John Pilger & New Statesman: still an anti-kosher conspiracy?

Mark Gardner on the the CST blog.

The 11 February 2010 edition of the New Statesman, ‘Everything You Know About Islam Is Wrong’ was devoted to demanding clarity, precision and understanding in the way that the media and public discuss issues concerning Muslims, Islam, political Islamism and extreme Jihadist terrorism. Its editorial stated

Fear and ignorance are a toxic combination, and myths and misconceptions abound.

Any hopes, however, that the New Statesman would heed its own advice when it came to representations of Zionism appear to have been dashed with its publication of John Pilger’s latest rhetorical assault on Zionism, Israel and “Jews in western countries”.

When considering where fear, ignorance, myths and misconceptions can lead, the New Statesman and John Pilger need look no further than the current relatively high levels of antisemitic race hate attacks; and the manner in which in some extreme political circles, the word “Zionism” has increasingly become synonymous with a global conspiracy variously headquartered in Washington and / or Jerusalem, supported by co-conspirators in New York, London, Paris and other western power centres.

This global “Zionist” conspiracy is dedicated to the pursuit of oppression, war and profit, and is therefore set against the rest of humanity. The conspiracy is concealed, but reveals itself in its alleged control of finance, politics and media. The conspiracy is not exclusively staffed by Jews: but (real) Zionism is a Jewish construct and Jews are of course its likeliest adherents – and are therefore the ones who get it in the neck when people physically attack these dastardly Zionists. Jews have heard all of this before and have suffered from it all before. The themes of hidden Jewish conspiracy, wealth and power lie at the core of antisemitism and were codified within the notorious Tsarist forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

Where once the mythical antisemitic image of “the Jew” ran rampant, now we have the image of “the Zionist”. Arguments rage over whether or not this image of “the Zionist” is legitimate, mythologised, antisemitic, or whatever. The issue is made yet more complex by the fact that many dedicated anti-Zionists self-define as philosemitic: they are fighting Zionism because it is in the best interests of Jews that Zionism is defeated. (Never mind the details of this argument, such as what would have happened to European Jewry in the 1940s had they been able to flee to Israel.)

Regardless of the endless philosophising and the irrelevant ivory tower distinctions, at street level two things are very clear:

1. If Zionism is depicted in exclusively hateful terms, then all Zionists will be hated.

2. Large numbers of Jews self-define as Zionists. (In the REAL sense of the word.)

It follows, therefore, that when mainstream media, journalists and political activists write about Zionism and Jews, that they should do so with caution and precision. One of the worst failures to do so was the infamous 14 January 2002 edition of the New Statesman which depicted a golden Star of David piercing a supine Union Jack, with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”. Beneath this headline, the cover read“John Pilger and Dennis Sewell on Britain’s pro-Israeli lobby”.

Grudgingly and belatedly, the New Statesman apologised for its cover: but neither this, nor its rightful concern for clarity of reporting in Muslim-related issues, has prevented the magazine from running numerous further articles by John Pilger in which he vociferously condemns Zionism. This most recent edition and article, however, keenly illustrate the choices that both Pilger and the publication need to make when it comes to defining just what they mean by Zionism: and what they mean by anti-Zionism. Get it wrong and they place themselves at the service of antisemites. Get it right and they do the rest of us favour.

The latest article is entitled “Listen to the heroes of Israel”, and the heroes in question are Rami and Nurit Elhanan. Pilger writes

Whenever I am asked about heroes, I say Rami and his wife, Nurit, without hesitation.

The Elhanans helped found Parents Circle. This is a joint initiative by Israelis and Palestinians who have tragically lost loved ones in the lengthy conflict between their respective peoples. Parents Circle website states

Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. The PCFF promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Pilger’s article, however, is not about reconciliation. Rather, it is furiously anti-Israel and anti-Zionist: premised upon quotes from the Elhanans; and the dreadful stories of two child casualties of the conflict, Smadar Elhanan and Abir Aramin.

