Comment Is Free: eating the Guardian

28th August, 2012 12:00 pm

Once upon a time, there was a left-wing newspaper. Its founder, C.P. Scott, clearly saw it as less of a paper and more of a social mission. My grandfather, a true Socialist all his life, religiously took the Guardian every day, and I would leaf through it as a teenager, mulling over its worthy appraisals of Neil Kinnock’s latest speech or Billy Bragg’s new album. Compared with other papers, it always seemed a bit more in tune with “yoof”, which I then was, and the good guys, which were Labour.

Last week a controversial new columnist, Josh Treviño, joined that newspaper. As a former advisor to the Bush administration, he was not necessarily a natural choice for the paper, but outside observers might have been pleasantly surprised to see, for once, a little compensating political balance at the newspaper.

Within days, he and the newspaper had agreed to part, officially on the pretext that he had slipped a reference into an article which had broken editorial guidelines – eighteen months previously.

While this sounds like it might be a fair explanation, it becomes a little odder when you put it in context. For the record, Treviño had also been involved in a controversy over his rather insensitive tweets regarding the Palestine flotilla; but that, too, had been over a year ago, he apologised and the Guardian had defended him.

Then, a few days ago, a group of what can only be described as far-left activists wrote to the Guardian to complain about Treviño’s hiring. Five days later, he was gone. The group included Baroness Jenny Tonge, who was earlier this year ejected by the Liberal Democrats for her unacceptable views, Stop The War Coalition’s Lindsey German, and various members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, iEngage and Middle East Monitor. Or rather, when the only MP you can get to defend your cause is Jeremy Corbyn, you know you’re operating at the margins.

The whole argument is given in detail here for and against the Guardian (in the interests of fairness I include both, but I have to say that I find that against a great deal more convincing). Whatever your view on the Treviño controversy, though, there is a rather more disturbing, and difficult-to-avoid, conclusion: that this oddball collection from the fringes of politics, who wrote the letter, clearly have some sway on the editorial and managerial decisions of a national newspaper.

There is a great deal more: some points of interest may already be known to readers of my blog, such as the printing of a puff-piece by unpleasant Holocaust cartoonist Carlos Latuff, or CiF’s running, on Holocaust Memorial Day, of an op-ed by Sheik Raed Salah, hate-preacher and convicted fundraiser for terrorism; or finally, its later op-ed in June, by someone who does not even pretend not to be a terrorist: Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of suicide-bombers Hamas in Gaza. Nice.

Where the Guardian may think it is being edgy and controversial, it is often being, at the very least, offensive to the sensibilities of ordinary people not known for their over-sensitivity. At worst it is laid open to not unreasonable charges of racism. The supremely rational Emeritus Professor of Politics in Manchester, Norman Geras, wrote this piece ten days ago, touching on the Toulouse killings, briefly thought to be the work of a neo-fascist:

“Two days later, however, once it was known that the killer was Mohammed Merah, an Islamist jihadist who had said he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, a second editorial…then added precisely nothing about the kind of ideas which might have been influential in Merah’s willingness – not as a Muslim but as an Islamist and jihadist – to slaughter three Jewish children… But the killing of Jewish children is antisemitism of the most unadulterated kind. Those children were guilty of nothing and were killed by Merah because they were Jewish.

A liberal newspaper, committed to the fact that racism is never acceptable anywhere, can find the words to name the poison that is rightwing anti-immigrant xenophobia, but not the word for hatred of Jews.” 

It was as if the words “anti-Semitism” had strangely got stuck in the newspaper’s throat.

It’s not as if the phenomenon is unknown by the editorial staff, either. Indeed, its decent and well-intentioned Letters Editor Chris Elliott last year wrote this piece to warn its writers to steer clear of lazy assumptions or phrases (such as the “chosen people”), that readers might interpret as latent anti-Semitism.

But why should this be necessary? Because there is clearly a problem, which the Guardian has been sweeping under the carpet for some time now. Indeed, it may come as a surprise to some lifelong Guardian-readers that for the last three years there has existed a website, CiFWatch – perhaps the only one of its kind in the world solely dedicated to recording instances of alleged racism in a national newspaper. This is surely in itself quite an extraordinary development.

Now, critics will try to argue that Adam Levick, who runs the site, is either a rabid right-winger or merely oversensitive about Jewish themes; but I have found him to be neither. And it goes without saying that his analysis is considerably more sensible, measured and fact-based than, say, CiF contributors like Lindsey German, whose considered view on Toulouse, in contrast, seems to be “the West asked for it”. Or George Galloway, whom the Guardian has spent the last week being shocked (shocked!) about, but has long been a CiF contributor.

The Guardian is free, of course, to print what it likes – that is freedom of speech. But, away from any ethical considerations, which might be more subjective, there is a simple, economic test of reasonableness for any newspaper: will we lose money by following this path? And, furthermore, are we risking one day be exposed to a lawsuit for incitement to racial hatred, which would surely do for the publication?

Such considerations surely include not publishing writings by known racists; just as we would not expect the Daily Mail, awful though it is, to publish something by Nick Griffin. But Haniyeh leads an organisation whose charter is explicitly anti-Semitic.

And ironically, while CiF, which self-evidently makes no money, has an increasing readership, the Guardian’s paid circulation is on the down. CiF therefore contributes only cost to the newspaper, meaning that the paper is not just broke, but losing more money because of CiF every year.

