By Jonathan Cook
The revelation that a leftwing journalist, Nathan J. Robinson, has been sacked as a Guardian U.S. columnist for criticizing Israel on Twitter — and that he was pressured to keep quiet about it by Guardian editors — should come as no surprise. He is only the latest in a long line of journalists, myself included, who have run afoul of The Guardian’s unwritten but tightly policed constraints on what can be said about Israel.
In the tweet below, I have listed a few of the more prominent — and public — examples of journalists who have suffered at The Guardian’s hands over their coverage of Israel. The thread can opened by clicking on the tweet:
The Guardian sacks a columnist – and indicates he should keep quiet – after he comments on US aid to Israel. Nathan J Robinson is surprised by his treatment, but others – myself included – were similarly forced out into the cold after criticising Israel https://t.co/7KXoB6l3OB
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) February 10, 2021
The unspoken Guardian rule we broke was to suggest one of the following: that there might be inherent contradictions between Israel’s claim to be a democracy and its self-definition in exclusivist, chauvinist, ethnic terms; or that Israel’s self-declared status as a militaristic, ethnic, rather than civic, state might be connected to its continuing abuses and crimes against Palestinians; or that, because Israel wishes to conceal its ugly, anachronistic ethnic project, it and its defenders might act in bad faith; or that the U.S. might be actively complicit in this ethnically inspired, colonial project to dispossess Palestinians.
Paradoxically, The Guardian is widely seen as the “mainstream” English-language publication most critical of Israel. It has long shored up its reputation with the left by publishing seemingly forthright, uncompromising material on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Part of that is a historic credit it earnt. There was a time, long ago, when The Guardian’s pages were, for example, the only place in the mainstream to host —if rarely — the late, great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. The paper even once allowed its former South Africa correspondent, who had transferred to Israel, to compare in detail the two countries’ systems of apartheid. It caused a furor — much of it instigated by the Israeli embassy in London — that made the paper even more shy of taking on the Israel lobby.
That is reflected in the perverse fact that today Israeli human rights groups are far more courageous in speaking plainly about Israel than The Guardian. When B’Tselem recently published a report stating that Israel operated an apartheid system oppressing Palestinians not just in the occupied territories but in the whole area under its rule — including inside Israel where officials falsely claim 1.8 million Palestinian citizens have equal rights with Jewish citizens — the paper published a mealy-mouthed editorial with equivocations that contrasted starkly with B’Tselem’s passionate and clear critique of a racist system of separate rights.
Even then, The Guardian would never have conceded what it reluctantly did in the editorial had B’Tselem not forced its hand.
Decades late, and after much agonised handwringing, a Guardian editorial appears to concede that B'Tselem might have a point in arguing Israel is an apartheid state. One can feel Jonathan Freedland wincing at the very thought https://t.co/Pf0rlcjvyS
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) January 18, 2021
Low Bar on Israel
The other reason why The Guardian looks so good on Israel and Palestine is that the rest of the corporate media is far, far worse. The bar is so low that The Guardian has to do very little to impress. Its unwavering support for Israel — and we will get to the reasons for that in a moment — only becomes clear when someone prominent steps forward to speak as clearly about what’s really wrong with Israel as B’Tselem recently did.
That invisible line on Israel was crossed by Jeremy Corbyn too, of course — one of the many aspects of his socialist-lite platform the corporate Guardian could not abide. That was why The Guardian was only too ready to join — and often lead — the campaign of smears against him and the Labour Party under his leadership that conflated trenchant criticism of Israel (anti-Zonism) with anti-Semitism. One has to be naïve indeed to believe that The Guardian’s treatment of Corbyn — its simplistic regurgitation of the Board of Deputies’ talking points — was done in good faith.
My latest: The Guardian is still posturing as a helpless bystander in the bitter feuds dividing the Labour party, when in reality it was an active participant in sabotaging Corbyn's efforts to make British politics more honest and accountable https://t.co/CLCxPzERO9
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) August 10, 2020
In fact, The Guardian’s relations with Israel and Zionism date back to the founding editor of the modern paper, C. P. Scott. A staunch Zionist, Scott was critically important in liaising between the British government and the Zionist movement in the drafting of the 1917 Balfour Declaration — the colonial document that effectively committed Britain to dispossessing the native Palestinians, who weren’t even named in it, of their homeland.