CST is not concerned with Pilger’s criticism of Israel, but the conclusion of his article goes far further than this. It ends with a blanket condemnation of Zionism; approvingly quotes Gilad Atzmon; and warns that the silence of Jews“renders them culpable”. He writes as follows

…proof of the murderous, racist toll of Zionism has been an epiphany for many people; justice for the Palestinians, wrote the expatriate Israeli musician Gilad Atzmon, is now ‘at the heart of the battle for a better world’.

However, his fellow Jews in western countries, such as Britain and Australia, whose influence is critical, are still mostly silent, still looking away, still accepting as Nurit said ‘the brainwashing and reality distortion’.

And yet the responsibility to speak out could not be clearer, and the lessons of history – family history for many – ensure that it renders them culpable should their silence persist. For inspiration, I recommend the moral courage of Rami and Nurit.

As explained here at Times Online Blog by Oliver Kamm and here at Z Word Blog by David Adler, Pilger’s depiction of Atzmon as merely an “expatriate Israeli musician”beggars belief. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Atzmon’s writings will immediately appreciate the ludicrous and self-defeating irony of writing “fellow Jews” in relation to a man who has such an extreme and elaborate hatred of Zionism, along with an apparent rejection of his own Jewish identity and“Jewishness”.

Next, we have Atzmon’s actual assertion, so warmly quoted by Pilger, that “justice for Palestinians” is “now at the heart of the battle for a better world”. It is not uncommon for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be cited as emblematic of the global struggle between oppressed and oppressor, but it is another matter entirely for Pilger to go from this to laying the collective blame for the conflict at the feet of world Jewry: “fellow Jews in western countries…still mostly silent…renders them culpable should their silence persist”.

Jews have extensive and bloody experience of what happens to them when they are collectively blamed for preventing the birth of a better world. It is deeply troubling that a journalist and activist of Pilger’s reputation and knowledge seems impervious to such matters. Why the New Statesman should uncritically publish such material is another, but not unrelated matter. Ignorance? Excessive anti-Israel fury? Lack of concern for mainstream Jewish – potentially “Zionist” – worries? Probably an unthinking combination of all three.

Where, however, did Pilger find this particular quote from Atzmon? As mentioned above, it is not an uncommon claim, but a Google search of Atzmon and “now at the heart of the battle for a better world” suggests that it is taken from Atzmon’s article of 19 February 2010, entitled “The Tide Has Changed”. It includes the following paragraph – and even if this is not the actual source of Pilger’s quote, it gives a decent indication of Atzmon’s perspective on these matters. By wicked coincidence, the 2nd and 3rd sentences would have fitted gloriously with the infamous New Statesman ‘kosher conspiracy?’ front cover

The truth of the matter is tragic. The British political system is paralysed by the Israeli Lobby. Like in the USA, British national interests are sacrificed for the sake of dirty Zionist cash. If Britain wants to liberate itself from the Zionist grip and have any prospect of a future, it must move fast and clean the entire list of Zionist infiltrators from its political ranks, Government offices and strategic positions. I am not talking here about Jews. By no means do I mention ethnicity or race. I am talking here about a political and ideological affiliation. Considering Zionism is a murderous, racist, expansionist ideology, it is natural to stress that people who are affiliated with Israel and Zionism must be removed immediately from any political, government, military or strategic posts and so on.

Finally, the next time that Pilger and his publishers repeat their blanket condemnations and demonisations of Zionism, they should very seriously contemplate: do they mean Zionism as explained above by Atzmon – or do they mean Zionism as it is basically understood and felt by millions of Jews throughout the world. For Jews at least,  there is a vital distinction between the two positions: and if neither Pilger nor the New Statesman can grasp that fact, then things are even worse than many of us had feared.