Like a cuckoo gradually throwing out the other eggs from the nest, Comment Is Free is slowly eating the Guardian: both financially, as it cannibalises the print version; and editorially, as more readers become queasy about what it sees fit to publish.

The most disturbing thing is that we are not talking about some polemical rag handed out by the SWP in Britain’s town centres on a Saturday. The paper that is churning out these dubious articles through its website on a regular basis is a hitherto highly-respected mainstream newspaper, known throughout the world for its liberal views and its eagerness to see an argument from both sides.

But no more. The Guardian still has some great and decent journalists: but it needs to get a grip on the internet monster it has created, or it surely will not maintain that reputation for much longer.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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  • Good. Having heard the despicable judgment of the Israeli ‘court’ this morning, it simply proves Baroness Jenny Tonge was right

    • markfergusonuk

      Why is court in quotation marks? Like it or lump it Israel is the most democratic state in the region.

      • KonradBaxter

        I’m only surprised Mike didn’t call it a Zionist court.

      • Jeremy Poynton

        The most, and indeed, the only such. 

        • robertcp

          I am not sure that is true following recent elections.

      • And that doesn’t say much because we are not very democratic at all.

      • ColinAdkins

        I have given up discussing with Rob as he never replies. In many respects your are right. But how about equality before the law (e.g. no settlers homes have been destroyed for acts of violence against Palestinians)? Or the constitutional right of return which appears to apply to Russian and American Jews but not to Palestinian refugees. Or property rights in Jerusalem. Many features of the state of Israel are racist. 

        • Exactly, Colin. Rob is an ideological Zionist of the ‘Israel must never be challenged’ variety. Personally, I think the creation of the current Israeli state in the territory it occupies was an error borne out of guilt.

          • You seem to be conveniently  forgetting that that area of land you are talking about was the homeland of the Jewish people for five thousand years before evn the Romans arrived, let alone anyone else.

      • I don’t think any religionist state which will soon have more non-citizens than citizens within its occupied borders can be seen to be at all democratic. That doesn’t mean that any of the surrounding states are any better but it doesn’t excuse Israel, who have tried to hold the moral high ground which they absented themselves from many years ago

      • robertcp

        Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza might find it hard to believe that they are living in a democracy.  Israel is a dictatorship for them until it agrees to a Palestinian state.  If this is not possible, then the only democratic option is one state for everybody that lives in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

    • Mike Homfray,

      So because the Israeli court failed to provide the result you desired that makes both the Israeli court and the rest of the population “despicable”?, clearly you have some prejudices that you need to resolve, and by name checking Jenny Tonge as someone who you find worthy of merit it reinforces my opinion that you have no clue what you are talking about rather you just like to regurgitate whatever poisonous opinions that fit your own world-view. 

      • John_Dore

        Joseph, dont get annoyed with Mike, his whole world is one of hatred of this and that.

      • No, Joseph, it means I agree with Jenny Tonge on the legitimacy of the Israeli state

    • What are you suggesting is good? The Guardian losing it’s reputation by publishing pieces by well known racists? 

    • Instead of replying, in recent posts, I’ve taken to counting how many words it takes for Mike to mention Zionism or Israel, even when it’s not mentioned in the piece.

      This time: 9 words!

  • The Guardian has gone way downhill, across the board. It seems to have stopped questioning from within; opinion pieces and news stories for the most part come from the same old hackneyed relativistic valueless liberal leftism (I say that as a liberal-lefty myself). It seems very tired and stale as a newspaper now. The Observer has revived over the last year or so, which is a relief. Also the  Guardian Open Weekend earlier this year was wonderful. It’s just a shame about the flagship daily paper.

    • Agree, the Observer has Andrew Rawnsley and Nick Cohen: whether you agree with them or not, they can certainly write. And there are some very good people still at the Guardian newspaper, such as Michael White or Patrick Wintour. But the arrival of Seumas Milne at CiF seems to have marked a sea-change there, which the Guardian has been either powerless or unwilling to stop.

  • Jack Tunmore

    Re: CiF Watch: ‘Now, critics will try to argue that Adam Levick, who runs the site, is either a rabid right-winger or merely oversensitive about Jewish themes; but I have found him to be neither. And it goes without saying that his analysis is considerably more sensible, measured and fact-based than, say, CiF contributors like…’

    Surely it says something for the guardian that Adam Levick himself has been a CiF contributor?

    • I’m not sure what the relevance of him writing one article back in 2010, is, no.

  • Oh dear Rob. Only criticism you can manage for the hateful Trevino is he was “insensitive”?

    • Oh dear Ben. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on Latuff, the Holocaust cartoonist. You’d condemn him, right?

      Thought not.

  • Reconstruct

    CiF has actively encouraged a broad spectrum of hatred, and has attracted a following which can accurately be described as depraved. Not the sort of milieu you’d want to be hanging around.  

  • NT86

    It’s been well known that the Guardian are among the biggest apologists of the Islamofascist movement in the press. It has hatred at its core but because of the anti-western messages among some of its followers, the Grauniad likes to join the bandwagon and shout “Islamophobia” when anyone has even reasonable criticism of this deeply illiberal ideology.

    •  “It’s been well known” has it?

      • Monkey_Bach

        It’s news to me! Eeek! Eeek!

