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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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