Archive | August 14th, 2020

Qatar boosts support for Turkey’s regional forays

Doha and Ankara are keen on providing political and military cover for Libya’s GNA.

Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah (C) welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) upon his arrival in Doha, July 2. (AFP)

Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah (C) welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) upon his arrival in Doha, July 2. (AFP)

LONDON – Qatar remains intent on strengthening its security, intelligence and economic relations with Turkey, placing Libya, particularly, in the crosshairs as Ankara presses ahead with an intervention in the support of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Qatar’s moves come as an ongoing defiance to its Arab neighbours and at the risk of antagonising the Arab quartet composed of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

The close relations between Ankara and Doha have been strengthened, particularly since a diplomatic crisis with Qatar erupted on June 5, 2017, when the Arab quartet accused the Gulf country of supporting Islamist groups, also backed by Turkey, and having close relations with Iran, with the aim of destabilising the region and threatening the security of neighbouring countries.

On Friday, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani hailed his country’s “strategic relations” with Turkey.

Ties “between Qatar and Turkey are growing day by day, particularly in the fields of economic, investment, commercial, energy and defense cooperation to serve the common interests of our nations,” he wrote on Twitter.

Speaking to Al Jazeera television, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah al-Khater, also said that there is a “broad consensus” between Doha and Ankara.

“Both countries support the Libyan Government of National Accord and support the political solution in Libya based on Skhirat Agreement,” Khater said.

One day after his visit to Doha, Erdogan said that his discussions with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani focused on the Libyan file, in the first place, and the Iraqi and Syrian files, in the second place.

He also stressed that Turkey continues to cooperate with the “legitimate Libyan government with resolve and determination”, adding that Defense Minister Khulsi Akar was holding talks with the Turkey-backed GNA in Tripoli to enhance the “existing cooperation with closer coordination.”

Doha and Ankara are keen on providing political and military cover for Libya’s GNA, which is dominated politically and militarily by the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Turkish and Qatari statements confirm earlier reports about Doha’s unconditional support for Turkey’s Islamist agenda for the region and Erdogan’s expansionist plans, even if that means the undermining of security and stability in the Arab region.

Turkish and Qatari statements also confirm Doha’s intention to keep on financing Turkish interventions in Libya, Syria and other countries in the region.

A report by The Arab Weekly on Friday indicated that Erdogan’s short visit to Doha on Thursday was in fact a tax collection mission aimed at making the Qatari emir dig deep into his pockets and come up with the necessary funds for the Eastern Mediterranean project.

Gulf sources also told The Arab Weekly that the Turkish president is pressuring Qatar to finance his military campaigns in Syria and Libya as well as the military show of force he is conducting in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Qatar, Turkey walk in step on Libya conflict, try to shore up GNA legitimacy

Doha and Ankara ministers fail to mention that a growing number of countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, see the Skhirat Agreement as an expired or very insufficient source of political legitimacy for the GNA.

A file picture of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, walkin with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, in 2017. (AP)

A file picture of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, walkin with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, in 2017. (AP)

London – Recent statement by Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdurrahman al-Thani indicate a consensus has been reached with Ankara on the trajectory the Libyan conflict should take.

 The statements came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that foreign interference in the North African country’s war has reached “unprecedented levels.”  

 Both Ankara and Doha have made statement to shore up the increasingly-challenged legitimacy of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

The Turkish Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday that Doha weighed in on the Libyan conflict and urged the international community to support the Turkish-backed GNA.

“It has become clear that the only solution to the Libyan crisis is to support the legitimate government,” the Qatari foreign minister said.

Al-Thani added that it is necessary to implement resolutions on the conflict by the United Nations Security Council, the Berlin peace  conference that took place earlier this year and the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, which recognised the GNA as Libya’s government. 

“Some countries initially supported this agreement but then violated it by supporting opposition groups against the government,” Al-Thani said. 

Doha and Ankara ministers fail to mention that a growing number of countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, see the Skhirat Agreement as an expired or very insufficient source of political legitimacy for the GNA.

 The UN secretary-general urged Wednesday for key players and their backers to unblock the political stalemate and agree to a ceasefire and peace talks, calling the current situation “gloomy.”

Guterres said that the United Nations political mission in Libya is undertaking de-escalation efforts, “including the creation of a possible demilitarised zone,” to try to reach a negotiated solution and spare lives.

He said between April 1 and June 30 there were at least 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilians wounded in Libya, “a 172% increase compared to the first quarter of 2020.”

Guterres also addressed a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council six months after leaders of 11 world powers and other countries with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war agreed at a conference in Berlin to respect a much-violated UN arms embargo, hold off on military support to the warring parties and push them to reach a full ceasefire.

Guterres decried the failure of the parties to adhere to the Berlin agreement and demand its speedy implementation.

Qatar and Turkey support the GNA in its war against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which is said to be backed by Russia, Egypt and France, among others.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to Qatar for a day of meetings and met with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Presidential Communications Directorate said in a statement.

Ankara and Doha have enjoyed close relations, particularly since a diplomatic crisis with Qatar erupted on June 5, 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accused the Gulf country of supporting Islamist groups, also backed by Turkey, and having close relations with Iran, with the aim of destabilising the region and threatening the security of neighbouring countries.

Qatar’s suspected support for Islamist factions in Libya was pointed out in a sanctions list issued by the Arab Quartet. On the list of the 71 Qatari-linked organisations and individuals were leading players in Libya, including the al-Qaeda-aligned Benghazi Defence Brigades.

Since the 2011 NATO-backed Libyan uprising, Doha has funnelled arms and other support to Libyan militias through radical Ali Muhammed al-Salabi and his brother Ismail, a leader of the Benghazi Defence Brigades.

 The Benghazi Defence Brigades has ties with Ansar al-Sharia, the group behind the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. Ansar al-Sharia is also suspected of terrorist activities in Tunisia.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-led military campaign and a popular uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

The LNA launched an offensive trying to take Tripoli in April 2019, and the crisis in the oil-rich country has steadily worsened as foreign backers increasingly intervened despite pledges at the Berlin conference.

The LNA’s offensive is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey — which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January — as well as Italy and Qatar.

Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war in early June after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake the strategic city of Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Haftar seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.

Egypt warned that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attacked Sirte and the inland Jufra air base.

On Wednesday, Guterres told the Security Council that forces supporting the government are now 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Sirte, after two previous attempts to gain control of the city.

“The situation on the front lines has been mostly quiet since June 10,” he said.

“However, we are very concerned about the alarming military buildup around the city, and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, UN Security Council resolutions, and the commitments made by member states in Berlin.”

Posted in Middle East, Qatar, TurkeyComments Off on Qatar, Turkey walk in step on Libya conflict, try to shore up GNA legitimacy

The poor pushed to the brink amid Lebanese crisis

Public outcry over two suicides linked to hunger, need.

A Lebanese woman stands next to her empty refrigerator in her apartment in the port city of Tripoli. (AFP)

A Lebanese woman stands next to her empty refrigerator in her apartment in the port city of Tripoli. (AFP)

TRIPOLI – Two suicides in Lebanon on Friday, apparently linked to the country’s deepening economic downturn, have sparked a new wave of criticism over the government’s mishandling of the crisis.

A 61-year-old man from the eastern region of Hermel shot himself on the sidewalk of a bustling Beirut shopping street in broad daylight, leaving a note and his clean criminal record at the scene.

The note referenced a popular revolutionary song that mentions hunger, suggesting his suicide was linked to the economic crisis that has been ravaging livelihoods across the country.

The Lebanese pound, officially pegged at 1,507 pounds to the greenback, reached more than 9,000 to the dollar this week on the black market in a dizzying devaluation.

Prices have soared almost as fast as the exchange rate has plummeted, meaning that a salary of one million pounds is now worth a little more than $100, compared with almost $700 last year.

The suicide sparked small protests in the Hamra district, denouncing the government for its inaction over the country’s worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

“He did not commit suicide, he was killed in cold blood,” read one sign, blaming the government.

Saba Mroue, a protestor, said: “the political class is responsible.”

A second suicide, by a van driver near the southern city of Sidon, was also apparently linked to the economic crisis, a local official said.

The 37-year-old van driver hung himself in his home in the town of Jadra and his body was found on Friday morning, said municipality head Joseph al-Azzi.

The official said the suicide was linked to the economic crisis, saying the man was struggling financially.

A spokesperson for Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces confirmed the two suicides, saying that suicide rates are up this year, although he could not provide figures.