The Guardian acted effectively as midwife both to the self-declared Jewish state of Israel and to the Nakba — the mass program of ethnic cleansing — that was necessarily required to create a Jewish state on the Palestinians’ homeland. And, as documented in the book Disenchantment, The Guardian has indulged Israel ever since, much as a parent would a wayward child. It can be critical, even sharply sometimes, but it is resolutely protective of Israel’s image and the interests Israel has defined for itself as a Jewish state.
And for that reason, The Guardian historically developed close ties to the liberal Jewish community in the U.K., much of it in London and Manchester. Many liberal Jewish journalists found the paper a natural home and an ideological fit in contrast to the rest of the U.K.’s corporate media, which was highly conservative and often openly anti-Semitic. A culture of critical but unerring support for Israel was always The Guardian’s default position.
But to understand why Robinson became the latest victim of The Guardian’s tough policing of speech around Israel, we need to dig a little deeper.
Robinson is also editor of a small, independent, socialist magazine called Current Affairs. As such, the issues he highlights invariably break with the U.S. corporate media’s craven coverage on a wide range of issues.
His sarcastic, but pointed tweet criticizing the billions of dollars the U.S. is sending to Israel so it can buy more weapons to kill Palestinians — and during a pandemic in which Americans are being denied the full promised $2,000 checks — was treated by the Israel lobby, as most criticism of Israel is nowadays, as evidence of “anti-Semitism.” This was the same kind of anti-Semitism that Corbyn, Ken Loach and many others on the socialist left have been accused of indulging.
The tweet, which Robinson deleted under Guardian pressure, was only anti-Semitic if you choose to see it that way — which, of course, is exactly how Israel’s apologists would like you to see it. Understandably, the nearer critics get to the nub of what is wrong with a self-declared Jewish state ruling over Palestinians, or with the U.S. blank check for that Jewish state, the more this lobby goes into overdrive.
An email to Robinson from U.S. editor John Mulholland, who I worked under for a time when he was editing The Observer, The Guardian’s Sunday sister paper, included a line below the main body of text complaining about Robinson’s tweet:
“Saying that the only Jewish state controls the most powerful country in the world is clearly anti-Semitic. The myth of ‘Jewish power’ informs murderous hatred. Delete this and apologise.”
It is unclear who this instruction came from — an influential reader, Mulholland himself or someone even more senior inThe Guardian hierarchy. It matters little. Mulholland is the very embodiment of what the Japanese call a “salaryman.” He has scaled the greasy pole effortlessly by absorbing and loyally enforcing the corporate values of The Guardian business model.
Silencing Socialist Critiques
But the problem with The Guardian’s interpretation of Robinson’s tweet is that there is precisely nothing in the tweet to indicate that this was its meaning. It is pure projection. Robinson’s tweet critiqued a relationship in which the U.S. indisputably pours huge sums of military aid into Israel — money desperately needed at the moment by U.S. citizens hit financially by the pandemic. That “aid” is going to a state described by its own human rights groups as an apartheid regime and one that may soon be investigated by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. That should not even count as an opinion. It is a fact.
My latest: Politics, not international law, will decide whether Israelis are ever put in the dock by the ICC for war crimes. And already western states are rallying to Israel's side to ensure it continues acting with impunity https://t.co/salXNn6ZYt
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) February 11, 2021
It is The Guardian’s own anti-Semitic interpretation of the tweet that suggests this is because Israel “controls” the U.S. More likely, Robinson believes that the U.S. sends the aid because Israel serves the West’s ugly colonial interests in the Middle East. Israel “earns” that aid — money for armaments — from the U.S. by acting as its regional colonial “heavy”. (And, let’s note, Egypt originally earned its similarly generous U.S. aid for ending its state of hostilities with Israel in 1979 by signing a peace agreement.)
The deeper question in assessing The Guardian’s sacking of Robinson — as well as its campaign to smear Corbyn — is this: what line do we as the left cross when we critique Israel? Is The Guardian really protecting Israel from an anti-Semitic tweet, as Mulholland appears to believe? Or is it policing leftwing speech that highlights the continuing imperialist, colonial nature of our Western societies and their economic models of exploitation, domestic and foreign, on which corporate media like The Guardian depend?
First, smear a few prominent figures on the socialist left as antisemites. Then refer to those on the socialist left who challenge the smears as 'controversial'.
