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.

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.