Jad Chaaban, an economist and anti-government activist, described the suicides as a “murder by a ruling class that is prepared to kill us, starve us and impoverish us so that they can guard their interests.”

Many in Beirut and other Lebanese cities can no longer make ends meet. Amer al Dahn can’t even afford bread and depends on credit from the local grocer to feed his wife and four children in the Lebanese city of Tripoli.

“We can no longer buy meat or chicken. The closest we get to them is in magazines and newspapers,” said Dahn, 55, leafing through a supermarket brochure in his cramped apartment.

Living in one of the poorest streets of Lebanon’s poorest city, Dahn and his family are feeling the full force of a financial meltdown that is fuelling extreme poverty and shattering lives across the country.

Struggling to walk because of diabetes, Dahn already faced a difficult life before the crisis, which has sunk the Lebanese pound by 80% since October, driving up prices in the import-dependent economy.

“Life has become very difficult. The dollar is still climbing and the state is incapable of providing a solution.”

Even chickpeas, beans and lentils – a traditional part of the Lebanese diet – are out of reach for some.

The crisis is seen as the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen off the cliff,” said Bojar Hoxja, country director at CARE International, an aid agency. Lebanon faces a humanitarian crisis that requires urgent international intervention, he said.

Lebanon is already a big recipient of international aid, the bulk of it directed at the 1 million Syrians who fled from the war next door.

Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city on the Mediterranean, is home to some of Lebanon’s wealthiest politicians, who critics say only remember their constituents at election time.

“If it was not for the neighbours here sending food to each other, people would be dying of hunger,” said Omar al-Hakim, who lives with his six children and wife in a one-room apartment.

The salary of 600,000 pounds a month he makes as a security guard now lasts just six days. Before the pound’s collapse, it was the equivalent of $400 a month. Today, it is around $60.

Basics such as sugar, rice and lentils become harder to buy, he says. This week, Hakim was hit by a one third increase in the price of state-subsidised bread.

“We used to eat meat on Sunday, or fish, or chicken … none of that now. We can’t afford an ounce of meat,” Hakim said.

The World Bank warned last November that the proportion of Lebanese living in poverty could rise to 50% if conditions worsened. Since then the crisis has only deepened and the economy has been further hit by a COVID-19 lockdown.

Many people depend on charity. Some are using social media to barter furniture or clothes for baby formula or diapers.

Posted in LebanonComments Off on The poor pushed to the brink amid Lebanese crisis

Nasrallah wants to further tie Lebanon’s fate to that of Iran

The Hezbollah chief said talks underway with the Lebanese government about Iran supplying the country with refined oil products in exchange for Lebanese pounds.

Iran Press video shows the head of Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, delivering a televised speech from an undisclosed location, July 7. (AFP)

BEIRUT – In a confrontational 100-minute televised speech Tuesday, leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group Hassan Nasrallah laid out again the idea of turning east to resolve the country’s deteriorating economic crisis, saying Iran can supply Lebanon with oil and blaming Washington’s policies for the predicament the country is facing.

In recent months, Hezbollah has been attempting to seize on Lebanon’s economic downfall to pave the way for it to reshape a “new Lebanon” with an eastern orientation, away from any Western influence.

In Tuesday’s speech, Nasrallah reiterated this idea, linking Lebanon’s crisis to other crises ravaging the entire Iranian axis.

However, he indicated that Hezbollah is not simply resorting to rhetoric to advance its agenda as it is now ready to take actions as well.

Iranian fuel to the rescue, again

Nasrallah said Tuesday that Hezbollah is in talks with the Lebanese government about the possibility of Iran supplying the country with refined oil products in exchange for Lebanese pounds.

He added a “calm discussion” was underway with the Beirut government over the idea that would ease the pressure on Beirut’s hard currency reserves.

He said China is also ready to invest in Lebanon, adding that Hezbollah has other cards to play, without elaborating.

Lebanon is suffering an acute financial crisis and hard currency liquidity crunch. The Lebanese pound has lost some 80% of its value since October, when the long-brewing crisis came to a head.

“We started a discussion…to see where this option can go,” Nasrallah said in the televised speech. “This track is moving…What’s the result going to be? I don’t know. But we have to try,” he said.

Iran will announce its official position on the matter at the appropriate moment, he added.

The idea of Iran supplying oil to Lebanon was floated by Hezbollah’s leader before.

In an appearance on June 16, Nasrallah said, “There are friendly countries like Iran that could sell us gasoline, gas, fuel, oil derivatives and other energy needs without using the dollar-based payment system.”

The radical Shia Hezbollah group, which is classified as a terrorist group by the United States, supports Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government.

By promoting alternative ways to rescue Lebanon, the group hopes to circumvent US pressures and make Lebanon a major gateway for Tehran to break its economic isolation.

Hezbollah’s proposed alternatives, however, threaten to annihilate the major foundations on which modern Lebanon was built.

Pleading against the Caesar Act

In Tuesday’s speech, Nasrallah also said Lebanon should not observe new US sanctions against Syria under the US Ceasar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which he said would be deeply hurtful to his country if implemented.

Hezbollah’s leader noted that Syria is Lebanon’s only land route to the world, so trade would be harmed.

Losing the land route with Syria would force Lebanon to turn to Israel, which Nasrallah suggested is the aim of US sanctions and which he said is rejected.

Lebanon and Israel are technically at war and Hezbollah has fought a number of wars with Israel, the last in 2006.

The heavily indebted Lebanon is seeking financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but rounds of talks have not yet produced an agreement.

The new sanctions also undermine Lebanese companies’ chances of taking part in reconstruction in Syria and are expected to hamper bilateral trade between the two countries, Nasrallah said.

He noted the sanctions on Syria are aimed at creating chaos after Damascus emerged victorious in the nine-year war.

The pressure on Lebanon, he said, is aimed to bring the small country in line with US policy and force his group to give up its weapons or increase public pressure so that it does.

A file picture of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressing his supporters through a video screen. (Reuters)
A file picture of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressing his supporters through a video screen. (Reuters)

He urged the Lebanese government “not to succumb to the Caesar Act,” which he said aims to impoverish and bring about hunger to the people of Lebanon and Syria.

On Syria, Nasrallah said the sanctions would fail to achieve their desired effects.

“Syria’s allies who stood by it during the military, security and political war— and even if their own conditions are also difficult— they will not give up on Syria in the face of this economic war,” Nasrallah said.

Angry Diatribe against the US

Addressing the United States, Nasrallah said, “Punish us but why are you punishing the Lebanese people?” Hezbollah is already on the US sanctions list.

“Our weapons will remain in our hands. We will not go hungry and we will kill you,” he said, angrily, but did not elaborate. “We will not go hungry and we will not let our country go hungry.”

Nasrallah blamed the United States for the dollar shortage in Lebanon, saying Washington is preventing the foreign currency from coming into Lebanon and is pressuring its central bank not to inject fresh amounts into the economy.

He called the dollar crisis “a national security issue,” no longer an economic problem.

Lebanon is facing an unprecedented confluence of economic and financial crises — characterised by a severe shortage of dollars and negative economic growth.

The crises were compounded by the coronavirus pandemic that left the country in a lockdown for weeks and deepened unemployment and inflation.

In addition, new US sanctions against Syria, the toughest yet, are due to go into effect Wednesday, penalising any country or entity that does business with the Syrian government.

These factors and more tightened the noose not only on Lebanon but on Hezbollah too, prompting Nasrallah to lash out at the US’s ambassador to the country.

On Tuesday, Nasrallah blasted US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, describing her as a “military ruler” who has incited tensions.

Nasrallah was reacting to Shea’s accusations last month that Hezbollah had spirited away billions of dollars of state money at a time of acute economic crisis.

In an interview with Saudi-owned news channel Al-Hadath, Shea also said the US was reviewing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government’s links with Hezbollah, which is considered by the US as a terrorist organisation.

“Since the new ambassador arrived in Lebanon …she has dealt with Lebanon as though she is a military ruler, or a high commissary, as though she has authority,” Nasrallah said.

“Every day she attacks (Hezbollah)… she insults and offends us,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech, criticising the government for remaining silent.

“She is pushing the Lebanese towards infighting, sedition and civil strife,” he said.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah lawmakers in parliament will ask the foreign ministry to summon Shea and reprimand her.

The Lebanese Shia group and its allies command a majority in parliament and the cabinet.

Shea was already summoned for a meeting with Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti late last month following her interview with Al-Hadath, which prompted a south Lebanon judge to issue a non-binding and now-defunct order banning the Lebanese press from reporting her comments.

Shea is “interfering in appointments and in government and in the economy,” Nasrallah said.

