Two articles by Jonathan Cook are particularly relevant in our current political context.
In the first published today (29 June) Cook takes a long look at the manufactured crisis of “antisemitism” over Rebecca Long-Bailey’s tweet and places it in the context of a strategy to satisfy the old guard MPs and party bureaucracy, the corporate media and the Israel lobby.
In an earlier piece, in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder – before Keir Starmer and others tried to make publishing any links or parallels between Israeli state violence and American state violence nothing but an antisemitic trope – Cook wrote an excellent piece, arguing that the Parallels between Minneapolis and Jerusalem are more than skin deep.
The articles are quite long, but both well worth the effort.
Palestinians demonstrate against police brutality and in support of US protesters over the death George Floyd in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on 8 June (AFP)
The sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the UK shadow cabinet – on the grounds that she retweeted an article containing a supposedly “antisemitic” conspiracy theory – managed to kill three birds with one stone for new Labour leader Keir Starmer.
First, it offered a pretext to rid himself of the last of the Labour heavyweights associated with the party’s left and its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Long-Bailey was runner-up to Starmer in the leadership elections earlier in the year and he had little choice but to include her on his front bench.
Starmer will doubtless sigh with relief if the outpouring of threats on social media from left-wing members to quit over Long-Bailey’s sacking actually materialises.
Second, the move served as a signal from Starmer that he is a safe pair of hands for the party’s right, which worked so hard to destroy Corbyn from within, as a recently leaked internal review revealed in excruciating detail. Despite the report showing that the Labour right sabotaged the 2017 general election campaign to prevent Corbyn from becoming prime minister, Starmer appears to have buried its contents – as have the British media.
He is keen to demonstrate that he will now steer Labour back to being a reliable party of government for the neoliberal establishment. He intends to demonstrate that he is the Labour party’s Joe Biden, not its Bernie Sanders. Starmerism is likely to look a lot like Blairism.
A peace pipe
And third, Long-Bailey’s sacking provided the perfect opportunity for Starmer to publicly light a peace pipe with the Israel lobby after its long battle to tar Corbyn, his predecessor, as an antisemite.
The offending article shared by Long-Bailey referred to Israel’s documented and controversial role in training and helping to militarise US police forces. It did not mention Jews. By straining the meaning of antisemitism well past its breaking point, Starmer showed that his promised “zero tolerance” for antisemitism actually means zero tolerance of anyone in Labour who might antagonise the Israel lobby – and by extension, of course, the Israeli government.
By contrast, back in February Rachel Reeves, an MP on the party’s right, celebrated Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in the UK parliament and a well-known Jew hater who supported the appeasement of Hitler. None of that appeared to bother the Israel lobby, nor did it dissuade Starmer from welcoming Reeves into his shadow cabinet weeks later.
Doubtless, the move against Long-Bailey felt particularly pressing given that this week the door will open to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu annexing swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank in violation of international law, as sanctioned by Donald Trump’s “peace” plan.
Corbyn joined more than 140 other MPs last month in sending a letter to the British prime minister urging “severe consequences including sanctions” on Israel should it carry out annexation.
Starmer, by contrast, has voiced only “concerns”. Sidelining the gross violation of international law annexation constitutes, or the effects on Palestinians, he has weakly opined: “I don’t agree with annexation and I don’t think it’s good for security in the region.”
It looks like Starmer has no intention of doing anything more than feeble handwringing – especially when he knows that the Israel lobby, including advocacy groups inside his own party like the Jewish Labour Movement, would move swiftly against him, as they did against Corbyn, should he do otherwise.
Sacking Long-Bailey has offered the Israel lobby a sacrificial victim. But it has also removed a potential loose cannon from his front bench on Israel and annexation-related matters. It has sent an exceptionally clear warning to other shadow cabinet ministers to watch and closely follow his lead. He has made it evident that no one will be allowed to step out of line.