To help them decide, they can contrast Atzmon’s above description with that of Pilger’s hero Rami Elhanan, explaining why he himself is a Zionist (despite his criticism of Israeli politics and actions). It is taken from the “I am a Zionist” section of his powerful and impassioned autobiographical article, “Turning Pain into Hope”

I am a Zionist

I am a Zionist in the sense that I deeply believe that the Jewish people, like any other people in the world, deserve their right to self-determination, in their ancient homeland. Now, that brings very big and problematic questions. What does it mean to be Jewish? What are the real Jewish values? What makes one a Jew? What does it mean having a Jewish State?

Being Jewish is part of me. I’m a Jew as my eyes are green. It’s a destiny and an identity which I cannot escape. It’s because of the my own history, my forefathers, my roots, and because of the fact that I fill deep emotional connection to this people that was murdered and persecuted and victimized throughout history. Never the less, I believe that this huge and successful revolution of the Jewish people in the form of its national liberation organization, the Zionist movement, was accompanied with some great mistakes. The idea of “a land without people for people without a land” was terribly wrong and totally blind. Even so, I think you can not correct one evil or a wrong by creating other evil and more wrong. Today after all the blood that was spilled and the heavy price that was paid by the two sides, all the mistakes, all the brutality by the two sides the only way out of this endless cycle of violence, is the “Two states” solution…

11 Responses to “John Pilger & New Statesman: still an anti-kosher conspiracy?”

  1. Thomas Venner Says:

    Do Rami and Nurit Elhanan know about this article? They could take him to court for this, I’m sure. Does what Pilger has done with their work constitute libel, or some other criminal offence? At the very least, someone needs to alert them to this so that they can publicly denounce and distance themselves from this, before they end up being thought of as somehow involved in anti-Semitism themselves. It would be beyond appalling if their good, vital work is brought down by this disgusting little man.

  2. modernityblog Says:

    You might think Pilger would know enough by now to walk away from Atzmon and his racism.

    I suppose it is just a matter of time before Pilger goes the whole hog and starts ranting on about the Offal libel too?

  3. Tim Allon Says:

    It’s a shoddy argument, to ascribe culpability for (alleged) crimes on the basis of silence. But to ascribe culpability on the basis of one’s ethnicity is straightforward racism. Pilger’s got form here: he suggested that Obama had special responsibilities, as a black man, to adhere to Pilger’s own dogma, when he described him as a ‘glossy Uncle Tom’ a couple of years back.

    But the implication of that racist epithet was that one man, and a major politician at that, was selling out his own people to ‘Whitey’. As creepy as it is to read those words from the very white Pilger, at least it has the merit of being based, however tendentiously, on Obama’s actual policies. On the other hand, it seems that merely being Jewish and not actively campaigning for Pilger’s position renders one guilty.

    Even taking as given Pilger’s (and Atzmon’s) view that Israel is holding back the world’s betterment, it’s a narrow moral universe that he occupies, where Jews are to be lauded for moral heroism when speaking out, or condemned as culpable when silent. Whether heroes or villains, Jews can not to be considered as neutral for Pilger.

    As an aside, Mark, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was not a forgery, as this implies that it was based on some real document. It was a fabrication.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Actually, of course, Jews are not “silent”, as Pilger asserts. We just don’t, collectively, speak out in the way he wants us to. Because I sing a different song, Pilger is deaf to it: according to him, I am not speaking at all. If he wasn’t able to get such a high platform so readily, I’d ignore him.

    My determination not to willingly or wittingly read any of his work (and certainly not to waste any money on buying the journal it is in) is reinforced yet again, as is my similar desire to avoid like the plague the New Statesman.

    Oh how are the mighty, fallen!

  5. Susan Says:

    This if from the American Interest Online:

    Posted on February 25th, 2010
    Middle East ‘Realists’: Anti-Semites or Just Dumb?

    The Gallup organization has come out with yet another poll showing that Americans by an overwhelming percentage sympathize with the Israelis rather than the Palestinians. This time, the pro-Israel sentiment is at a near record level: 63 percent of those asked said their sympathies lie more with Israel, 23 percent said both or neither, and just 15 percent of those polled sympathized more with the Palestinians.