“She is attacking the Lebanese and inciting them towards sedition and strife.”

The dispute comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

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US general carries messages of support to Lebanese army, warning to Hezbollah

Threat of Hezbollah’s weapons for Lebanon, region highlighted.

President Michel Aoun (R) meeting with the US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Kenneth F. McKenzie at the presidential palace in Baabda, July 8. (AP)

President Michel Aoun (R) meeting with the US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Kenneth F. McKenzie at the presidential palace in Baabda, July 8. (AP)

BEIRUT –The visit of US Central Command chief General Kenneth F. McKenzie to Lebanon on Wednesday carried several messages, especially regarding the role of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the mounting pressures in the US Congress to cut aid to the Lebanese army.

It was McKenzie’s fourth visit to Lebanon since 2019.

On Wednesday, he met with Lebanese military and political officials, led by President Michel Aoun, who praised military cooperation between the two countries and called for further development.

McKenzie’s one-day visit coincided with the approaching third anniversary of the operation launched by the Lebanese army against ISIS in the border area with Syria.

Aoun praised the support provided by the United States to the Lebanese army in that campaign. McKenzie also stressed the continued support of the US military leadership to the Lebanese army. He pointed to the Lebanese army’s distinct capabilities in various combat and training levels, as reinforced by good, continuous training.

Political sources say that McKenzie’s visit stressed the importance of continued US cooperation with the Lebanese army, sending a clear message that Washington has no intention of cutting aid to Lebanon’s military, at least not in the short run, despite the controversy in Congress. McKenzie is perceived as one of the most reserved voices about calls by some White House hawks and Republicans in Congress to cut aid to the Lebanese army. He had announced last June that he was against stopping that aid, stressing that the US’s relationship with the Lebanese military is important “to balance the capabilities of the Hezbollah militia.”

Hezbollah supporters demonstrate against the visit of Commander of the US Army Central Command, Kenneth Franklin McKenzie to Lebanon. (AFP)
Hezbollah supporters demonstrate against the visit of Commander of the US Army Central Command, Kenneth Franklin McKenzie to Lebanon. (AFP)

Hezbollah, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States and other Western and Arab countries, has kept its hold on Lebanon’s internal politics with the help of its military arsenal. The pro-Iran party has managed in recent years to bolster that arsenal;  and intelligence reports say it now has precision weapons in its possession.

Some US analysts believe that continued support for the Lebanese army cannot bear fruit considering the growing strength and influence of Hezbollah. They also note that the Lebanese army has previously cooperated with Hezbollah in several situations, the last of which was on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The Lebanese army, in fact, is accused of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s activities. For that reason, some in the US say it is necessary to put an end to US support. An initiative supported by Republican Senator Ted Cruz proposed withholding 20% of US military assistance to the Lebanese army unless Aoun is able to demonstrate that he is taking the necessary steps to end Hezbollah’s influence.

During his meeting Wednesday with Aoun, McKenzie is said to have focused on the risks posed by Hezbollah’s continued wielding of weapons. This poses a particular problem for Lebanon as it seeks assistance from reluctant international lenders in order to weather the stifling financial and economic crisis that could lead to its collapse.

This crisis has recently extended to the Lebanese army, which announced its decision to remove meat from soldier’s food menu as part of austerity measures.

Aoun, who also serves as commander in chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, is one of Hezbollah’s most prominent political allies, and has repeatedly defended the party in regional and international forums, making it difficult to believe that he and his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, can make any real moves to pressure Hezbollah over its possession of weapons.

Observers say that Hezbollah’s weapons constitute an issue that transcends its obvious local dimension and effects regional and international levels. Cutting aid to the Lebanese army may have adverse effects, they say, as Hezbollah could use the measure to argue that Lebanon is battling a conspiracy targeting not only the “axis of resistance,” but Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Tuesday evening on the party’s Al-Manar TV channel that “the policy pursued by America towards Lebanon now is the policy of siege and sanctions, which will not weaken Hezbollah but rather strengthen it and weaken America’s allies.”

Nasrallah reiterated his call for the Lebanese state to diversify its foreign options by shifting east. He offered to help Lebanese authorities import oil and its derivatives from Iran with payment in Lebanese pounds. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo replied that the US strives to “prevent Iran from selling crude oil to Hezbollah.” He called on all countries to classify the pro-Iran party as a terrorist organisation.

McKenzie’s visit to Beirut, a big recipient of US military aid, comes after Hezbollah stepped up criticism of US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea on Tuesday, accusing her of blatant interference in Lebanese affairs.

A US Embassy statement said McKenzie “reaffirmed the importance of preserving Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty…”

Several dozen protesters, some waving Hezbollah flags, gathered at Beirut airport in a protest that the group’s al-Manar TV said carried several messages against Washington.

These included a rejection of a US Embassy plan to hold a memorial for 241 US service personnel killed in 1983 by a bomb attack in Beirut during McKenzie’s visit, an al-Manar broadcaster said.

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Lebanese freedoms not immune to Ankara’s encroachment

On Thursday, the Beirut public prosecutor referred Der Haroutiounian to trial on charges of “insulting” Turkey. The trial is set to begin on October 8.
Friday 10/07/2020

A Kurdish protester holds a placard bearing the portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration against the latest Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, in central Beirut’s Martyrs Square on October 13, 2019. (AFP)

A Kurdish protester holds a placard bearing the portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration against the latest Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, in central Beirut’s Martyrs Square on October 13, 2019. (AFP)

BEIRUT – Recent developments have shown that even Lebanon, where Turkey has no military presence or shared borders, is not immune to Ankara’s interference.

Lebanese political sources said that Turkish prosecutors’ claims against Armenian-born journalist Neshan Der Haroutiounian for “insulting” the Turkish president are part of ongoing confrontations between Lebanese Armenians and Turkey, which is accused of carrying out a genocide against Armenians between 1914 and 1923.

Some Lebanese Armenians’ harsh criticism of Turkey seems to embarrass Lebanese authorities, who have tried to intimidate them into observing certain “red lines.”

There are numerous external forces pressuring Lebanon, starting with Iranian proxy Hezbollah. Turkey is now attempting to curb Lebanon’s hard-fought freedoms, of which its citizens are rightly proud, by also exerting pressure on Lebanese authorities.

On Thursday, Beirut referred Der Haroutiounian to trial on charges of “insulting” Turkey. The trial is set to begin on October 8.

Lebanese news agency NNA said that “according to information provided to the Public Prosecution Office, Der Haroutiounian will be referred to trial before the Court of Publications Chamber in Beirut.”

A Lebanese journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that there were no grounds for the judicial charges against Der Haroutiounian.

“This is a matter of a historical dispute that has no prospect, knowing that it is about a great crime against the Armenian people — a crime that Turkey refuses to recognise. This in itself continues to provoke Armenians wherever they are,” the journalist told The Arab Weekly.

Der Haroutiounian hosted former Environment Minister Wiam Wahhab during the “Anna Heek” (This is how I am) programme that aired on the Al Jadeed satellite channel.

Wahhab, who is the head of the Arab Tawhid Party, said in the interview that the Turkish president was “sly” before the campaign against Der Haroutiounian began.

In response to Wahhab’s statements, a Lebanese national intervened in the programme and attacked Der Haroutiounian, saying “Neshan, the refugee, showed his racism,” referring to Der Haroutiounian’s Armenian origins.

Neshan Der Haroutiounian  (Al Jadeed TV)
Neshan Der Haroutiounian  (Al Jadeed TV)

Der Haroutiounian responded fiercely to the provocation, doubling down on Wahhab’s position.

“A son of a million malicious people … Erdogan, the regime, the Ottomans, and the Turks,” Der Haroutiounian said.

“If you consider me a refugee, then I am more Lebanese than you, and I am proud of my country, Lebanon, more than you are,” he added.

The Turkish Embassy intervened in the dispute and mobilised dozens of protesters to demonstrate in front of the Al Jadeed TV station against “insulting the Ottoman state and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

The protesters raised Turkish flags, chanted slogans in support of the Ottoman Empire and Erdogan and called on Al Jadeed TV and those in charge of the programme to “apologise for what happened.”

Under the hashtag “The New Ottomans,” Facebook users posted videos showing protesters holding Turkish flags and demonstrating in front of the Al Jadeed TV building.

In early June, a similar online campaign targeting Der Haroutiounian was launched, with supporters of the Turkish president hurling racist insults and using a defamatory hashtag on Twitter in response to his criticism of Erdogan.

