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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.