    Another Gallup poll last week showed that Israel had the fifth highest ‘favorable’ rating among Americans, trailing only Canada, Britain, Germany and Japan; Israel was viewed favorably by 67 percent of those polled and unfavorably by 25 percent. The Palestinian Authority was viewed favorably by ten percent of those polled, while 70 percent viewed it unfavorably. Yemen and Pakistan both enjoyed higher standing with those polled than the PA.

    Although public opinion has been moving in a slightly more pro-Israeli direction in the last couple of years, these polls are not really news. That is, since 1948, Americans have consistently told pollsters that they sympathized more with the Israelis than with their enemies, generally by more than two to one.

    Now in case any of my readers have missed the census news since 1790, there are not now and never have been all that many Jews in the United States. Less than two percent of the roughly 300 million people in the United States are Jewish. This means that Jews can at most account for two of that 63 percent of the population who sympathize with Israel. Pro-Israel gentiles in America outnumber pro-Israel Jews by a factor of 20-1, and ever since polling on this issue began, the overwhelming majority of the Americans who support Israel against its enemies haven’t been Jewish.

    This brings us to a problem: why do so many people, especially self-described ‘realists’ when it comes to Middle East policy, find it mysterious that American foreign policy supports Israel? Surely in a democratic republic, when policy over a long period of time tracks with public sentiment, there is very little to explain. American politicians vote for pro-Israel policies because that is what voters want them to do. Case closed, I would think. Late breaking news flash: water runs downhill.

    Yet many otherwise intelligent people are drawn over and over again to the idea that a mysteriously powerful Jewish lobby is somehow thwarting democracy to bend American foreign policy to its nefarious will. Polls, reason, history, none of this matters. America supports Israel because of ‘the Jews’.

    As I blogged on the Sullivan-Wieseltier controversy, there’s not a lot of point in calling individuals anti-Semitic today. This inevitably gets you into an argument about someone’s motives and since I myself lack the power to read other people’s minds, I do not feel qualified to rule on what their motives really are. If someone has stupid ideas about American foreign policy, you can perhaps show they are mistaken. Further than that it is very hard to go.

    But I think you can say something about society at large, and in this case I think you should. While I say nothing because I know nothing about the motives of particular people, it’s impossible to understand the popularity of ILS or Israel Lobby Syndrome (the belief that the organized, insistent power of American Jews as deployed through organizations like AIPAC is primarily responsible for American support of the Jewish state) without assigning a role to a lingering whiff of anti-Semitism in the American air.

    At a time when most of America’s Jewish leadership was strongly anti-Zionist, American gentiles overwhelmingly supported the Zionist cause. And today American gentiles are generally more hawkish on Israel than American Jews who on this issue, like so many others, tend to skew toward the center-left band of the American political spectrum.

    Some ILS victims have a ‘clever’ explanation for this disturbing fact: Jewish media power. The insidious, overwhelming power of those sneaky Jews in the mainstream media feeds a steady stream of pro-Israel propaganda disguised as news to the idiot gentiles out in the boondocks and the dumb hicks and yokels swallow the propaganda hook, line and sinker.

    Again, I say nothing about the motives of individuals, but only entrenched, unconscious anti-Semitism could make an opinion this dumb seem so credible to so many otherwise intelligent people.

    Let us take, for example, Sarah Palin, who formerly kept an Israeli flag in her office while serving as governor of Alaska. How much influence does the mainstream media have on her thinking about abortion? About global warming? About US relations with Cuba?

    The answer, of course, is that whatever the sources of Ms Palin’s opinions on a very wide range of subjects, the mainstream media has not played a major role in her intellectual formation. And what is true for her is true for a great many other Americans who disagree with the mainstream media virtually across the board. They are more likely to disagree with the mainstream media than to mindlessly parrot its views — so why does it seem even remotely credible to assert that Palin and so much of the rest of the country is pro-Israel because of Jewish media power?