Observers said that Turkey has succeeded in exploiting Lebanon’s political vacuum that has been caused by mounting social and economic crises.

Ankara, according to observers, managed to infiltrate the country and create a lobby to silence critics of Ottoman history and Erdogan’s expansionist policies in the region, by which Lebanon, like Syria and the rest of the Mediterranean countries, is affected.

Observers warned of the risks Der Haroutiounian’s trial could pose, not only to Lebanon but to the entire region. They pointed out that Turkey is seeking to create media, political and legal lobbies to prevent any criticism of its old and new colonial policies.

Ankara is also trying to advance a self-serving agenda, a reality that functions in the same radical and intransigent way as anti-Semitism and exposes the critics of the Ottoman Empire to legal charges, the observers said.

The Turks benefit from Muslim Brotherhood support in the region, as they glorify Ottoman history at the expense of Arab countries – a trend that is especially harmful in the Libyan conflict.

This trend is also seen in Ankara’s expanding influence in Tunisia, Yemen and Somalia. Islamists in these countries consider Turkish expansionist manoeuvres to be a “victory” for them and their vision of the Arab and Islamic world.

Posted in LebanonComments Off on Lebanese freedoms not immune to Ankara’s encroachment

Has Farrakhanism become mainstream in the US?

This form of American antisemitism is more mainstream today.


Religious leader Louis Farrakhan gives the keynote speech at the Nation of Islam Saviours' Day convention in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 19, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK)

Religious leader Louis Farrakhan gives the keynote speech at the Nation of Islam Saviours’ Day convention in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 19, 2017.(photo credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK)Advertisement

In recent weeks, a deluge of racist anti-Jewish comments have been made in the US. It started with NFL player DeSean Jackson quoting a fake Hitler quote that claimed “the white Jews know that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep America’s secret, the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination.” The quote was condemned by the Philadelphia Eagles but received some surprising support and excuses from players and social-media commentators.

An ESPN article attempted to explain the origins of this antisemitism. It ascribed it to being uninformed and demonstrating a lack of understanding of antisemitism. This was “naiveté” that comes from the “dark areas of the Internet.” Of interest, the ESPN article claimed that the hate behind this “uninformed” rant was linked to the hate that caused a hate-crime shooting attack on Jews in New Jersey that was linked to Black Hebrew Israelite ideology.Read More Related Articles

That shooting was in December 2019. Then there was the Monsey Hanukkah stabbing on December 28, weeks later.The assertion that the hatred of Jews in the US is primarily due to people being uninformed and not understanding antisemitism is interesting in a country that for recent decades has raised two generations very attuned to the importance of anti-racism and multiculturalism. People have known what antisemitism and hatred of Jews is for hundreds of years.

The idea that someone posting a quote of Hitler bashing Jews simply doesn’t understand it appears to be a way to excuse the rising racism in America that targets Jews.The US approach to different types of racism is interesting, especially in light of the intersectionality agenda that asserts that all racism and oppression is similar. When it comes to anti-Jewish views, this type of hatred doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously. When it comes to anti-black racism, which has been spotlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests, the reaction is unequivocal: Racism is wrong, and racists must be confronted and canceled.This is why movies like Gone with the Wind are banned. Anything that could be construed as excusing racism is removed. Not so when it comes to Jews.

When rapper Ice Cube tweeted an image of a mural widely considered antisemitic last month, there were articles highlighting the tweet, but little else in terms of repercussions. Jews are one group that can be openly derided in the US, increasingly without much pushback. The NFL player was invited for a polite talk with a Holocaust survivor, for instance.Why the relative silence after the NFL antisemitism? Groups that track antisemitism have accused Larry Johnson, another NFL player, of posting anti-Jewish views, and they noted that Nick Cannon, a video TV host, has spread anti-Jewish conspiracies. The views here dovetailed with the ones above. “The Semitic people are black people,” Jewish Insider reported Cannon as saying.

These views apparently go back decades. Hip-hop artist Professor Griff, who was on the recent TV show with Cannon, had once claimed Jews are “wicked” and responsible for “wickedness that goes on across the globe.” That leads to claims that the “Rothschilds” control banks and the Zionists control things, etc. The reaction: This is ranting; surprising to see it in the mainstream.THIS FORM of American antisemitism is more mainstream today. The increasing support for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, despite attempts consistently to portray his views as fringe, is one part of this. Articles portray Farrakhan as merely a “lightning rod in Black-Jewish relations for his long history of antisemitic comments that many Jews find offensive,” notes Forbes.

The Forbes article makes it seem like Jews are the problem for being offended, which leads to the question: Why didn’t a broader swath of the anti-racism movement mobilize against this Jew hatred? A simple search on Twitter reveals the wider problem. In response to a critique of Farrakhan, these comments don’t blame Armenians or Bahai for slavery; they blame Jews for slavery.

This new agenda seeks to single out Jews as “white Jews” and then blame Jews for slavery while also claiming that Africans are the real Jews and real Semites. It is a very complex worldview unique to an American form of antisemitism that has no direct global parallel.Historic antisemitism blamed Jews for being rootless and undermining European Christian society, whereas this American antisemitism attacks Jews for being white – Rothschilds – who allegedly are responsible for US slavery and white supremacism.

Whereas Nazism hated Jews for being nonwhite (and not of the Aryan Master Race in Nazi ideology), in the US, Jews are increasingly singled out for being white.How and why did this happen? In 1984, The New York Times reported on a Farrakhan speech in which he said: “The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man. He wasn’t great for me as a black person, but he was a great German.” He praised Hitler for raising up Germany. “Well, in a sense you could say there’s similarity in that we are rising our people up from nothing.”

The rise in this rhetoric from the 1980s to today has been possible because it has never really been confronted. It has instead been excused or portrayed as fringe. The Forward ran an op-ed article in October 2018 explaining “black antisemitism.” The article excoriated “white Jewish people” as part of the “racist system that keeps black people under the foot of this society.” The article asserted that “black antisemites are motivated by anger over gentrification, police brutality and slavery.” The article accused Jews of being part of white supremacy and the “racist system” and insinuated that hatred of Jews was due to Jews being behind police brutality and slavery.

This was in a Jewish newspaper, explaining and excusing hatred of Jews. That is how mainstream it had become.

Similar comments, claiming that “white Jews uphold white supremacy” became a key part of the controversy within the Women’s March in 2018. It turned out that Jews were singled out, labeled “white” and then made to appear to be part of the problem, as opposed to one of many US minorities.At the same time as Jews are increasingly singled out as “white” and accused of being responsible for white-supremacist ideology and slavery in the US – while at the same time being told that they are “fake Jews” – there is a massive rise in violent attacks on Orthodox Jews in places like New York City.

Many of these attacks have attributes similar to the discussion above, with attackers claiming the victims are “fake” or blaming them for things Jews didn’t do.MORE THAN half of hate crimes in New York City are against Jews, at the very time that Jews are said to be “white” and thus part of the white majority. This divide – between rhetoric and reality – underpins the antisemitism that appears underpinned by rhetoric that is common in circles that support Farrakhan or groups self-described as “Black Hebrew Israelites.”The commonality between these apparently disparate strains of antisemitism – blaming “Rothschilds” for controlling media, assertions that Jews controlled slavery, that Jews are white supremacists and that the real Semites are African – is part of a multilayered anti-Jewish rhetoric that has not only become more mainstream and violent, but is not really being confronted.

It is now largely forgotten that a member of the Washington City Council in March 2018 claimed the Rothschilds control the weather.This is a complex anti-Jewish worldview that is built on comments that have been percolating for decades and focuses exclusively on Jews. It’s as arbitrary to blame Jews for US slavery as to blame Scottish people. No one claims American Armenians are “fake” Armenians who are part of “white supremacy.” When one views this systemic anti-Jewish rhetoric through a prism and asks why other groups aren’t similarly singled out, it becomes abundantly clear that this rhetoric is not just uninformed ideas or naïve conspiracies, but is part of a worldview.Where does the accusation that Jews played a large part in slavery come from?

Who benefits from twisting around the actual reality of slavery and making it a “Jewish” crime? The conspiracy theories that underpin this US antisemitism have sought to pin American racism on Jews and blame Jews for slavery.The impunity these antisemites enjoy is largely because the US can’t seem to weigh various racist prejudices at the same time. This is especially so when some of the most racist anti-Jewish voices ostensibly come from the same groups fighting against racism.