  • Jeremy Poynton

    My grandfather, a true Socialist all his life, religiously took the Guardian every day”

    All very well, but the Manchester Guardian was a Liberal paper (as in the old Liberal party, not in the new nasty Liberal sense) through and through. The Left may claim it for their own now, but any claim for such in the past is fallacious. It was however, a fine newspaper, the Manchester Guardian. Unlike its successor. 

  • worktimesurfer

    CITwatch isnt interest in alleged racism, it is interested (ONLY interested) in alleged anti-semitism.

  • Jeremy Poynton

    What’s with the pre-moderation? When did this start? Is this CiF in disguise? 

    • markfergusonuk

      The pre-moderation started to avoid off topic nonsense and to bring a more civilised tone to the debate. If people behave according to the comments policy over a sustained period they won’t be on full moderation for long.

    • worktimesurfer

      Obviously not CiF in disguise, as CiF post-moderates. Duh.

      • ninoinoz

         Except in my case, as a sort of probation.

  • worktimesurfer

    “CiF, which self-evidently makes no money”

    How do you know? I thought advertising revenues, driven by visitor numbers, were driving a tendancy to more sensationalist articles.

    CiF pieces on Is-Pal regularly get tens of thousands comments, and that is just the commentators, there must be *10 or *100 of that number who dont comment.

    • Check out the annual report.

      • worktimesurfer

        Thanks, I will.

        • worktimesurfer

          OK, so I did (bet you werent expecting that!), as I am an accountant and kind of enjoy these things.

          There was no reference to CiF in the 2012 AR. In fact they dont even split online advertising revenue from other revenue sources like print adverts and subscriptions.

          So again I ask – why do you think that CiF self-evidently makes no money?

  • The CiF feature often seems like an excuse to suspend any and all standards and publish some mendacious trash to drum up some page views or to pay lip-service to some spurious idea of ‘balance’.

  • worktimesurfer

    I was picking you up on some slack English. This whole article is about CiF’s attitude to anti-Jewish racism. But thorughout you use racisim and anti-semitism almost interchangably. It makes it look like CiF harbours racists, when you are not in truth saying that.

    •  Well he is certainly is suggesting that, because anti-Semitism is obviously racist. (You don’t have to hate all races to be racist, indeed the phenomenon tends to discriminate…)

      But many of the people Rob “stealth smears” in these articles are as 100% opposed to all racism as he is, they just have a different view re: Palestine and Israel.  Of course there are also those who ally themselves to the Palestinian cause who are vile anti-Semites and they should be exposed and rejected.  This sort of piece doesn’t really help, as if all criticism of the actions of a right-wing Israeli government are stealth-smeared as anti-Semitic, then it is not always as easy as it should be to differentiate the guilty from the smeared.

      Of course, Josh Trevino has also been accused of racism, and is certainly guilty of more than tastelessness (either supporting or “joking” about the murder of peace activists; condoning concentration camps, etc.)  so I feel Rob chose his language unwisely in that respect.

    • What rubbish. Anti-Semitism is a subset of racism, that which specifically refers to Jews. Therefore a site about anti-Semitism is, ergo, a site about racism.

      • worktimesurfer

        But I dont think you are saying that CiF is, by its nature, racist towards black people or brown people or anyone else. You are JUST saying is is racist towards Jews. Well, OK, but I think your English was loose.

        The fact that CiFWatch doesnt care about racism towards any race other than Jews speaks volumes (in my view) but that is a separate matter.

  • worktimesurfer

    I just had a look at the contributors in CiF, and there are plenty of pro-Israeli in there. I started at A and came accros Geoffrey Alderman almost at once.

    What I like about CiF is its Catholicism. It publishes the articles, some good, some bad, representing a very wide diversity of ideas, and you can agree or disagree. Comment is Free. What CiFwatch want is self censorship.

  • Jack Tunmore

    relevant as an example of ‘a little compensating political balance’ – you portray the Guardian as completely unbalanced, but they have even invited their most prominent critic to write for them. no relevance at all?
    also, pretty surprised by your description of people like Victoria Brittain (former consultant to the UN on the Impact of Conflict on Women) as a bunch of ‘oddballs’. Of course there is an important issue here, particularly regarding influence in the media, but where is the reason in belittling figures such as Victoria Brittain? 

    • Hi Jack, if you’re referring to my essay at ‘Comment is Free’, that was published before I was hired as managing editor of CiF Watch. 

      Adam Levick

    • I have no idea who Victoria Brittain is, except that she keeps very strange company.

      • Jack Tunmore

        you call people oddballs and have no idea who they are, or what they’ve worked to achieve?

        • Afraid that’s not the case. I know who the majority of the others are. Some of them I have researched quite heavily, in fact.

          • Jack Tunmore

            sorry, clearly you’ve misunderstood: you called the whole group oddballs, without even knowing who some of them were – but congrats on your extensive research of some of them. of course this is far from the main point which is much more interesting than this, I just thought your collective judgement on people you didn’t know was misplaced. 

      • ColinAdkins

        I can tell you she was a powerful advocate for democracy in South Africa and Namibia and a supporter of anti-colonial movements across Africa.

  • Robert Castlereagh

    We are all progressively forgetting about the Guardian which is shrinking before our eyes literally and metaphorically.
    I do not recognise it as the same paper of the Glory days ao Foot And Kinnock.
    If not careful it will fully implode.
     Alan Rusbridger said of the Berliner switch: “The challenge for us was to remain true to our journalism, now attracting a record worldwide audience online, while at the same time finding a modern print format for a new generation of readers in this country.”
    He has failed

  • I would take issue with that, but you’re missing the point. This is not about debating the rights and wrongs of Israel and Palestine. It’s about the acceptability of anti-Semitism, which is an entirely different subject.