A smooth ride
All three audiences – Starmer’s own MPs and party officials, the billionaire-owned media, and the Israel lobby that claims to represent Britain’s Jewish community – can now be relied on to give him a smooth ride.
His only remaining challenge will be to keep the membership in check.
Starmer understands only too well the common policy priorities of the various audiences he is seeking to placate. In fact, the article Long-Bailey retweeted – and which led to her ousting – was highlighting the very interconnectedness of the problems these establishment groups hope to ringfence from examination.
The article published in the Independent was an interview with Maxine Peake, a left-wing actor and Palestinian solidarity activist. As Long-Bailey shared the article, she called Peake, one of her constituents, “an absolute diamond”.
Peake had used the interview to warn: “We’re being ruled by capitalist, fascist dictators.” Establishment structures to protect capitalism, “keeping poor people in their place”, were so entrenched, she wondered how we might ever “dig out” of them.
Those who rejected Corbyn in the 2019 general election because he was seen as too left-wing, she observed, had no place complaining now about an incompetent Conservative government there to serve the establishment rather than the public.
Her brief, offending comment about Israel – the one that has been widely mischaracterised as antisemitic – was immediately prefaced by Peake’s concern that racism and police brutality had become globalised industries, with states learning repressive techniques from each other.
She told the interviewer: “Systemic racism is a global issue. The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
The Palestinian lab
Starmer and the Israel lobby both wish to deflect attention away from the wider point Peake was making. She was referring to Israel’s well-known role in helping to train and militarise other countries’ police forces with so-called “counter-terrorism measures”. Israel has been doing so since the early 1990s.
As Israeli journalists and scholars have noted, Israel has effectively turned the occupied Palestinian territories into laboratories in which it can refine oppressive systems of control that other states desire for use against sections of their own populations.
But Starmer and the lobby chose to hoist Long-Bailey – via Peake’s interview – onto the hook of a single unprovable assertion: that Israel specifically taught Minneapolis police the knee on the neck chokehold that one of their police officers, Derek Chauvin, used for nine minutes on George Floyd last month, leading to his death.
Peake was right that Israeli security services regularly use that type of chokehold on Palestinians, and also that Israeli experts had held a training session with Minneapolis police in 2012. All that can be proved.
The specific claim that this particular chokehold was taught on that occasion, however, may be wrong – and we are unlikely ever to know, given the lack of transparency regarding Israel’s influence on other police forces’ strategies and methods.
Such opaqueness and a lack of accountability in police practices is the norm in Israel, where the security services treat Palestinians as an enemy – both in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where there is a large minority with degraded Israeli citizenship. US police forces, on the other hand, profess, often unconvincingly, to be driven by a “protect and serve” ethos.
In taking action against Long-Bailey, Starmer, a former lawyer known for his forensic skills, made a telling, false allegation. He told the BBC that the Peake interview had indulged in antisemitic “conspiracy theories” – in the plural. But only one Israel-related claim, about the knee on the neck chokehold, was made or cited.
Further, Peake’s claim, whether correct or not, is patently not antisemitic. Israel is neither a Jew nor the representative of the Jewish people collectively – except in the imaginations of antisemites and the hardcore Zionists who people the Israel lobby.
More significantly still, in condemning Peake, Starmer wilfully ignored the wood as he pointed out a single tree.
Israeli scholar Jeff Halper, a veteran peace activist, has documented in great detail in his book War Against the People how Israel has intentionally positioned itself at the heart of a growing “global pacification industry”. The thousands of training sessions held by Israeli police in the US and around the world are based on their “expertise” in repressive, militarised policing.
Tiny Israel has influence in this field way out of proportion to its size, in the same way that it is one of the top 10 states – all the others far larger – that profit from the arms trade and cyber warfare. Every year since 2007, the Global Militarisation Index has crowned Israel the most militarised nation on the planet.