From the Women’s March to Black Lives Matter, there was an attempt by some to exclude Jews and then single out Jews for criticism.It is difficult to confront this ant-Jewish hatred because it evolved from within a sector of a minority community and is not widely confronted within that community. So long as Farrakhan or other groups that push conspiracy theories are excused or given impunity to push their views, this growing antisemitism likely won’t be reduced. That it exists in entertainment, sports and often on the sidelines of major activists’ movements shows it is mainstream.

Posted in USAComments Off on Has Farrakhanism become mainstream in the US?

How the Guardian betrayed not only Corbyn but the last vestiges of British democracy

The Guardian newspaper
Jonathan Cook writes:

It is simply astonishing that the first attempt by the Guardian – the only major British newspaper styling itself as on the liberal-left – to properly examine the contents of a devastating internal Labour Party report leaked in April is taking place nearly four months after the 860-page report first came to light.

If you are a Labour Party member, the Guardian is the only “serious”, big-circulation paper claiming to represent your values and concerns.

One might therefore have assumed that anything that touches deeply on Labour Party affairs – on issues of transparency and probity, on the subversion of the party’s democratic structures, on abuses or fraud by its officials – would be of endless interest to the paper. One might have assumed it would wish both to dedicate significant resources to investigating such matters for itself and to air all sides of the ensuing debate to weigh their respective merits.

Jonathan Cook@Jonathan_K_Cook
My latest: Labour’s explosive leaked report, showing how party officials plotted to destroy Corbyn, including by weaponising antisemitism, is being quietly swept under the carpet by the media and Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer

Not a bit of it. For months, the leaked report and its implications have barely registered in the Guardian’s pages. When they have, the coverage has been superficial and largely one-sided – the side that is deeply hostile to its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

That very much fits a pattern of coverage of the Corbyn years by the paper, as I have tried to document. It echoes the paper’s treatment of an earlier scandal, back in early 2017, when an undercover Al-Jazeera reporter filmed pro-Israel Labour activists working with the Israeli embassy to damage Corbyn from within. A series of shocking reports by Al-Jazeera merited minimal coverage from the Guardian at the time they were aired and then immediately sank without trace, as though they were of no relevance to later developments – most especially, of course, the claims by these same groups of a supposed “antisemitism crisis” in Labour.

Sadly, the latest reports by the Guardian on the leaked report –presented as an “exclusive” – do not fundamentally change its long-running approach.

Kicked into the long grass

In fact, what the paper means by an “exclusive” is that it has seen documents responding to the leaked report that were submitted by Corbyn and his team to the Forde inquiry – Labour’s official investigation into that report and the circumstances of its leaking. The deadline for submissions to Martin Forde QC arrived last week.

Setting up the Forde inquiry was the method by which Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, hoped to kick the leaked report into the long grass till next year. Doubtless Starmer believes that by then the report will be stale news and that he will have had time to purge from the party, or at least intimidate into silence, the most outspoken remnants of Corbyn’s supporters.

Corbyn’s submission on the leaked report is an “exclusive” for the Guardian only because no one in the corporate media bothered till now to cover the debates raging in Labour since the leak four months ago. The arguments made by Corbyn and his supporters, so prominent on social media, have been entirely absent from the so-called “mainstream”.

When Corbyn finally got a chance to air the issues raised by the leaked report in a series of articles on the Middle East Eye website, its coverage went viral, underscoring how much interest there is in this matter among Labour members.

Nonetheless, despite desperately needing clicks and revenue in this especially difficult time for the corporate media, the Guardian is still spurning revelatory accounts of Corbyn’s time in office by his former team.

One published last week – disclosing that, after winning the leadership election, Corbyn arrived to find the leader’s offices gutted, that Labour HQ staff refused to approve the hiring of even basic staff for him, and that disinformation was constantly leaked to the media – was relegated to the OpenDemocracy website.

Jonathan Cook@Jonathan_K_CookCorbyn’s team arrived to find the leadership’s offices gutted, Labour HQ refused to approve the hiring of even basic staff, and disinformation was constantly leaked to the media. An insider recounts how the Blairites waged war on Corbyn from day one

That Joe Ryle, a Corbyn team insider, either could not find a home for his insights in the Guardian or didn’t even try says it all – because much of the disinformation he laments being peddled to the media ended up in the Guardian, which was only too happy to amplify it as long as it was harming Corbyn.

A political coup

Meanwhile, everything in the Guardian’s latest “exclusive” confirms what has long been in the public realm, via the leaked report.

Through its extensive documentation of WhatsApp messages and emails, the report shows conclusively that senior Labour officials who had dominated the party machine since the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown eras – and were still loyal to the party’s centre-right incarnation as New Labour – worked at every turn to oust Corbyn from the leadership. They even tried to invent ways to bar him from standing in a rerun leadership election a year later, in 2016, after Owen Smith, the Labour right’s preferred candidate, challenged him.

Corbyn and his supporters were viewed as dangerous “Trots” – to use a derisive term that dominates those exchanges.

The messages show these same officials did their level best to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign – an election that Corbyn was less than 3,000 votes from winning. Party officials starved marginal seats Corbyn hoped to win of money and instead focused resources on MPs hostile to Corbyn. It seems they preferred a Tory win if it gave momentum to their efforts to rid the party of Corbyn.

Or, as the submission notes: “It’s not impossible that Jeremy Corbyn might now be in his third year as a Labour prime minister were it not for the unauthorised, unilateral action taken by a handful of senior party officials.”

The exchanges in the report also show that these officials on the party’s right privately gave voice to horrifying racism towards other party members, especially black members of the party loyal to Corbyn.

And the leaked report confirms the long-running claims of Corbyn and his team that the impression of “institutional antisemitism” in Labour – a narrative promoted in the corporate media without any actual evidence beyond the anecdotal – had been stoked by the party’s rightwing, Blairite officials.

They appear to have delayed and obstructed the handling of the small number of antisemitism complaints – usually found by trawling through old social media posts – to embarrass Corbyn and make the “antisemitism crisis” narrative appear more credible.

Corbyn’s team have pointed out that these officials – whose salaries were paid by the membership, which elected Corbyn as party leader – cheated those members of their dues and their rights, as well as, of course, subverting the entire democratic process. The submission rightly asks the inquiry to consider whether the money spent by Labour officials to undermine Corbyn “constituted fraudulent activity”.

One might go even further and argue that what they did amounted to a political coup.

Bogus ‘whistleblower’ narrative

Even now, as the Guardian reports on Corbyn’s submission to the Forde inquiry, it has downplayed the evidence underpinning his case, especially on the antisemitism issue – which the Guardian played such a key role in weaponising in the first place.

The paper’s latest coverage treats the Corbyn “claims” sceptically, as though the leaked report exists in a political vacuum and there are no other yardsticks by which the truth of its evidence or the plausibility of its claims can be measured.

Let’s start with one illustrative matter. The Guardian, as with the rest of the corporate media, even now avoids drawing the most obvious conclusion from the leaked report.

Racism was endemic in the language and behaviours of Labour’s senior, rightwing officials, as shown time and again in the WhatsApp messages and emails.

And yet it is these very same officials – those who oversaw the complaints procedure as well as the organisation of party headquarters – who, according to the corporate media narrative, were so troubled by one specific kind of racism, antisemitism, that they turned it into the biggest, most enduring crisis facing Corbyn during his five-year tenure as leader.

To accept the corporate media narrative on this supposed “antisemitism crisis”, we must ignore several things:

  • The lack of any statistical evidence of a specific antisemitism problem in Labour;
  • the vehement racism expressed by Labour officials, as well as their overt and abiding hostility to Corbyn;
  • moves by party officials forcing Corbyn to accept a new definition of antisemitism that shifted the focus from a hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel;
  • and the fact that the handling of antisemitism complaints dramatically improved once these rightwing officials were removed from their positions.

And yet in its latest reporting, as with its earlier coverage, the Guardian simply ignores all this confirmatory evidence.

There are several reasons for this, as I have documented before, but one very obvious one is this: the Guardian, like the rest of the British media, had worked hard to present former officials on the right of the party as brave “whistleblowers” long before they were exposed by the leaked report.

Like the BBC’s much-criticised Panorama “investigation” last year into Labour’s alleged “antisemitism crisis”, the Guardian took the claims of these former staff – of their supposed selfless sacrifice to save the party from anti-Jewish bigots – at face value.

Jonathan Cook@Jonathan_K_Cook
My latest: With last night’s Panorama programme on supposed ‘institutional anti-semitism’ in Labour, the BBC demonstrated that it has become a media attack dog in the hands of the ruling Conservative party

In fact, it was likely even worse than that. The Guardian and BBC weren’t just passive, neutral recipients of the disinformation offered by these supposed “whistleblowers”. They shared the Labour right’s deep antipathy to Corbyn and everything he stood for, and as a result almost certainly served as willing, even enthusiastic channels for that disinformation.

