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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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.