliberal set up of economy and politics in the West’. The result being that ‘Members of the political elites and establishment, in very senior positons, voice clear, unashamed support for Palestine.
‘This is the background for the current vicious attack on the Labour Party and Corbyn. Whatever the Zionists in Britain point to, as an expression of anti-Semitism, which in the main are legitimate criticism of Israel, have been said before in the last 50 years. The pro-Zionist lobby in Britain, under direct guidance from Israel, picks them up because the clear anti-Zionist stance of BDS has reached the upper echelons. They are genuinely terrified by this development. Well done the BDS movement!’
Jonathan Cook summed it up:
‘Corbyn and his supporters want to revive Labour as a party of social justice… This is nothing more than a class war to pave the way for a return of the Blairites to lead Labour.’
Chomsky has discussed the long-standing efforts to associate anti-semitism with anti-Zionism for political ends. In 1973, leading Israeli diplomat Abba Eban said that ‘one of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all’. Critics of Israel were to be branded ‘anti-semites’, while Jewish critics like Chomsky were guilty of ‘self-hatred’.
Asa Winstanley, investigative journalist at the Electronic Intifada, puts the supposed ‘crisis of antisemitism’ in context:
‘A 2015 survey by Pew found that seven percent of the UK public held “unfavorable” views of Jews. By contrast, about a fifth held negative views of Muslims and almost two-fifths viewed Roma people unfavorably.
‘There’s no evidence to suggest that such views are any more prevalent in the Labour Party – and the tiny number of anti-Semitism complaints suggests they may well be less so in a movement many of whose activists have been in the frontline of anti-racist struggles.’
Conclusion – ‘Emotionally Potent Oversimplifications’
The fact that completely false, or highly questionable, claims are repeatedly being affirmed by an instant, outraged ‘consensus’ across the media ‘spectrum’ is powerful evidence for the existence of a propaganda system undermining democracy.
Journalists may plead ignorance, but elites have openly advocated the ‘manufacture of consent’ in exactly this way for decades. In 1932, highly influential US foreign policy adviser Reinhold Niebuhr wrote of the need for ’emotionally potent oversimplifications’ and ‘necessary illusion’ to overcome the threat to elite control posed by ‘the stupidity of the average man’.
Vested interests are well aware that public opinion can be manipulated by ’emotionally potent’ declarations of certainty, on the one hand, and by nurturing doubt on the other. Indeed, the flip side of the propaganda coin promoting false certainty was described by Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on corporate public relations:
‘People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible… Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary.’ (Lesly, ‘Coping with Opposition Groups’, Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p.331)
The logic is crude but effective. When elites want to prevent action, for example in response to climate change, they work hard to encourage public doubts. When they want to attack Iraq, Libya or Syria, or Julian Assange, or Jeremy Corbyn – when it is vital that the situation be presented as clear cut – ‘balancing infomation’ must be ridiculed, damned and dismissed. These are the tasks of a propaganda blitz.