The Guardian hardly bothers to conceal where its sympathies lie. It continues to laud Blair from beyond the political grave and, while Corbyn was leader, gave him slots in its pages to regularly lambast Corbyn and scaremonger about Labour’s “takeover” by the supposedly “extreme” and “hard” left. The paper did so despite the fact that Blair had grown ever more discredited as evidence amassed that his actions in invading Iraq in 2003 were crimes against humanity.

Were the Guardian to now question the narrative it promoted about Corbyn – a narrative demolished by the leaked report – the paper would have to admit several uncomfortable things:

  • that for years it was either gulled by, or cooperated with, the Blairites’ campaign of disinformation;
  • that it took no serious steps to investigate the Labour right’s claims or to find out for itself what was really going on in Labour HQ;
  • that it avoided cultivating a relationship with Corbyn’s team while he was in office that would have helped it to ascertain more effectively what was happening inside the party;
  • * or that, if it did cultivate such a relationship (and, after all, Seumas Milne took up his post as Corbyn’s chief adviser immediately after leaving the Guardian), it consistently and intentionally excluded the Corbyn team’s account of events in its reporting.

To now question the narrative it invested so much energy in crafting would risk Guardian readers drawing the most plausible conclusion for their paper’s consistent reporting failures: that the Guardian was profoundly opposed to Corbyn becoming prime minister and allowed itself, along with the rest of the corporate media, to be used as channel for the Labour right’s disinformation.

Stabbed in the back

None of that has changed in the latest coverage of Corbyn’s submission to Forde concerning the leaked report.

The Guardian could not realistically ignore that submission by the party’s former leader and his team. But the paper could – and does – strip out the context on which the submission was based so as not to undermine or discredit its previous reporting against Corbyn.

Its main article on the Corbyn team’s submission becomes a claim and counter-claim story, with an emphasis on an unnamed former official arguing that criticism of him and other former staff at Labour HQ is nothing more than a “mythical ‘stab in the back’ conspiracy theory”.

The problem is that there are acres of evidence in the leaked report that these officials did stab Corbyn and his team in the back – and, helpfully for the rest of us, recorded some of their subversive, anti-democratic activities in private internal correspondence between themselves. Anyone examining those message chains would find it hard not to conclude that these officials were actively plotting against Corbyn.

To discredit the Corbyn team’s submission, the Labour right would need to show that these messages were invented. They don’t try to do that because those messages are very obviously only too real.

Instead they have tried two different, inconsistent strategies. First, they have argued that their messages were presented in a way that was misleading or misrepresented what they said. This claim does not hold water, given that the leaked report includes very lengthy, back-and-forth exchanges between senior staff. The context of those exchanges is included – context the officials themselves provided in their messages to each other.

Second, the self-styled “whistleblowers” now claim that publication of their messages – documenting efforts to undermine Corbyn – violates their right to privacy and breaches data protection laws. They can apparently see no public interest in publishing information that exposes their attempts to subvert the party’s internal democratic processes.

It seems that these “whistleblowers” are more committed to data concealment than exposure – despite the title they have bestowed on themselves. This is a strange breed of whistleblower indeed, one that seeks to prevent transparency and accountability.

In a telling move, despite claiming that their messages have been misrepresented, these former officials want the Forde inquiry to be shut down rather than given the chance to investigate their claims and, assuming they are right, exonerate them.

Further, they are trying to intimidate the party into abandoning the investigation by threatening to bankrupt it through legal actions for breaching their privacy. The last thing they appear to want is openness and a proper accounting of the Corbyn era.

Shrugging its shoulders

In its latest reporting, the Guardian frames the leaked report as “clearly intended to present a pro-Corbyn narrative for posterity” – as though the antisemitism narrative the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media spent nearly five years crafting and promoting was not clearly intended to do the precise opposite: to present an anti-Corbyn narrative for posterity.

Peter Walker, the paper’s political correspondent, describes the messages of former, rightwing Labour officials as “straying” into “apparent” racism and misogyny, as though the relentless efforts revealed in these exchanges to damage and undermine prominent black MPs like Diane Abbott are open to a different interpretation.

Diane Abbott MP@HackneyAbbottOfficials at the very top of @UKLabour said stuff like “Abbott is truly repulsive” “Abbott literally makes me sick” and conspired with media against me. Now claiming remarks taken out of context. So let’s have full publication of all communications #LabourLeaks8:30 AM · Aug 7, 2020

According to Walker, the report’s evidence of election-scuppering in 2017 is “circumstantial” and “there is seemingly no proof of active obstruction”. Even assuming that were true, such a deficiency could easily be remedied had the Guardian, with all its staff and resources, made even the most cursory effort to investigate the leaked report’s claims since April – or in the years before, when the Corbyn team were trying to counter the disinformation spread by the Labour right.

The Guardian largely shrugs its shoulders, repeatedly insinuating that all this constitutes little more than Labour playground bickering. Starmer is presented as school principal – the one responsible adult in the party – who, we are told, is “no stranger to managing Labour factions”.

The Guardian ignores the enormous stakes in play both for Labour members who expected to be able to shape the party’s future using its supposedly democratic processes and for the very functioning of British democracy itself. Because if the leaked report is right, the British political system looks deeply rigged: there to ensure that only the establishment-loving right and centre-right ever get to hold power.

The Guardian’s approach suggests that the paper has abdicated all responsibility for either doing real journalism on its Westminster doorstep or for acting as a watchdog on the British political system.

Guardian hypocrisy

Typifying the hypocrisy of the Guardian and its continuing efforts to present itself a hapless bystander rather than active participant in efforts to disrupt the Labour Party’s internal democratic processes and sabotage the 2017 and 2019 elections is its lead columnist Jonathan Freedland.

Outside of the Guardian’s editorials, Freedland’s columns represent the closest we have to a window on the ideological soul of the paper. He is a barometer of the political mood there.

Freedland was among the loudest and most hostile opponents of Corbyn throughout his time as leader. Freedland was also one of the chief purveyors and justifiers of the fabled antisemitism narrative against Corbyn.

He, and the rightwing Jewish Chronicle he also writes for, gave these claims an official Jewish seal of approval. They trumpeted the narrow, self-serving perspective of Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, whose leaders are nowadays closely allied with the Conservative party.

They amplified the bogus claims of the Jewish Labour Movement, a tiny, pro-Israel organisation inside Labour that was exposed – though the Guardian, of course, never mentions it – as effectively an entryist group, and one working closely with the Israeli embassy, in that detailed undercover investigation filmed by Al-Jazeera.

Freedland and the Chronicle endlessly derided Jewish groups that supported Corbyn, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, Just Jews and Jewdas, with antisemitic insinuations that they were the “wrong kind of Jews”. Freedland argued that strenuous criticism of Israel was antisemitic by definition because Israel lay at the heart of any proper Jew’s identity.

It did not therefore matter whether critics could show that Israel was constitutionally racist – a state similar to apartheid South Africa – as many scholars have done. Freedland argued that Jews and Israel were all but indistinguishable, and to call Israel racist was to malign Jews who identified with it. (Apparently unaware of the Pandora’s box such a conflation opened up, he rightly – if inconsistently – claimed that it was antisemitic for anyone to make the same argument in reverse: blaming Jews for Israel’s actions.)

Freedland pushed hard for Labour to be forced to adopt that new, troubling definition of antisemitism, produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that shifted the focus away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel. Under this new definition, claims that Israel was “a racist endeavour” – a view shared by some prominent Israeli scholars – was treated as definitive proof of antisemitism.

One-party politics

If anyone gave the weaponisation of antisemitism against Corbyn an air of bipartisan respectability it was Freedland and his newspaper, the Guardian. They made sure Corbyn was hounded by the antisemitism claims while he was Labour leader, overshadowing everything else he did. That confected narrative neutralised his lifelong activism as an anti-racist, it polluted his claims to be a principled politician fighting for the underdog.

Freedland and the Guardian not only helped to breathe life into the antisemitism allegations but they made them sound credible to large sections of the Labour membership too.

The rightwing media presented the Corbyn project as a traitorous, hard-left move, in cahoots with Putin’s Russia, to undermine Britain. Meanwhile, Freedland and the Guardian destroyed Corbyn from his liberal-left flank by portraying him and his supporters as a mob of leftwing Nazis-in-waiting.

