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The 21 February 2008 Edition of the Guardian: the worst ever? - David Hirsh
Added by David Hirsh on February 21, 2008 10:33:47 PM.
The 21 February 2008 Edition of the Guardian: the worst ever?   - David HirshThe substance of the exclusive story that the Guardian broke today (21 Feb 08) is this: in an early draft of the ‘dodgy dossier’ which ‘sexed up’ the intelligence on Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to embellish the case for war, it was claimed that “no other country [apart from Iraq] [had] flouted the United Nations’ authority so brazenly in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction”. A Foreign Office spin doctor wrote “Israel” in the margin. When the document was published in response to a Freedom of Information request, the word “Israel” was deleted.

The Guardian editorial team decided to sex up the story too.

The front page headline is: ‘Labour kept criticism of Israel secret’ and it is illustrated by Israeli flags and Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze side by side; when you click the link on the website, it becomes ‘How Labour used the law to keep criticism of Israel secret’. A sub-headline informs us: ‘Israel’s weapons – a diplomatic no-go area’. And the leader brings together all of the soundbites and imagery of contemporary antisemitic conspiracy theory: censorship; suppression of the word ‘Israel’; cravenness (before the ‘lobby’); secret deliberation; an act of concealment; exploiting the loopholes; Israel regularly kicks up a fuss over far more minor matters; the blue pencil; decisions reached in secret; ‘Israel’ the banned word; how easily the tribunal can be influenced into concealing public material.

Conspiracy theory, which held that Jews conspired secretly with each other in their own interest, is a classic staple of many variants of antisemitism. By deceit, through smart organization and with their financial power, Jews wield huge but unseen influence. Jews corrupted society with revolutions, they exploited the work of others through capitalism, they started wars in which they themselves were not prepared to kill or to die. Jews owe their real allegiance to each other around the world; they are treacherous to their neighbours, their communities, their class and their nation.

Conspiracy theory is often mirrored in the ways that decent people increasingly think about Israel. Views that seem to be moderate and concerned with justice often take the form of antisemitism. Israel is often thought of as though it were uniquely cruel and influential. Yet Israel is neither.

The contemporary way of doing antisemitic conspiracy theory was given a stamp of professorial legitimacy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They also created a vocabulary which one could use to express conspiracy theory which did not seem to be antisemtic. They did not say that the Jews were responsible for the Iraq war, they said it was the ‘Israel lobby’. They did not say that Jews were not patriotic Americans, they said that the ‘Israel lobby’ perverted policy from the American national interest. They did not say that Jews run the American media and political system by a secret conspiracy, they said that the ‘Israel lobby’ controlled public discourse and it had a veto on who was elected to political power.

Conspiracy theory is nearly always, today, articulated using the Livingstone Formulation, which claims that Jews play the antisemitism card in bad faith in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. In this way, anyone who raises a worry about contemporary antisemitism already stands accused of doing so maliciously; and they also stand accused of doing so as part of a common plan with others.

Today’s Guardian has antisemitic conspiracy theory running through it, from the front page to the inside pages, to the leader. Antisemitism of this sort is not explicit, is not obvious, and is not self-aware. It is necessary, therefore, to analyse and interpret a text to know whether it is antisemitic.

This is a story concerning one word written in the margin of one of many many drafts of a document. I’m glad that I don’t have to make all my own drafts public. That is the point of a draft. It is not published. The editorial staff of the Guardian decided to run this story as evidence of the corruption which the ‘Israel lobby’ foments in Britain. There are two notable aspects of the way that the story is treated. One is the picture of the Labour government it paints, cravenly bowing to a (Jewish) foreign power; the other is the language with which this picture is painted.

Who is more powerful, Britain or Israel? Britain has the fourth largest economy in the world; Israel has the 35th largest economy in the world. Britain has a permanent seat on the Security Council; Israel is a pariah in the UN. Britain is an old and influential imperial power which gave its language to the world; Israel is a small country of a few million people, mainly in four smallish cities, which many people want to wipe off the map. For the Guardian to portray Israel as being in control of Britain is just weird.

The ‘lobby’ rhetoric holds that Israel controls the world because it holds the ultimate weapon, which is the accusation of antisemitism. It uses this weapon brazenly and dishonestly. Governments like the British government, goes the story, are too ‘craven’ to stand up to Israel when it ‘kicks up a fuss’; in any case politicians who stand up to Israel would be fatally wounded by accusation of antisemitism which the lobby controls; and in any case politicians are beholden to the lobby for their money.

The Livingstone Formulation headline in today’s Guardian, ‘How Labour used the law to keep criticism of Israel secret’ makes the newspaper’s spin explicit. Labour marshalled the full power of the state to prevent a little one-word (implied, possible) criticism of Israel by one Foreign Office official secret. You see how the lobby controls free speech? You see how the lobby forces a Labour government to do its work, secretly, in concealment, cunningly exploiting loopholes, wielding the blue pencil, banning even the word ‘Israel’. How easily the (formally impartial FOI tribunal) can be influenced into concealing public material. Influenced by who? Shhh. You know who.

David Hirsh

In today’s Guardian:
1. Leader: Hidden words
2. How the word Israel was deleted
3. The FO's case to the information tribunal
4. Israel's weapons - a diplomatic no-go area
5. The Foreign Office is extraordinarily sensitive about Israel
6. Iraq dossier secrets

Simply Jews got it. Seth Freedman didn't get it.

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