Guido, me and the smear of anti-Semitism: a case study from Mehdi Hasan

Those who oppose Israel are smeared as anti-semites.

Are you as fed up as I am with critics of Israel's belligerence being smeared as anti-Semites? Or how any reasoned and evidence-based discussion of the pernicious influence of the pro-Likud Israel lobby -- specifically, Aipac -- on US politicians ends up being dismissed as a conspiracy theory?

In this week's New Statesman, I wrote a column in which I highlighted how crucial the legislative, rather than just the executive, branch of the US government is to America's overall political, financial and military support for Israel and its occupation of the West Bank -- and how it defers to the right-wing, pro-occupation Israel lobby on issues related to Israel and the Palestinians:

It is Aipac that polices congressional votes on Israel, demands unconditional US support for the occupation of the West Bank and insists that Israel remain the largest single annual recipient of US foreign aid ($250 a year per Israeli, compared to $1 a year per African). Consider this: the upper and lower houses of Congress are more divided, polarised and partisan than in any other period in recent history. Democrats and Republicans agree on nothing. Except Israel.

Some of the responses were predictable -- with one commenter posting:

It's all because of those damn jooos!

The piece wasn't supposed to be about Jews or, for the matter, the state of Israel; it was focused on the cravenness, corruption and dysfunctionality of two elected chambers on Capitol Hill that have long been in thrall to special interests -- in this particular case, the Israel lobby. In fact, I went out of my way to point out the irony of how:

. . . there is far more heated debate about Israel's actions on the floor of the Knesset than on Capitol Hill.

The same applies to the Israeli media, which also manages to engage in regular discussions of the Israel lobby's impact on US politics without accusing itself of anti-Semitism.

But the attacks keep coming. The right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) weighed in on Twitter last night:

I see Mehdi has an article in the New Statesman blaming a 535-strong Jewish conspiracy for blocking peace in the Middle East.

It was clear to me that Guido hadn't bothered to read the column but had gone for the classic (and predictable and offensive) "You've mentioned the Israel lobby so you must be an anti-Semite" smear.

My own response?

@GuidoFawkes Perhaps you should learn to read. No mention of lobbying being "Jewish" or a "conspiracy". Save your smears for Hague, Paul.

Perhaps I was naive to expect that this would be the end of the matter -- the great Guido having been exposed as not having read the piece he referred to and used to try to smear me.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to find Mr Fawkes still trying to pin the anti-Semitism charge on me in the form of two more silly (and revealing!) tweets. He now seems to have deleted them from his Twitter thread -- and do you blame him? He has, once again, made a bit of a tit of himself -- but I copied these out from my phone (God bless Twitter for sending tweets direct to your handset!) for your viewing pleasure:

You don't explicitly say they are Jewish, but they are pro-Israel, these 535 control, you say, the GOP and the Dems ME policy. @ns_mehdihasan

Hmm, I don't "explicitly say that they are Jewish" because they aren't. Of the 535 members of Congress, only 45 are Jewish. There are two Muslims and two Buddhists. My argument isn't that the US Congress blindly backs Israel's actions because it is made up of Jews -- it isn't and, I should add, American Jews have rather balanced and liberal views on the Middle East -- but because of intense lobbying from pro-Israeli groups such as Aipac (which don't always represent the views of those aforementioned liberal and balanced American Jews). The same applies to gun control -- US politicians from both parties have been corrupted by pressure and money from the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby.

I should also add here that it wasn't just me who accused the Israel lobby of having influence on (not "control of") "the GOP and the Dems ME policy" -- I quoted William Quandt, former Middle East adviser to presidents Nixon and Carter, and Uri Avnery, award-winning Israeli peace activist, author and former member of the Knesset. If Guido had read the piece, he'd know this. But he didn't.

Instead, he then added, in another tweet:

Pray tell what is the common characteristic of these "535 who block peace in the Middle East"? @ns_mehdihasan

Er, the "common characteristic" is that they are all members of Congress. Have you still not read the piece, Mr Fawkes?? As I wrote, in the column:

The Congress of the United States consists of 100 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives; in effect, just 535 Americans are blocking efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

Five hundred and thirty-five Americans. Not Jews. Not Israelis. American politicians -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists.

I don't mind people attacking me for what I write, but at least read what I write before you start attacking and abusing me. Is that too much to ask?

I guess at some point during the night, Guido realised he was in a hole, stopped digging and started deleting. Sad. But amusing, too. He has made my Friday just that bit brighter. In fact, I haven't laughed this much since Guido claimed: "Irish banks now represent the safest place to deposit money in Europe."

 

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Screengrab
Show Hide image

The politics of the kiss

From the classical period via the Kremlin to the Clintons: a brief history of political smooching.

Iowa and New Hampshire are behind us. Super Tuesday beckons. For fans of the competitive sport of baby-kissing, this is as good as it gets.