A senior analyst at the liberal Israeli Haaretz newspaper has described Israel as “securityland” – the go-to state for others to improve their techniques for surveilling, controlling and oppressing restive populations within their territory. It is this expertise in “securocratic warfare” that, according to Halper, has allowed tiny Israel to hit way above its weight in international politics and earned it a place “at the table with NATO countries”.
Western bad faith
It is on this last point that the Labour left, including many of the party’s half a million members, and the Labour right decisively part company. A gulf in worldviews opens up.
Along with the climate emergency, Israel symbolises for the Labour left some of the most visible hypocrisies and excesses of a neoliberal global agenda that treats the planet with slash-and-burn indifference, views international law with contempt, and regards populations as little more than pawns on an updated colonial chessboard.
Israel’s recent history of dispossessing the Palestinians; its unabashed promotion of Jim Crow-style ethnic privileges for Jews, epitomised in the nation-state law; its continuing utter disregard for the rights of Palestinians; its hyper-militarised culture; its decades-long occupation; its refusal to make peace with its neighbours; its deep integration into the West’s war industries; its influence on the ideologies of the “war on terror” and a worldwide “clash of civilisations”; and its disdain for international humanitarian law are all anathema to the left.
Worse still, Israel has been doing all of this in full view of the international community for decades. Nonetheless, its crimes are richly subsidised by the United States and Europe, as well as obscured by a sympathetic western media that is financially and ideologically embedded in the neoliberal establishment.
For the Labour left – for Peake, Long-Bailey and Corbyn – Israel is such an obvious example of western bad faith, such a glaring Achilles’ heel in the deceptions spread on behalf of the neoliberal order, that it presents an opportunity. Criticism of Israel can serve to awaken others, helping them to understand how a bogus western “civilisation” is destroying the planet through economic pillage, wars and environmental destruction.
It offers an entry into the left’s structural, more abstract critiques of capitalism and western colonialism that it is otherwise difficult to convey in soundbites to a uniformly hostile media.
The problem is that the stakes regarding Israel are understood by the Labour right in much the same way. Their commitment to a global neoliberal order – one they characterise in terms of a superior western civilisation – stands starkly exposed in the case of Israel.
If the idea of Israel is made vulnerable to challenge, so might their other self-delusions and deceptions about western superiority.
For each side, Israel has become a battleground on which the truthfulness of their worldview is tested.
The Labour right has no desire to engage with the left’s arguments, particularly at a time when the climate emergency and the rise of populism make their political claims sound increasingly hollow. Rather than debate the merits of democratic socialism, the Labour right has preferred to simply tar the Labour left as antisemites.
With Corbyn’s unexpected rise to lead Labour in 2015, that crisis for the Labour right became existential. The backlash was swift and systematic.
The party’s right-wing scrapped the accepted definition of antisemitism and imposed a new one on Labour, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), to ensnare the left. It focused on criticism of Israel rather than hatred or fear of Jews.
The Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel group, was revived in late 2015 to undermine Corbyn from within the party. It was all but sanctified, even as it refused to campaign for Labour candidates and referred the party to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for a highly politicised investigation.
The Labour right openly conflated not only the left’s anti-Zionism with antisemitism but even their socialist critiques of capitalism. It was argued that any references to bankers or a global financial elite were code words for “Jews”.
After this lengthy campaign helped to destroy Corbyn, the candidates to succeed him, including Long-Bailey, opted to declare themselves Zionists and to sign up to “10 Pledges” from the Board of Deputies, the UK’s main Jewish leadership organisation. Those demands put the board and the Jewish Labour Movement in charge of determining what antisemitism was, despite their highly partisan politics on Israel and their opposition to democratic socialism.
The problem for the Labour right and Israel’s lobbyists, and therefore for Starmer too, is that Israel, egged on by Trump, is working overtime to blow up the carefully constructed claim – supported by the IHRA definition of antisemitism – that Israel is just another normal western-style state and that therefore it should not be “singled out” for criticism.