    • worktimesurfer

      Oh I am not trying to debate the rights and wriongs of Israel and Palestine, I am meeting you head on. You think CiF is posting anti-semitic articles and it should stop. I think it should post anti-semitic articles and others that are not (including ones that are anti-Palestinian).

      Otherwise there is no debate and ‘comment’ is very much not ‘free’.

      (There will now be a one hour pause whilst Disqus does its checks.)

  • The comments on CifWatch are a treat as well aren’t they?

    So the thrust of this article is that he was forced out due to ‘far left activists’, but you have no opinion on what Mr. Trevino has actually said in the past? Yet at the same time you think the views of racists like Sheikh Raed Salah shouldn’t be printed in the Guardian at all?

    Surely the consistent position would be to criticise the Guardian for being a platform for all hatemongers.

    • Trevino is not the point of this article, it is about anti-Semitism, but I don’t believe he is a racist, do you? He is also a member of a mainstream political party, unlike almost all the people who signed that letter – do you question that they are from th far left? There is plenty of other evidence that they are. He was also, btw, defended by the Guardian. So, no, I’m not sure he’s a “hatemonger”.
      And by the way, no-one is asking for the Guardian to be banned from publishing Salah, but you can hardly blame people for being disgusted and turning away when they do.

      • I would call his views on concentration camps, how the British were right to use them in the Boer War, and as something to try on Iraqi women and children, racist indeed. He is a hatemonger, that he was defended by the Guardian, who you are critical for giving a platform to people like Raed Salah, is irrelevant. As is the odd comment about him being a member of a mainstream political party, presumably the same one as Todd Akin. And we could talk about examples of racism in the modern Republican party all day. 

        But I’m confused now, if this is about anti-Semitism and not Trevino, what has this letter got to do with anything, or indeed whether some of these people are from the far left? Are you saying that the people who signed it are racists?Oh and I certainly won’t blame people for being disgusted at the Guardian publishing Salah, I just won’t blame people for being disgusted at them publishing Trevino either. 

  • ColinAdkins

    Rob I condemn the Holocaust cartoonist but last time I asked you to condemn racist features of the Israeli state you refused stating two wrongs don’t make a right. Perhaps now you will condemn racist settlers in the West Bank, the failure to grant the right of non-Jews to return, the racist application of property rights in Jerusalem and call for the destrcution of the homes of Israeli who carry out actsof violence against Palestinians. I thought not.

  • You are confusing anti-Semitic, a term of race, and anti-Palestinian, a term of political determinism. Be careful, the two are not the same.

    You can compare and contrast anti-Israel with anti-Palestinian, but not what you have just done. The logic is rather flawed, I’m afraid.

    • PeterBarnard

      Rob M, I thought that Semites – as a race –  included Arabs?*

      If that’s the case, people are using the term ‘anti-semitic’ very erroneously when they take it to mean anti-Jew or anti-Hebrew.

      Unless, of course, ‘semitic’ is another word the meaning of which has been changed for political purposes.

      * according to both my OED (1964) and also Merriam Webster (1994).

      • mightymark

        OK – now look up “anti semitic” and you should get the point. Alternatively you could just stick your fingers in your ears and shout “la la la”.

        For the wise – when you hear this attempt obfuscate the meaning of “antisemitism” you knpw you are dealing with someone who is at best in deniual, at worst, themselves anti semitic. Which are you Peter?

      • And the “pedant of the night” award goes to…

        Peter, we all know what anti-Semitic means in its current usage, thank you.

        • PeterBarnard

          It may be pedantic, Rob, but remember C P Scott’s dictum that “Comment is free, facts are sacred.”

          I am just old enough (and old-fashioned enough) to resent some of the manglings of the English language that politicians and their spin-doctors, over the years, have visited upon us.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Peter, on reading your first comment, I very largely agreed with you (definition of Semites).  I thought I’d check however as this is not an area of any form of expertise that I have.

            Wikipeadia is not any form of authoritative reference, but it comes up near the top of the list of results for a search of “Semite”, and normally gives a good overview.  I was unaware that the term “anti-semitic” first comes up in an “anti-Jewish” context in about 1870, when a German journalist wrote a pamphlet and formed an organisation that was specifically anti-Jewish, and he used the term (in German, obviously).

            So you are right in a linguistic and historical sense, but it is apparent that there is at least 130 years of the term being used in the anti-Jewish sense.  

            I suppose it is another of those terms such as “gay” whose meaning has been completely and over-whelmingly changed by current usage.  Gay itself also seems to be changing, as my daughter’s generation use it in the sense of something being so “gay” as a mark of some embarrassing failure, which draws some irritation from homosexual activists, but then their adoption of the word drew irritation from language traditionalists as well, so perhaps they should learn some humility.

          • PeterBarnard

            Thanks, Jaime.

            As I remark in another box, I was somewhat curious how Semite – a collection of races including Arabs – came to be particularised to Jewish only, but as mightymark says, the addition of ‘anti-‘ provides the reason for the particularisation.

            One hate of mine is “refute” ; it used to mean a dis-proving of an allegation or statement ; now it means (merely) “deny.”