Meanwhile, closer to Britain, kissing’s in our very constitution. Jeremy Corbyn’s future, depending on his success, could involve taking a trip to the Palace to kiss hands as Prime Minister – and as a republican. Being sworn into the Privy Council in November, he even managed a peck on the royal paw, but reportedly stood fast and did not kneel.

Why is there so much snogging in politics? 

Ancient Romans and Persians established – dare we – a pecking order on meeting. This ritual would make it instantly clear if they were equals (full-on, mouthy kiss, the basium), separated by a slight gap (cheeky peck, an osculum), or vast unequals (foot-kissing accompanied by much grovelling). Even heads of state greeted people in this way.

And there was nothing more dramatic – and bizarre – than the socialist fraternal kiss. Kremlinologists would even measure its intensity, to see how close Communist leaders were. The rule was to do three alternate kisses on the cheek, aping the Ancien Régime’s Orthodox Easter greeting. When two leaders were especially chummy – like then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and GDR head Erich Honecker at the 30th anniversary of the GDR in East Berlin in 1979 – the world would witness a big, sloppy lip-plant. Paris Match splashed Régis Bossu’s iconic black-and-white image of the socialist snog across a double-page spread. Le Baiser, they called it.

Nikita Khrushchev, Joseph Stalin’s successor, locked lips with USSR chairman Klim Voroshilov when returning from a US visit in 1959. In July 1937, Stalin planted a decidedly non-frigid one on Ivan Spirin, a polar explorer and state hero.

But Brezhnev was the true practitioner. The joke in Russia went that he described a Warsaw Pact comrade “as a politician, rubbish...but a good kisser!”

Aside from the steamy Kremlin, social kissing on the mouth declined with the Black Death.

The courtly handkuss (kiss on the hand) generally went the same way with the fall of the German and Russian monarchies in 1917-18, though hung on longer in Austria. 

But French president Jacques Chirac made it his trademark, playing to the gallery with French élégance. An Associated Press story from 1967 chronicles the sad plight of European diplomats who had chanced it in Washington. One congressional wife jumped back, claiming she had been bitten; another said a stone was missing from her ring. “Chivalry has its drawbacks,” the story observed.

But back to the babies. We see kissing-as-canvassing in William Hogarth’s 1755 series The Humours of an Election

And in a close-fought 1784 Westminster by-election, we read of 24 women out canvassing with kisses – including the Duchesses of Rutland, Argyll, Ancaster, and (somewhat infamously) Devonshire. 

Kissing voters’ wives – now probably frowned upon by CCHQ – was customary fare for the 18th-century candidate. It’s only in the following century that we see the desexualisation of the electioneering kiss, moving to babies as innocuous. 

In 1836, Charles Dickens has his character Pickwick go to witness a post-Reform Act by-election in Eatanswill. “He has patted the babies on the head,” says the candidate’s election agent, trembling with anxiety. Roar of applause. “He has kissed one of ‘em!” Second roar. “He's kissing ‘em all!” The crowd’s shouts are deafening. And the candidate Slumkey coasts home to Parliament.

US presidents Richard Nixon, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison forswore baby kissing, grasping for a higher-minded political plane. Bernie Sanders, too. 

But how are the rest of today's politicians doing, kiss-wise?

Barack Obama: After two terms, a kisser to be reckoned with. With adults. Apparently he doesn’t relish kissing babies, and has been called fatally ill-at-ease holding one. Full points for his lucky save with a reticent Aung San Suu Kyi in 2014, ending with a perfectly creditable side-hug and ear-kiss.

Pity Michelle, photographed rolling her eyes as Barack went in for the selfie with, say, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in 2013. (For her part, Michelle fobbed off Silvio Berlusconi with a fully outstretched arm, taking no chances.)

David Cameron: Utterly denied by SamCam after his Tory conference speech in October 2015. Lord Grantham says in Downton he spent most of Eton avoiding the kisses of other boys; clearly, the Prime Minister didn’t get much practice while at school.

Angela Merkel: In her first meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy, out she came with a businesslike German handshake just as he ducked for the Gallic kiss. In a moment of British romantic awkwardness last May, during Cameron’s EU reform tour, we saw the Prime Minister lean in, short of closing the deal, as she pulled back and possibly searched for some new regulations to beat him away with.

Hillary Clinton: Is said to enjoy kissing babies. Is said not to enjoy kissing Bill, as in the 2008 Correspondents’ Dinner when she expertly ducked one from him.  And scored one from Obama instead. But maybe she ought to lay off the baby-kissing: a journal article in Political Psychology suggests voters are 15 per cent less likely to vote for women candidates when their adverts evoke female gender stereotypes.

Donald Trump: In August, his baby-kiss in Alabama went viral – the baby’s mother just a bit too keen, the baby’s confusion mingled with slight fear reflecting the views of many of us. “That baby is us,” wrote blogger Stassa Edwards.

It’s a long road from here to the US election in November. And Cameron can look forward to kissing up to Merkel and a hot summer of Italian, Dutch, and even French kisses too.

So this Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for the babies. And the bureaucrats.