Israel is on a collision course with the most fundamental precepts of international law by preparing to annex large areas of the West Bank. This is not a break with Israeli policy; it is the culmination of many decades of settlement activity and resource theft from Palestinians.
This is a potential moment of crisis for those on the Labour right, who could quickly find themselves exposed as political charlatans – the charlatans they always have been – by Israel’s actions over the coming weeks and months.
Starmer has indicated he is determined to tightly delimit the room for criticism of Israel within Labour as the annexation issue unfolds. That will leave him and the party free to issue their own carefully crafted, official condemnations – similar to Johnson’s.
Like Johnson, Starmer will play his allotted role in this political game of charades – one long understood and tolerated by Israel and its UK lobbyists. He will offer some sound and fury, the pretence of condemnation, but of the kind intended to signify nothing.
This has been at the heart of UK foreign policy towards a Jewish state built on the theft of Palestinian land for more than a century. Starmer has shown that he intends to return to business as usual as quickly as possible.
In a world of depleting resources and contracting economies, states are preparing for future uprisings by a growing underclass
Jonathan Cook, Middle East Eye, 11 June 2020
It is hard to ignore the striking parallels between the recent scenes of police brutality in cities across the United States and decades of violence from Israel’s security forces against Palestinians.
A video that went viral late last month of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, killing a black man, George Floyd, by pressing a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes has triggered a fortnight of mass protests across the US – and beyond.
The footage was the latest disturbing visual evidence of a US police culture that appears to treat Black Americans as an enemy – and a reminder that rogue police officers are all too rarely punished.
Floyd’s lynching by Chauvin as three other officers either looked on, or participated, has echoes of troubling scenes familiar from the occupied territories. Videos of Israeli soldiers, police and armed settlers beating, shooting and abusing Palestinian men, women and children have long been a staple of social media.
The dehumanisation that enabled Floyd’s murder has been regularly on view in the occupied Palestinian territories. In early 2018 Israeli snipers began using Palestinians, including children, nurses, journalists and the disabled, as little more than target practice during weekly protests at a perimeter fence around Gaza imprisoning them.
And just as in the US, the use of violence by Israeli police and soldiers against Palestinians rarely leads to prosecutions, let alone convictions.
A few days after Floyd’s killing, an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad Hallaq – who had a mental age of six, according to his family – was shot seven times by police in Jerusalem. None of the officers has been arrested.
Faced with embarrassing international attention in the wake of Floyd’s murder, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare statement on the killing of a Palestinian by the security services. He called Hallaq’s murder “a tragedy” and promised an investigation.
The two killings, days apart, have underscored why the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Palestinian Lives Matter” sit naturally alongside each other, whether at protests or in social media posts.
There are differences between the two cases, of course. Nowadays Black Americans have citizenship, most can vote (if they can reach a polling station), laws are no longer explicitly racist, and they have access to the same courts – if not always the same justice – as the white population.
That is not the situation for most Palestinians under Israeli rule. They live under occupation by a foreign army, arbitrary military orders govern their lives, and they have very limited access to any kind of meaningful legal redress.
And there is another obvious difference. Floyd’s murder has shocked many white Americans into joining the protests. Hallaq’s murder, by contrast, has been ignored by the vast majority of Israelis, apparently accepted once again as the price of maintaining the occupation.
Treated like an enemy
Nonetheless, comparisons between the two racist policing cultures are worth highlighting. Both spring from a worldview shaped by settler-colonial societies founded on dispossession, segregation and exploitation.
Israel still largely views Palestinians as an enemy that needs to be either expelled or made to submit. Black Americans, meanwhile, live with the legacy of a racist white culture that until not so long ago justified slavery and apartheid.
Palestinians and Black Americans have long had their dignity looted; their lives too often are considered cheap.
Sadly, most Israeli Jews are in deep denial about the racist ideology that underpins their major institutions, including the security services. Tiny numbers protest in solidarity with Palestinians, and those that do are widely seen by the rest of the Israeli public as traitors.