        • LembitOpiksLovechild

           And homophobia means fear of gay people, not dislike of them or their practices. No one comments about that. If you’re going to be pedantic, be consistant please.

    • worktimesurfer

      Well, I think you are redefining my terms to suite your argument, and I have been called an anti-semite for being anti-Israeli. The pro-Israeli faction are very happy to sometimes make, and then sometimes not make, that distinction, as it suits them.

      However back to the issue at hand. Let me restate my argument: CiF should be able to publish pro and anti-Israeli and Palestinian articles. CiF should be able to publish anti-Semitic and anti-‘race-of-the-Palestinians’ articles. It does all of these things (I think) and you can take your pick as to the ones you agree with and disagree with.

      Criticisms of Israel are often recast by others as anti-Semitism anyway. You are effectively having an argument with a dictionary.

      • Michael

         There is a very distinct difference between legitimate criticism and looking for angles to bash. An example: a lack of equity in school materials for Jewish and Arab children. That is legitimate criticism. However, libero-fascists try to take advantage of that by misapplying all sorts of labels like “apartheid.”

        You’ll find disparity in every country in the world, yet for other countries disparity is assumed to be an issue that doesn’t necessarily make the state evil. Not so for the leftists obsessed with Israel.

        It goes even beyond that. The Left roundly and harshly criticized Israel for the Gaza War, the Mavi Marmara, the War in Lebanon. However, they simply ignore any reasons for actions that led to the war, like firing rockets into Israeli towns, the commandos being brutally attacked, killing and kidnapping other soldiers. When Israel simply refuses to “take it,” they try to twist and distort those events to demonize Israel.

        The fact that the only country which is targeted for such demonization is the only Jewish country in the world leads to legitimate accusations of anti-Semitism.

  • Ok I’ll try and dig out the piece I read the other day which has it all. It doesn’t surprise me there is no reference to CiF, they are probably trying  to disguise how much cost it adds without adding any revenue.

    • worktimesurfer

      They will put as little detail in the AR as they can. I was surprised that there was no information splitting revenue streams from online and paper advertising, though even that wouldnt help, as you are pointing at CiF as a subset of the Guardian’s online milieu.

      Anyway, you need to nail this. Your last para makes it clear your argument hangs on two threads, and one of them is that GMG cant afford CiF financially.

      I think that GMG cannot not afford CiF, as all those comments on emotive topics like Is-Pal drives advert revenues.

    •  If it were demonstrated that publishing pieces by extremists, which in themselves do not break the law, were profitable, what arguments would you use against the GMG continuing to do so?

  • Duncan, it is you who is bringing Israel into this, not I. This piece is about anti-Semitism.

    •  That is disingenuous, Rob.  If I wrote an article about Islamophobia and randomly made sidelong references to Tony Blair and other supporters of the Iraq War, surely you would be able to raise that issue without me saying “this piece is about Islamophobia”.

  • ThomasCartwright

    Trevino’s apologia makes it plain he was inciting the murder of peaceful activists on the second flotilla; his excuse is that Hillary Clinton and a lot of other supporters of US imperialism agree with him.  
    Does he include the crew of the USS LIberty, attacked by Israel  in 1967, amongst his incitements and apologiae for the Israeli murder policy???
    Would Luke Akehurst please also answer this question, as the bona fides of the NEC depends on whether he is prepared to answer this question.
    Please answer this question as the answer tells us a lot about the most important if unequal alliance in the world today” that between Israel and the US. Indeed, since the  Obama White House claims the right to murder anybody it dislikes, we all have a vested interest in an answer.

    btw, the Manchester Guardian was in principled opposition to the entry of the British Empire into a continental squabble in 1914, well aware that the Parliamentary Liberal Party was overwhelmingly against British aggression against the Second Reich.  When Lloyd George came off the fence and decided that world domination was worth risking a few million deaths, the MG became his recruiting sergeant.

    Our family started the Liberal Imperialist thinking person’s Beobachter only when the genuine old Liberal national paper, the News Chronicle, ceased publication.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    You just wrote an entire article about anti-semitism – I’m not sure you can read anything into the fact that someone mentions Israel in the comments.

    • How about the fact that anti-Semitism is about the Jewish race all over the world, and Israel is a country where a subset of those Jews happen to live? It is partly the confusion of the two, frankly, which leads to some of the worst racism.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        Israel has done a lot to help that confusion, though, by equating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.

        You also brought up a Hamas fundraiser and the leader of their suicide bombers (although I’m guessing that he leads from behind if he’s held that position for any length of time).

        You may not have typed the word “Israel”, but you’re clearly making references to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

        • mightymark

          Sometimes criticism of Isreal IS anti semitic, and its critics include anti semites. Do you think that should be ignored?

        • Wrong. I mention them in the context of their being anti-Semitic, although they also happen to be terrorists or terrorist abetters.

          You say “equating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism” – would you care to give an example? It seems to be a common “assumption” that British Jews act in bad faith in this respect, but I have yet to see any evidence.

          •  Well there’s Mr Akehurst’s invocation of the Holocaust on the decision of the Co-op not to do business with four very specific Israeli companies which source goods from the occupied territories, despite the fact other Israeli companies stepped in to pick up much of the slack. If a refusal to deal with a specific Israeli company summons accusations of Hitlerite sympathies what exactly about Israel is one allowed to criticise?

          • MonkeyBot5000

            I mentioned the state of Israel. You then made the assumption that I was saying something about Jews in this country.