    Again, a deep and unreasoned belief that powerful Jews control things and that the powerful Jewish media shapes public opinion could lend broad social credibility to ideas with so little support or coherence.

    American foreign policy in the Middle East may not be wise and it may not be right. That subject is and must remain open to debate, and every American citizen is entitled to have and to express an opinion on the topic. But a failure to recognize that long standing, deeply rooted and consistent gentile public opinion is the driving force behind that policy–foolish or wise as that policy may be–is just dumb. And when smart people go suddenly and inexplicably dumb, it’s reasonable to posit the presence of an irrational, uncontrolled mental force — in this case, ILS. Not every victim of ILS is an anti-Semite, but the prevalence of ILS shows that anti-Semitism like other forms of racism and unconscious prejudice retains a more powerful place in our society than we would like.

  6. Susan Says:

    I forgot to say that it is written by Walter Russell Meade.

  7. Thomas Venner Says:

    Any idea what percentage of British people have a favourable view of Israel?

  8. Rod Davies Says:

    IMO the issue is not of blaming Jews or Zionists, but of making them responsibile for the creation of a Palestinian state. In essense this is an extension of the very colonialism that Zionism of condemned for. It also infantilises the Palestinians denying them the authority and responsibility for their own lives.
    Imagine if you will that Israel unliaterally withdraws from the territory captured in 1967, and thus complies with 242. At that point the Palestinians would have possession of the land (or at least part) that they claim and thus national territory. Yet possession of this land would not enable the establishment of a Palestinian national state on its own. This Palestinian state would have to negotiate with its neighbours (Israel, Jordan & Egypt) to be able to dispatch goods and people across the common borders. In order to achieve this the palestinian state would have to be able to demonstrate that it can act as a “good” neighbour and not pose a threat to any of them. IMO Palestine has yet to provide any evidence for such a belief, not simply in terms of terrorism but the economic destablisation caused by criminal activity such as the production of counterfeit currency as was seen when Gazans broke through into Egyptian Rafah.
    Pilger, Atzmon and others appear to regard the Palestinians, and an array of other 3rd world peoples, in largely the same way that imperial colonial administrators did up to WW2. They deny agency and adulthood to these peoples, casting them into a role of benighted infants incapable of rational behaviour and subject to the instictive emotional responses. IMO they cast the Jews into a profoundly “Christian” inspired role where Jews are “special” to be subject to judgements based upon higher demands than those of other nations. Although Pilger etc claim to promote egalitarianism, I believe that behind their words is a form of racism that is both pernicious and distorting. From my observation of Mr, Pilger over the last 3 decades he is attracted to any group whom he can manipulate into a heart rending story, and thus derive a considerable income. My own drioect experience of him in the Far East was that he was prepared to constuct circumstances to create an image that suited his interests rather than reporting the truth or promoting the interests of the “victims” he had momentarily adopted.

  9. Roll Around The Blogs. « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] Engage on John Pilger and the New Statesman. […]

  10. john allison Says:

    I think it is important to remember that Palestinians do have a historical homeland as their name implies.Also that they are a part of the Semitic race.What is not spoken of is that many of the Eastern European people in Israel can trace their roots back to a Turkish group, the Khazars,who converted to Judaism many centuries ago.Truly a complicated picture arises in the light of this fact.

  11. modernityblog Says:

    The above comment from John Allison is a polite example of the type of racism found across the Web, and it’s good to pick apart as in it we see the notions:

    1) that there is supposedly a group of people known as the “Semitic” race, which bastardises the 19th-century analysis of languages within the region, changing the classification of various regional languages as “Semitic” into a pseudo-biological one. This type of nonsense was found in 1930s Europe.

    2) that many modern Jews are really Khazars. This is a mainstay of Far Right web sites that try to delegitimize the very existence of Jews. Again, fictitious and malign in intent.

    All very polite, but ever so wrong.

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