Many white Americans, on the other hand, have been shocked to see how quickly US police forces – faced with widespread protests – have resorted to aggressive crowd-control methods of the kind only too familiar to Palestinians.
Those methods include the declaration of curfews and closed areas in major cities; the deployment of sniper squads against civilians; the use of riot teams wearing unmarked uniforms or balaclavas; arrests of, and physical assaults on, journalists who are clearly identifiable; and the indiscriminate use of tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to wound protesters and terrify them off the streets.
It does not end there.
President Donald Trump has described demonstrators as “terrorists”, echoing Israel’s characterisation of all Palestinian protest, and threatened to send in the US army, which would replicate even more precisely the situation faced by Palestinians.
Like Palestinians, the US black community – and now the protesters – have been recording examples of their abuse on their phones and posting the videos on social media to highlight the deceptions of police statements and media reporting of what has been taking place.
Tested on Palestinians
None of these parallels should surprise us. For years US police forces, along with many others around the world, have been queueing at Israel’s door to learn from its decades of experience in crushing Palestinian resistance.
Israel has capitalised on the need among western states, in a world of depleting resources and the long-term contraction of the global economy, to prepare for future internal uprisings by a growing underclass.
With readymade laboratories in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel has long been able to develop and field-test on captive Palestinians new methods of surveillance and subordination. As the largest underclass in the US, urban black communities were always likely to find themselves on the front line as US police forces adopted a more militarised approach to policing.
These changes finally struck home during the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 after a black man, Michael Brown, was killed by police. Dressed in military-style fatigues and body armour, and backed by armoured personnel carriers, local police looked more like they were entering a war zone than there to “serve and protect”.
Trained in Israel
It was then that human rights groups and others started to highlight the extent to which US police forces were being influenced by Israel’s methods of subjugating Palestinians. Many forces had been trained in Israel or involved in exchange programmes.
Israel’s notorious paramilitary Border Police, in particular, has become a model for other countries. It was the Border Police that shot dead Hallaq in Jerusalem shortly after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
The Border Police carry out the hybrid functions of a police force and an army, operating against Palestinians in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where a large Palestinian minority live with a very degraded citizenship.
The institutional premise of the Border Police is that all Palestinians, including those who are formally Israeli citizens, should be dealt with as an enemy. It is at the heart of a racist Israeli policing culture identified 17 years ago by the Or Report, the country’s only serious review of its police forces.
The Border Police increasingly look like the model US police forces are emulating in cities with large black populations.
Many dozens of Minneapolis police officers were trained by Israeli experts in “counter-terrorism” and “restraint” techniques at a conference in Chicago in 2012.
Derek Chauvin’s chokehold, using his knee to press down on Floyd’s neck, is an “immobilisation” procedure familiar to Palestinians. Troublingly, Chauvin was training two rookie officers at the time he killed Floyd, passing on the department’s institutional knowledge to the next generation of officers.
Monopoly of violence
These similarities should be expected. States inevitably borrow and learn from each other on matters most important to them, such as repressing internal dissent. The job of a state is to ensure it maintains a monopoly of violence inside its territory.
It is the reason why the Israeli scholar Jeff Halper warned several years ago in his book War Against the People that Israel had been pivotal in developing what he called a “global pacification” industry. The hard walls between the military and the police have crumbled, creating what he termed “warrior cops”.
The danger, according to Halper, is that in the long run, as the police become more militarised, we are all likely to find ourselves being treated like Palestinians. Which is why a further comparison between the US strategy towards the black community and Israel’s towards Palestinians needs highlighting.
The two countries are not just sharing tactics and policing methods against protests once they break out. They have also jointly developed longer-term strategies in the hope of dismantling the ability of the black and Palestinian communities they oppress to organise effectively and forge solidarity with other groups.