Corbynism, in Freedland’s telling, became a “sect”, a cult of dangerous leftists divorced from political realities. And then, with astonishing chutzpah, Freedland blamed Corbyn’s failure at the ballot box – a failure Freedland and the Guardian had helped to engineer – as a betrayal of the poor and the vulnerable.

Jonathan Freedland@FreedlandThis isn’t just a defeat, it’s a repudiation of Corbynism. Now Labour needs to ditch the politics of the sect. My column

Remember, Corbyn lost by less than 3,000 votes in a handful of Labour marginals in 2017. Despite all this, Freedland and the Guardian now pretend that they played no role in destroying Corbyn, they behave as if their hands are clean.

But Freedland’s actions, like those of his newspaper, had one inevitable outcome. They ushered in the only alternative to Corbyn: a government of the hard right led by Boris Johnson.

Freedland’s choice to assist Johnson by undermining Corbyn – and, worse, to do so on the basis of a disinformation campaign – makes him culpable, as it does the Guardian, in everything that flowed from his decision. But Freedland, like the Guardian, still pontificates on the horrors of the Johnson government, as if they share no blame for helping Johnson win power.

In his latest column, Freedland writes: “The guiding principle [of the Johnson government] seems to be brazen cronyism, coupled with the arrogance of those who believe they are untouchable and that rules are for little people.”

Why should the Tories under Johnson be so “arrogant”, so sure they are “untouchable”, that “rules are for little people”, and that there is no political price to be paid for “cronyism”?

Might it not have much to do with seeing Freedland and the Guardian assist so willingly in the corporate media’s efforts to destroy the only political alternative to “rule by the rich” Toryism? Might the Johnson government have grown more confident knowing that the ostensibly liberal-left media were just as determined as the rightwing media to undermine the only politician on offer who stood for precisely the opposite political values the Tories did?

Might it not reflect an understanding by Johnson and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, that Freedland and the Guardian have played a hugely significant part in ensuring that Britain effectively has a one-party state – and that when it returns to being a formal two-party state, as it seems to be doing once again now that Starmer is running the Labour Party, both those parties will offer the same establishment-worshipping agenda, even if in two mildly different flavours?

The Guardian, like the rest of the corporate media, has derided and vilified as “populism” the emergence of any real political alternative.

The leaked report offered a brief peek behind the curtain at how politics in Britain – and elsewhere – really works. It showed that, during Corbyn’s time as leader, the political battle lines became intensely real. They were no longer the charade of a phoney fight between left and right, between Labour and Conservative.

Instead, the battle shifted to where it mattered, to where it might finally make change possible: for control of the Labour Party so that it might really represent the poor and vulnerable against rule by the rich. Labour became the battleground, and the Guardian made all too clear where its true loyalties lie.

This essay first appeared on Jonathan Cook’s blog:

Britain as one-party state

Britain is now a one-party state

In “QuickPress”

Corbyn capitulates to Zionists

Corbyn’s Labour Party is being made to fail – by design

In “British stooges”

Israeli propagandist Mark Regev

Is UK Labour now Zionist-occupied territory?

In “British stooges”

Posted in Media, UKComments Off on How the Guardian betrayed not only Corbyn but the last vestiges of British democracy

Epstein ‘sex slave’ Virginia Giuffre, Alan Dershowitz both lose in new court ruling


By Rebecca Rosenberg and Bruce Golding


Feds: Ghislaine Maxwell locked up in isolation for own safety

Epstein estate has ‘belittled’ accuser for not dropping suit, lawyers claim

Ghislaine Maxwell’s ‘critical new information’ won’t delay unsealing process: judge

Les Wexner agrees to give written deposition in Epstein-related case

Attorneys for alleged Jeffrey Epstein “sex slave” Virginia Roberts Giuffre were ordered Wednesday to destroy evidence from her case against Ghislaine Maxwell — as lawyer Alan Dershowitz was also denied access to the potentially explosive information.

Manhattan federal Judge Loretta Preska said she was “troubled” to learn during oral arguments last week that Giuffre’s lawyers, from the firm of Cooper & Kirk, had been given sealed records from her since-settled suit against Maxwell, who Giuffre claims recruited her to have sex with Epstein and his pals while she was underage.

The other men allegedly include Dershowitz, whom Giuffre is suing for defamation over his public denials of her accusations, including calling her a “certified, complete, total liar,” and who is counter-suing Giuffre for causing “serious harm … to his reputation, his business and his health.”

“As a practical matter, the Court would be surprised — shocked, even — if Cooper & Kirk was not in some sense ‘using’ the Maxwell discovery in its representation of Ms. Giuffre in her action against Mr. Dershowitz,” the judge wrote.

Preska also rejected claims by Giuffre’s lawyers that they were entitled to the evidence, obtained from her former attorneys at Boies Schiller Flexner, because they’d been hired to represent her in the Maxwell case.

Epstein accuser accepts Alan Dershowitz’s dare, tells doc they had sex

The 13-page ruling said Cooper & Kirk “has not, from what the Court can tell, been actively working on the case.”

Preska directed the Cooper & Kirk lawyers to destroy the evidence, along with “any material, including work product, derived from” it, and to submit an affidavit afterward.

Preska also rejected a request by Dershowitz for access to “all filings and discovery materials, including third-party discovery” from the Maxwell case, saying that “it is not a targeted strike that Mr. Dershowitz proposes, but a carpet bombing.”

Although both cases are related, she said, “they are not coextensive” because Giuffre’s suit against the famed Harvard law professor “involves a much narrower range of conduct than what was at issue in her action against Ms. Maxwell.”

Epstein gal pal wants to keep court docs about her sex life sealed

“The Court is thus skeptical that judicial economy would be served by handing Mr. Dershowitz a mountain of discovery from a separate case that may not even be relevant to his defense or to his counterclaims against Ms. Giuffre,” Preska wrote.

In a footnote, the judge also said that although she didn’t think Dershowitz would be “brazen” enough to release the evidence, she was concerned that he might be tempted “to be more cavalier with the sealed materials” to help defend his reputation.

“As a general matter, Mr. Dershowitz’s battle with Ms. Giuffre has proceeded in very public — and frequently toxic — fashion,” Preska noted.

Neither side returned requests for comment.

Posted in USAComments Off on Epstein ‘sex slave’ Virginia Giuffre, Alan Dershowitz both lose in new court ruling

The Coronavirus Act 2020

Jumping on the excuse of Covid-19, parliament has rammed through a host of draconian measures unrelated to the health crisis.

Proletarian writers

On 25 March, the Coronavirus Act 2020 received royal assent after travelling through parliament at lightning speed, “to make provision in connection with coronavirus; and for connected purposes”.

These bolted-on ‘connected purposes’ include a wide range of measures, many of which have little or nothing to do with navigating the health emergency, as becomes apparent when the act is studied in detail.

‘National security’ and surveillance

Under the guise of the vague ‘national security’ catch-all, powers of surveillance and detention have been greatly increased through the bill.

Any person considered ‘potentially infectious’ by a police constable or immigration officer – that is, anyone who “is, or may be, infected or contaminated with coronavirus” or has “been in an infected area within the 14 days preceding that time” (in practice, anyone at all) – may be directed or removed to “a place suitable for screening and assessment”, where they may be held for up to 48 hours, with failure to comply considered a criminal offence.

The arresting officer need only “consult a public health officer to the extent that it is practicable to do so”. Since the current lockdown measures make much of life highly impracticable, the implication is that, in practice, the arresting officer need not consult anybody before using these powers to detain an individual.

The act further states that the unfortunate soul so captured may then be removed to another place and held for up to 24 hours more for further screening and testing by a public health officer.

It doesn’t end there, either. Once assessed, regardless of whether the captive has tested positive for the coronavirus or if the test was inconclusive, the officer may place restrictions upon that person’s “movements or travel … activities … [and] contact with other persons”.

This is, of course, assuming the person has not already been ordered “to remain at a specified place”, potentially in isolation, for up to 14 days, upon the expiry of which period he can potentially be forced to go through the whole nightmarish rigmarole again.

To ice this dystopian cake, the provision applies not only to adults but to children as well. (Coronavirus Act 2020, schedule 21)

The act also grants power for the investigatory powers commissioner (IPC), to appoint “temporary” judicial commissioners for a term of up to 12 months, willy nilly. Whereas previously a judicial commissioner had to be appointed by the prime minister, backed up by the joint recommendation from the lord chancellor, the lord chief justice of England and Wales, the lord president of the court of session, the lord chief justice of northern Ireland and the home secretary, now the IPC is required only to notify all the above, giving the IPC a completely free hand in creating judicial commissioners. (Coronavirus Act 2020, pt1 s22)

Hand in hand with the above provision, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 has been weakened, extending the duration of an urgent surveillance warrant from three to twelve working days. (Coronavirus Act 2020, pt1 s23)

It goes on. Fingerprints and DNA samples, not already currently allowed to be indefinitely kept, may now be retained – “for the purposes of national security” of course! – for up to 12 months.