            There’s your example.

      • I’n very happy to be on the record as an opponent of the actions of the Israeli state. If you want to then assume that means I have a prejudice against Jews, that must also extend to the other states who carry out unacceptable things in the name of religion, claiming that the land has been given to them by God as a justification – because I am every bit as opposed to them as well

  • MonkeyBot5000

    The Guardian is pretty much a left-wing mirror of the Daily Mail. It’s full of badly-argued, sensationalist stories and moral hand-wringing.

    …just as we would not expect the Daily Mail, awful though it is, to publish something by Nick Griffin.

    Only because they’ve already got plenty of staff writers willing to churn out that sort of bigotry.

    • But it’s not, is it? Name me someone openly racist who writes for the Daily Mail.

      • Jack Tunmore

        Here’s one example for you: 
        ill quote for you just in case you miss it:
        ‘it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together happily in such a set up’
        So the answer to your question is: Rick Dewsbury
        and here’s the freeze page: 

        • So, the Mail finds racism and pulls the piece, as any responsible paper should. The Guardian pretends there is no racism and all the stuff is still up there. I mean, I don’t like the Mail at all, but that’s hardly convincing as evidence.

          • Jack Tunmore

            the Mail as a responsible paper, sure thing

          •  Could you link to a racist Guardian article?

      • JoeDM

        The CIF moderators seem to be perfectly happy allowing all sorts of anti-Jewish comments that would have been more suitable in 1930’s Germany than in a so called ‘progressive’ paper of the 21st century.

  • I never refuse to condemn racism, Colin. All racism is bad. However what I do not do is accept arguments of moral relativism. And this seems to be all about *your* definition of racism, rather than the dictionary definition.

    This post – yet again! – is not about Israel. It is disturbing that every time we talk about anti-Semitism the conversation comes back to “what about Israel?”

    • ColinAdkins

      I think you make a fair point. But do you or don’t you accept that some settlers display signs of racism. The point I make in reply to your fair point is why is it that if you are an anti-racist (and I believe you are) why do you never post about racist features of the Israeli state? You state it is my definition of racism. Let me give you an example: If a Palestinian destroyed a Jewish persons crop what do you think under Israeli would happen (if they weren’t shot first)? How many settlers have been prosecuted for exacting “retribution” against Palestinian crops?  I readily condemn racist elements of the pro-Palestinian left. Supporters of Israel appear to be in denial about features of the state. By the way aren’t you displaying features of relativism when you argue of the nature of Israel in comparison with the surrounding states. If it is wrong, it is wrong and as you have said two wrongs don’t make a right or pro-Palestinian anti-semitism doesn’t make Israeli anti-arab racism right. People used to defend apartheid South Africa by pointing to the regimes in the surrounding states. Joe Slovo or Dennis Goldberg would have no problem in condeming racist features of the Israeli state.

  • Quite.

  • postageincluded

    CiF isn’t a nice place for all sorts of reasons and CiFWatch (for which I have some sympathy) is only unique in being open about what it does – I’m pretty sure that there are other organised groups covertly monitoring and intervening in the discussions, and referring comments they don’t like to moderation. I’ve found it difficult to comment on contemporary Russia, for example. And I find it hard to believe the speed at which mocking comments pile up immediately after a Polly Toynbee piece is opened.

    Tangentially, I was once moderated on CiF for accusing someone of anti-semitism. The anti-semite in question was quite subtle in his remark, but I stick to my guns. His name; Andrew Rawnsley. The subject of his abuse; Peter Mandelson.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      I’m not sure you need an organised group to explain people mocking Polly Toynbee.

      • JoeDM

        Her reputation as a champagne socialist goes before her.   

        As you read her articles it is easy to imagine her typing on her laptop on the morning sun at her Tuscan villa as she enjoys another expresso and cantuccini biscuits.

        • John_Dore

          You cant knock dear old Polly. That’s the game of ‘Socialism’ it just creates a new elite.  That’s why I’m proud to say I’m a social democrat and can’t abide the word socialist. It always has been and always will be hypocrisy.

          • Serbitar

            The almost everything she writes as a journalist is factually true no matter how she labels herself or what she eats for breakfast.

          •  Tell it to Orwell.

        • Serbitar

          This is nonsense.

          You don’t have to be sick to care about the sick, or poor to care about the poor, or underprivileged to care about the underprivileged, or illiterate and innumerate to care about the future of boys and girls or schools and universities. You don’t have to live in a hovel, or only drink water, or boiled potatoes, or be dirt poor yourself in order to be a socialist although you should feel concern about difficulty and suffering experienced by less fortunate people and foster the ambition to improve the lot of all through the power of the State, rather than expect everyone to overcome all obstacles and pull themselves up out of the mire by their bootstraps like the fabulous Baron Münchhausen which is precisely what most Tories do.

          • LembitOpiksLovechild

             If it’s fatuous for the right to claim that you need to be poor to be able to represent the poor then surely it’s equally fatuous for the left  to claim that the Tory old Etonians cannot represent the whole of the country. You can’t have it both ways you know.

          • Serbitar

            This a silly conflation.

            There are no parallels between an individual who chooses to express a view, political or otherwise, and a group of privileged politicians, who have never know a hard day in their lives, who pass laws which can affect the lives of millions of whom they have no knowledge. Toynbee is not a politician and has no power to directly affect lives of citizens in the way that the current crop of “Tory old Etonians” do. 