Hey presto, soon you can describe socialism as antisemitic https://t.co/1zZrZHGdqL
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) February 10, 2021
What we have here, disguised as a defense of Jews, is a gradual outlawing of socialist critiques of Western states and their crimes. This is happening as those critiques gain ever greater visibility and purchase, assisted by social media and its brief democratization (for good and bad) of public discourse.
Socialists like Robinson, Corbyn and Loach have a worldview. It is their way of analyzing societies and geopolitics that makes sense of how state power operates, and how elites maintain and expand their control of resources to the detriment of others and the planet. Socialism demands change. It requires the reordering of society to ensure much more equal relations between individuals and states to end pervasive poverty and suffering.
We cannot therefore believe both that the U.S. is an imperial, colonial power sponsoring Arab dictators, religious extremism and war crimes in the Middle East to control access to the region’s oil reserves – and also believe that Israel, which assists some of those dictators and attacks others, cultivates its own forms of religious extremism, commits its own war crimes, and is heavily subsidized by the U.S., has nothing to do with any of that.
Socialists see Israel as integral to how Western states, especially the sole global military superpower headquartered in Washington, continue to project their power into the Middle East. They see Israel as a proxy for a Western colonial project that never went away. Thinking that doesn’t make socialists anti-Semitic. It makes them consistent, it means their worldview makes sense of all those seemingly disparate events going on around the globe — disparate only because that is the way corporate media presents its narratives to prevent readers from joining up the dots.
Passive Media Consumption
This kind of analysis may well look anti-Semitic to those — liberals and conservatives — who have no worldview, no values beyond the dog-eat-dog, social Darwinism our Western societies have cultivated in them through years of passive media consumption. Robinson’s tweet doubtless looked anti-Semitic to Mulholland, to Guardian editor Kath Viner, to senior columnist Jonathan Freedland, the paper’s resident anti-Semitism witch-finder general. But that is because none of them are socialists.
They can read Robinson’s tweet only through the limited perspective of their own entrenched liberalism. If they were socialists, they would never have been allowed anywhere near the senior editorial positions they hold at The Guardian. And the tiny number of Guardian journalists who claim to be leftwing working under them — figures like Owen Jones and George Monbiot — have learnt where the invisible trip-wires are that they must avoid not to lose their employment and their platforms. Which is why you will not see any solidarity from Guardian staff either over Robinson’s mistreatment or over the threat his sacking poses to the speech rights of the left.
This has long been the beauty of the “free” press model for the corporate media. It has allowed journalists to say anything they want so long as the corporate media decides whether they are given a platform from which to say it. And the corporate media has only given a platform to those journalists who have demonstrated that they can be trusted not to stray too far from what is today’s neoliberal orthodoxy at home and neoconservative orthodoxy abroad.
The Guardian has always had *terrible* employment practices. Back in the 1990s I and many others were kept on precarious short-term contracts for years. It was the tight leash intended to train us into Guardian groupthink. I finally got on staff because of union pressure https://t.co/8RfzZZ4fCe
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) February 11, 2021
Illusion of Freedom
Socialism has begun to revive — if often only as a growing disillusionment with late-stage, planet-destroying capitalism — because for the first time there have been large platforms from which socialists can speak. Paradoxically, those new platforms, like Twitter, have been corporate-run too.
Our plutocratic governments, run in the interests of a corporate elite, and the media, owned by a corporate elite, are battling hard to end that right. They would prefer to maintain the illusion of western freedom. And so they have been trying to silence socialists in ways that make it look like they have the public’s consent. They are recruiting us to silence ourselves. They are, as ever, manufacturing consent for our expulsion from the public square.
Glenn Greenwald: 'On Thursday, Parler was the most popular app in the US. By Monday, three of the four Silicon Valley monopolies united to destroy it.. With virtual unanimity, leading US liberals celebrated this use of Silicon Valley monopoly power' https://t.co/kCajH8GMjX
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) January 12, 2021
We must fight back. We need to understand that old corporate media like The Guardian are not an ally to the left, they are the enemy. And that the new social media platforms to which we have briefly been given access will soon be snatched away from us unless we fight tooth and nail to keep them.
The battle itself is our weapon. Because if we allow ourselves to be swept from the public square without a struggle, if our story is written for us, not by us, none of the onlookers – the wider public – will ever grasp what was really at stake. They will remain blissfully unaware not only of what socialism might have achieved, but certain that we are all far better off now that those “anti-Semites” will never again be allowed a voice.