How all this is supposed to relate to the control of a viral pandemic is unclear. (Coronavirus Act 2020, pt1 s24)

Curtailing rights

Cognisant of the fact that the measures taken, combined with the massive economic devastation caused by the latest crisis of overproduction, will likely lead to social unrest, the bill makes provision to strip away yet more of what remains of our freedom of expression.

In schedule 22 we learn that the secretary of state may “issue a direction prohibiting, or imposing requirements or restrictions in relation to, the holding of an event or gathering”. This covers not only outdoor spaces but any “entry into, departure from, or location of persons in, premises” in the country. Those caught in violation are subject to summary conviction and a fine.

Any form of protest against the Act, or any other pressing social issue, is thus rendered illegal. (Coronavirus Act 2020, sch22)

In short, whilst we have no truck with the conspiracy theorists who would have us believe that the whole covid crisis has been artificially manufactured in order to usher in martial law, it is abundantly clear that the government has taken the opportunity presented to pass a host of measures that are very little to with managing the health crisis and everything to do with the ruling class equipping itself to deal with the social unrest generated by the economic crash.

The current spontaneous outbursts of popular rage over racism and police violence are an early foretaste of the fire to come.

Medical oversight: mental and physical health

A further concerning aspect of the Coronavirus Act is that under schedule 1 it empowers local registrars to “register a person as a registered nurse, midwife or nursing associate, or the persons comprising a specified group of persons as registered nurses, midwives or nursing associates” should the registrar consider “that the person is … fit, proper and suitably experienced”.

With the potential influx of ill-trained healthcare workers thus ensuing, provision has been made to “provide indemnity coverage for clinical negligence of healthcare workers and others carrying out NHS and Health and Social Care (HSC) activities connected to care, treatment or diagnostic service”. This indemnity clause is manna from heaven for those who seek to further erode quality of care in pursuit of profit. (Coronavirus Act 2020, sch1 pt1 s14)

Another attack on social care provision comes with Schedule 12, which suspends local authorities’ obligations under the Care Act 2014. Under the Care Act, local authorities were duty bound to assess the needs of adults, carers and disabled children moving into adult care. Now, the local authority has full discretion over whether or not to make such an assessment. (Coronavirus Act 2020, sch12; Care Act 2014, pt1 s9)

The Care Act further stipulated that the authorities must meet any adult’s care and support needs following assessment. The Coronavirus Act now supersedes this, stating instead that such unmet needs must be met only if “the authority considers that it is necessary to meet those needs for the purpose of avoiding a breach of the adult’s Convention rights”, ie those detailed in Human Rights Act 1998. (Care Act 2014, pt1 s18; Coronavirus Act 2020, sch12)

Since no universal right to social care exists under the convention, local authorities are to all intents and purposes unaccountable. To completely absolve the local authorities of responsibility for the task of caring for vulnerable people in need, the act suspends their duty to produce new or to review pre-existing care and support plans.

Key aspects of the Mental Health Act have also been relaxed. Whilst previously mental health professionals were required to be supported by two doctors in any decision to forcibly detain, hospitalise and medicate a person, now they need a recommendation from only one. Thus the act of sectioning a person (ie, forcibly detaining someone on mental health grounds) has been made significantly easier. (Coronavirus Act 2020, sch8-10)

‘Financial assistance for industry’, aka bail-outs

Won’t you spare a thought for those poor industrialists and their billions in these trying times? No? Of course you won’t, dear reader, but, true to form, our MPs have their backs.

The huge so-called ‘financial assistance measures’, more accurately termed ‘bail-outs’, notorious and massively unpopular following the last capitalist crisis in 2008, have been given the green light by the act – provided, of course, that they can be classified as “coronavirus-related”, for which the bar is set low indeed.

The Industrial Development Act, enhanced by the Enterprise Act 2016, already allows the “secretary of state … with the consent of the Treasury, [to] provide financial assistance” to the tune of £12bn, increasing to £16bn under the Enterprise Act, to various industrial projects, excluding “acquisition or assistance of banks or insurance companies” (which, in the final analysis, own and control the state and will do as they please), provided it such a bail-out is “likely to benefit the economy of the United Kingdom … and … is in the national interest”. (Industrial Development Act 1982, pt3 s8).

Under the new act, pay-outs to the already supremely wealthy kings of industry will not count towards the £12bn aggregate limit. (Coronavirus Act 2020, pt1 s75)

The clout of the construction industry

While the rest of us are living a curtailed existence under lockdown, it has largely been business as usual for the almighty construction industry, which has been flexing its muscles in order to dodge lockdown quarantine requirements and carry on making a mint while wreaking havoc on our beautiful countryside.

Another measure smuggled in with the Coronavirus Act negates the role of the local community in planning decisions. Whereas, under more normal circumstances, planning decisions are supposed to be made in meetings that are open to the public, in which its voice can supposedly be represented, if only nominally, either in person or through the mouths of elected councillors, section 78 of the act does away with that.

County, district, parish, London borough councils and the rest all now have the power to “make provision relating to requirements to hold local authority meetings … the places at which local authority meetings are to be held … public admission and access to local authority meetings” and more. (Coronavirus Act 2020, pt1 s78)

So for example the London borough of Croydon has replaced speaking rights with written statements, Islington has elected not to publicise meetings and Enfield recently closed a meeting on a major planning decision to the public. (Press release: Planning in the Covid era, CPRE London, Just Space, Friends of the Earth and London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies, April 2020)

Manchester city council has taken things one step further and declared that all decisions will be made in closed meetings by a panel of just three people: the council chief executive, the chair of the planning committee and the deputy chair. (Trio take over Manchester planning decisions by Chloé Vaughan and Jessica Middleton-Pugh, North West Place, 27 March 2020)

Such changes to existing planning law mean that unpopular (but very lucrative) projects can be given the go-ahead with minimal resistance from the local population. The new law has given the green light to developers across the country to push through all kinds of developments that are unpopular and have nothing to do with healthcare.

If the act was specific to creating pop-up hospitals, for example, it could be argued that it’s proportionate and related. But as it stands, that’s not the case at all, and developers are well aware of that – hence them all rushing to push through planning consents that have been stalling as a result of local objections.

Is it wrong to take any steps that curtail people’s freedom of movement?

As communists, we cannot be opposed to the implementation of measures that really are aimed at stopping the spread of a particularly threatening disease. Anyone arguing that the lives of tens of thousands of grandparents and vulnerable people is a price worth paying just so everyone else can ‘keep their liberty’ for the duration of the pandemic is promoting a Malthusian, anti-worker line.

Those who argue that quarantine measures ‘don’t work’ in stopping the spread of disease, meanwhile, clearly have no understanding of biological reality.

What we as socialists object to is the fact that while the government belatedly and half-heartedly announced a lockdown (waiting long enough to ensure a huge and entirely avoidable death toll in Britain), none of the other measures that have proven to be effective in tackling Covid-19 have been taken.

These are the measures that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been urging governments to take from the beginning, and which the countries that have so far managed to avoid significant outbreaks implemented months ago – mass testing, quarantining of all those testing positive for the virus, and tracing and isolating those they have recently been in contact with.

If such measures had been properly put in place from the start, a national lockdown may never have been necessary at all. With testing and tracing still not fit for purpose, there is every risk of both a second deadly spike in infections and deaths as the lockdown is eased, and of the need for a second lockdown, with all its social and economic ill-effects, later in the year.

We are in favour of doing everything necessary and possible to protect lives, including providing economic support to all those who have been asked to stay at home.

What we cannot support, however, is the ruling class taking the opportunity presented by the crisis to pass measures that have very little to do with protecting lives and everything to do with maximising profits.

The measures outlined above are by no means an exhaustive list of the powers the ruling class has given itself under the guise of ‘tackling the health emergency’. Other measures include empowering government to postpone elections and to close borders at will.

The official duration of what is being sold as ‘temporary’ legislation is upwards of two years, subject to parliamentary review every six months.

Whether the legislation is really repealed when the health emergency ends will most likely depend on how much pressure the government feels itself under to do so.

Posted in Health, UKComments Off on The Coronavirus Act 2020

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