Loss of historic direction
If one lesson is clear, it is that oppression can best be challenged through organised resistance by a mass movement with clear demands and a coherent vision of a better future.
In the past that depended on charismatic leaders with a fully developed and well-articulated ideology capable of inspiring and mobilising followers. It also relied on networks of solidarity between oppressed groups around the world sharing their wisdom and experience.
The Palestinians were once led by figures who commanded national support and respect, from Yasser Arafat to George Habash and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The struggle they led was capable of galvanising supporters around the world.
These leaders were not necessarily united. There were debates over whether Israeli settler colonialism would best be undermined through secular struggle or religious fortitude, through finding allies among the oppressor nation or defeating it using its own violent methods.
These debates and disagreements educated the wider Palestinian public, clarified the stakes for them, and provided a sense of a historic direction and purpose. And these leaders became figureheads for international solidarity and revolutionary fervour.
That has all long since disappeared. Israel pursued a relentless policy of jailing and assassinating Palestinian leaders. In Arafat’s case, he was confined by Israeli tanks to a compound in Ramallah before he was poisoned to death in highly suspicious circumstances. Ever since, Palestinian society has found itself orphaned, adrift, divided and disorganised.
International solidarity has been largely sidelined too. The publics of Arab states, already preoccupied with their own struggles, appear increasingly tired of the divided and seemingly hopeless Palestinian cause. And in a sign of our times, western solidarity today is invested chiefly in a boycott movement, which has had to wage its fight on the enemy’s battlefield of consumption and finance.
From confrontation to solace
The black community in the US has undergone parallel processes, even if it is harder to indict quite so directly the US security services for the loss decades ago of a black national leadership. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement were hounded by the US security services. They were jailed or felled by assassins, despite their very different approaches to the civil rights struggle.
Today, none are around to make inspiring speeches and mobilise the wider public – either black or white Americans – to take action on the national stage.
Denied a vigorous national leadership, the organised black community at times appeared to have retreated into the safer but more confining space of the churches – at least until the latest protests. A politics of solace appeared to have replaced the politics of confrontation.
A focus on identity
These changes cannot be attributed solely to the loss of national leaders. In recent decades the global political context has been transformed too. After the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, the US not only became the world’s sole superpower but it crushed the physical and ideological space in which political opposition could flourish.
Class analysis and revolutionary ideologies – a politics of justice – were shunted off the streets and increasingly into the margins of academia.
Instead, western political activists were encouraged to dedicate their energies not to anti-imperialism and class struggle but to a much narrower identity politics. Political activism became a competition between social groups for attention and privilege.
As with Palestinian solidarity activism, identity politics in the US has waged its battles on the terrain of a consumption-obsessed society. Hashtags and virtue-signalling on social media have often appeared to serve as a stand-in for social protest and activism.
A moment of transition
The question posed by the current US protests is whether this timid, individualised, acquisitive kind of politics is starting to seem inadequate. The US protesters are still largely leaderless, their struggle in danger of being atomised, their demands implicit and largely shapeless – it is clearer what the protesters don’t want than what they do.
That reflects a current mood in which the challenges facing us all – from permanent economic crisis and the new threat of pandemics to impending climate catastrophe – appear too big, too momentous to make sense of. We are caught in a moment of transition, it seems, destined for a new era – good or bad – we cannot discern clearly yet.
In August, millions are expected to head to Washington in a march to echo the one led by Martin Luther King in 1963. The heavy burden of this historic moment is expected to be carried on the ageing shoulders of the Rev Al Sharpton.
That symbolism may be fitting. It is more than 50 years since western states were last gripped with revolutionary fervour. But the hunger for change that reached its climax in 1968 – for an end to imperialism, endless war and rampant inequality – was never sated.
Oppressed communities around the globe are still hungry for a fairer world. In Palestine and elsewhere, those who suffer brutality, misery, exploitation and indignity still need a champion. They look to Minneapolis and the struggle it launched for a seed of hope.