Jonathan Cook is a former Guardian journalist (1994-2001) and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.
This article is from his blog Jonathan Cook.net.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
Nathan J. Robinson’s book ‘Superpredator’ deals with Bill Clinton’s appalling attitude towards African Americans. It is an interesting and deeply disturbing read.
Finally the Guardian is being seen for what it really is. There is nothing more anti-semitic than a newspaper which covers up the
crimes of Israel and its apartheid tradition which in the longer run can only bring disaster to the real Jewish people who actually live on the ground and not in the rarefied atmosphere of a proto-fascist elite. To the Guardian one can only say do the ordinary jewish people a favour and tell it like it is.
I would suggest that because the Palestinians are genuine Semites (meaning users – since forever – of a Semitic language and not only in religious worship) that yes, the Guardian, and all other media that bow and scrape to the Zionist agenda, are indeed anti-Semites, though not in the way we are supposed to understand…
What cannot go on, will not go on.
This is absurd. It must break, one day. It is a question of when, not if.
When it does break, Israel will be in very big trouble, because it has dug such a deep hole with this prolonged bad faith.
A trenchant article, as usual from Jonathan Cook. Share widely.
A fine, clear-eyed essay. Thank you.
A ‘kennel’ full of lap dogs…
Look up the CIA and WaPo. Operation Mockingbird.
I recall Craig Murray saying some years ago that the Guardian was an MI6 outlet (or they might as well be). (As WaPo is a CIA outlet).
They stabbed Snowden, Assange et al. in the back. They will not allow any objective coverage of Israeli atrocities, nor any objective coverage of foreign affairs. I can just imagine what Robert Fisk would say…
Older folks tell me that the Guardian was once a decent paper that reflected working-class interests. Now, I visit their website often to “take the piss” (ridicule with contempt). Like the rest of the “mainstream” so-called media, it is good for some cheap laughs!
I don’t know about “revealed.”
The Guardian has long been one of the world’s most bigoted mainline newspapers.
It is intensely prejudiced about Israel and against Palestine.
It is equally prejudiced against Russia, a country which many Israelis see as a hinderance to total American dominance, American dominance always being viewed as permitting Israeli dominance in its region.
The Guardian promotes its prejudices along many lines from the words of columnists to the politicians it supports (it viciously attacked Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour Party leader) and to the comments it permits from readers.
I know by experience they have a rather elaborate system for dealing with comments they do not like.
Years ago, I read the paper daily, but I grew so I simply could no longer stomach its overwhelming bigotry while pretending to be liberal and progressive.
For interest and amusement, here, below, is a link to n a long critique I did on one of the Guardian’s most appalling efforts, an entire day’s worth of hateful articles about Russia, including different subject areas and styles.
I’ve never seen anything quite like It, although some of the efforts against Jeremy Corbyn (Labor Party leader attacked by a supposedly Labour Party-supporting newspaper) came close.
Corbyn was attacked again and again under various pretenses, but the fundamental reason was his complete fair-mindedness towards Israel and the Palestinians. You aren’t allowed to be fair-minded, so the most decent figure in European politics was portrayed as a friend of hatred.
John, I would add the BBC (World Service Radio) and NPR (don’t watch television) to the list of media who are deeply bigoted against Russia/China/Iran/Venezuela and deeply pro “Israel” (or as I prefer: the Occupiers of All Palestine: OAP)…
The CIA officially could not act inside the United States. So they hired foreign intelligence agents to do their dirty work for them.
The US government cannot censor people. But they can force media and social media to censor any deviations from their narratives.
Even with science, where consensus is reached, if at all, by force of arguments and discussions, data and clearly defined interpretation of experiments, Covid-19 information from our largely incompetent authorities comes down to us as a stunted post-truth narrative. No dissent allowed. As a result, Western countries have the highest fatality rates from Covid-19 in the world! More desperate but innovative third world countries have made advances that were ignored or even trashed by our authorities.
It is not just about anti-socialism. It is not just dual citizens who control America’s foreign policies. It is a pervasive suppression of all dissenting views and free speech requiring adherence to the totalitarian narrative which must be obeyed! (And it’s no less nutty than when tin-foil hat people spew their views, which you once could debate).