            The Tories – whether born to single parents, raised in a council house, and educated in a state school like David Davis, or born to wealthy parents, raised in the home counties, before being privately and Oxbridge educated like David Cameron – can never, and I do mean absolutely NEVER, represent the whole of the country in any meaningful fashion. 

            To offer one illustrative example for purposes of definiteness: In his last budget George Osborne saw fit to cut the top rate of income tax by 5% which represented the interests of the top 1% of society based on their income handsomely; and extra $40,000 a year swelled the bank accounts of a select group of multi-millionaires. Such people were well represented by the “Tory old Etonians”. On the other hand I wouldn’t say that the interests of many hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people living in rented accommodation had been represented by the same people quite so well, most especially those fated to fall into rent arrears and end up evicted from specially adapted accommodation because they happen to have a spare box room when the “bedroom tax” slashes their Housing Benefit to sub-rent levels from April 2013 onwards .

            Still. Generally speaking I always try not to judge a book by its cover. More pertinently I think it’s probably best to judge men and women by their words and by their deeds by which standard it must be patently obvious that “Tory old Etonians” like David Cameron and George Osborne can’t, don’t, won’t, and never will be able to represent more than a fraction of the people of the country ever. Which is only to be expected. After all significantly less than one out of three voters supported them in the last general election. Even though the country was paralysed and in the grip of an historically deep recession and the historically dreadful Gordon Brown was leader of the Labour Party.

          •  No one claims an Old Etonian can’t be PM. What they point out is that if your cabinet includes only those of a certain background (and Warsi aside Cameron’s Cabinet is remarkably narrow) then it may well suffer from a disconnect from the mass of the British people.  Attlee went to Hailebury, but he had Bevin and Bevan to give the cabinet depth.

      • postageincluded

        Well yes, granted,  she is a truly exasperating person.

  • PeterBarnard

    Thanks, mightymark. My comment was more in the vein of curiosity than anything else and was not an attempt at obfuscation.

    According to Merriam Webster, the expression anti-Semitic in the sense of ‘hostility towards Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group’ first appeared in 1882.

    As far as my views on races (or nationalities or religions) go, I don’t have any. History has shown us that generalisations about such matters are very dangerous.

  • Oh, do try to keep up, Aaron. The point is why such a bunch of misfits are influencing a national newspaper’s editorial and employment policies.

    • I’m trying Rob, really I am, but you just said above that the point was about anti-Semitism/racism!

    •  But I thought the piece was about anti-Semitism?

    • Brumanuensis

      I’ve heard the conspirators meet in a Prague graveyard to discuss how to manipulate the Guardian’s editorial policy. It’s all laid out in a nifty little work called ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Cif’, available from all good bookstores for an exceptionally reasonable price*.

      Sample quote: “These newspapers [a reference no doubt to the numerous comment threads on Cif], like the Indian god Vishnu, will be possessed of hundreds of hands, each of which will be feeling the pulse of varying public opinion”.

      *subject to terms and conditions

    • You mean people you don’t agree with?

  • Wrong. You are confusing a race with a nationality. What on earth has a newspaper being accused of anti-Semitism got to do with Israel? 

    Does anything that Israel does legitimise anti-Semitism? Of course it does not. So who cares what Israel does or does not do in this context? Anti-Semites, usually.

    •  No I’m not, Rob.  If anything, you are.  Of course nothing Israel does legitimises anti-Semitism, nor does anti-Semitism legitimise the things some Israeli governments do.

      Let’s be absolutely straightforward about this.  The people you mention who criticised the appointment of this nasty right-winger are united, as far as I can tell, by their views on the Palestine-Israel issue.  That is correct isn’t it?  This hasn’t been added ominously by people in the comments section, has it?  You suggest that these are bad or “marginal” people but as far as I can tell you do not (explicitly) accuse them of anti-Semitism.  It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that your criticism relates to their views on the Palestine/Israel situation.

      I ought to add that that conflict is not a particular preoccupation of mine.  I do have views on it, but not especially unusual ones.   But I find your articles on these subjects so imbued with nasty inuendo that I can’t help but comment!

  • Thanks, Adam. And there you have your answer, Jack. It’s quite irrelevant, as I said.

    • Jack Tunmore

      Thanks for the info Adam – but really Rob, it is relevant, I was giving an example of a piece offering an opinion you don’t credit the Guardian with allowing. Adam’s (very interesting) piece is an example. 

  • Alexwilliamz

    The Guardian has been going downhill ever since it left Manchester.

  • markfergusonuk


  • JoeDM

    The CIF pages seem to be  devoted to SWP and other extremist organisations that have very little to do with our liberal democratic and secular traditions.

    • Well, not all, but too much, yes. Those organisations, which some of us sometimes defend, are no friends of democracy, women or gay people either.

  • Hannah Dadd

    “I’ve taken to counting how many words it takes for Mike to mention Zionism or Israel, even when it’s not mentioned in the piece.”

    Come on, come on, let’s not be obtuse.  The word “Israel” may not appear in the article but what connects all the individuals and groups mentioned (some of whom tend to the nutty side I’ll admit) is that they are all fervent critics of Israel.  There is an organised campaign to use charges of anti-semitism to silence or marginalise substantive critics of Israel.  CIFWatch- a notoriously tendentious organisation, the existence of which you use as a sign of Guardian racism) – is just one of many groups to orchestrate campaigns against institutions, particularly media institutions that are perceived as hostile to Israel:

    See for example Peter Oborne’s Dispatches coverage: (CIFWatch pops up at 4:30ish onwards.) 
    This phenomenon is also noted in Nick Davies’ “Flat Earth News,” as the “electric fence:” (page 122-125 of the 2011 edition).

     These groups deliberately use malicious complaining to punish unfavourable media coverage to deter news organisations from going near the subject.

    • “There is an organised campaign to use charges of anti-semitism to silence or marginalise substantive critics of Israel.”

      Well, now I’m fascinated, as I can’t say I’ve noticed this. Your Peter Oborne documentary first quotes Alan Rusbridger (the editor of the very newspaper we are discussing), who I can’t see as a particularly reliable witness in this area. But I shall have a look at it in more detail later.

      Might I also add that a typical device used to discredit Jewry is that of the “global conspiracy” of powerful Jews. I am interested to see whether this angle comes out in the doc.

      I have to say I don’t rate Oborne as a journalist at all, but that’s merely a personal thing.

    • Michael

      That’s playing the anti-semitism-card card (yes, notice that I typed the word “card” twice).  People who look for angles to bash Israel and try to hold it to standards not considered for any other country on earth, then whine about how they get charged with anti-Semitism. It’s a deliberate way of trying to hide their true intentions.

      •  Countries that identify with the West, which Israel does, are held to higher standards. It’s the price of being on the side of the cultural hegemon. The benefits; billions in military aid, acceptance of your right to nuclear weapons, acknowledgement of your right to elect your own government, more than outweigh it.

        Now we could hold Israel to the same standard as the tin-pot Arab dictatorships that surround it, but the West reserves the right to bomb them at will. I doubt the worth of the trade off.

  • Well, I’m not sure that’s what I said.  But if that’s what you took away, it’s not what I meant.

  • Give me a little time and I’ll get you one, although that wasn’t the explicit charge of the article, by the way. And if you want an article *by a racist*, you have only to look at the pieces by Haniyeh and Salah.

  • “aren’t you displaying features of relativism when you argue of the nature of Israel in comparison with the surrounding states”

    Again, someone tell me where did I mention Israel?

    • ColinAdkins

      Good point. I should have made this point in response to other comments. I hope to resume our discussion in respect of a relevant post!

  • This article required an apology, was referred “for the use of language inconsistent with Guardian guidelines” and was given as an example by the Israeli ambassador of unacceptable behaviour. It talks about “the chosen”, a well-known way of dissing Jews.

    Whether or not it is racist I will leave for LabourList readers to evaluate for themselves, but it is typical of the kind of thing printed in CiF.

    •  I think it’s a fairly stupid article which probably wasn’t worth writing (except for the fee).  But I would argue that the use of language was not racist, either in action or intent, in its context.  However, “Guardian guidelines” obviously disagree, suggesting perhaps that they are not as unconcerned about anti-Semitism as you allege.

      • If they were concerned, they would not print articles by known anti-Semites such as Salah and Haniyeh.

        Or do you deny that they are?

        • I don’t know.  I know nothing about them and haven’t read what they’ve written.

    • Shouldn’t you also refer to the footnote, Orr’s apology and a subsequent piece by the Readers Editor? The Guardian hardly let it stand uncontested, but I’m guessing that your dislike of the paper prevented you from pointing it out.

      Seems to me that racism as it applies to the Jewish people is subject to sanctions whereas racism as it refers to various Arabian tribes (of which the Jews are one), is both acceptable and warranted. Orr’s point about 1,000 Palestinians being equal to one Israeli makes the point.

  • Well you may think it’s fine to publish anti-Semitic and anti-other races articles to give a “balanced” picture but, fortunately, the law disagrees. There is a crime called “incitement to racial hatred”, and it includes published material and websites.

    Anti-Israel and anti-Palestine is quite another thing, and is perfectly legal, as long as it does not descend into ethnic arguments. That is why the distinction is so important.

    • worktimesurfer

      Then let them bring a case against CiF. I bet they cant. The law doesnt distinguish between the target of the racial hatred, so Jews will get no special treatment, which is as it should be.

  • The usual pattern is for the Israel-can-do-no-wrong-lobby to accuse those who do not agree with the Zionist case for the expansionism, or even existence of Israel, as anti-semitic. It is a way of closing down debate 

  • KonradBaxter

    Rob has replied all the way through this thread from what I can see.

  • Jack, you judged it wrong. Adam did not write the article while working for CiFWatch. Could you just admit that and we’ll move on?

    • Jack Tunmore

      i’d be delighted to move on, I see no point at all in discussing this with you further

  • Wrong again, Duncan. What unites these people is that they are on the fringes of politics. Only one of them holds an official position in a mainstream political party (Corbyn), and as far as I know, none of the rest are even members, although I’m happy to be corrected on that. They are people from the political fringe and that is what concerns me in the context of this piece. Not their position on Palestine or Israel, which you will note is – for the nth time – not mentioned in this piece.

    •  “The fringes of politics” is obviously a rather subjective thing.  As you mention, Jeremy Corbyn is a Labour MP (and a rather excellent one, I might add).

      I assume John Austin is still a member of the Labour Party, even if he is no longer an MP?  I would imagine several of the others are party members, but I haven’t checked that out.

      But now I’m rather confused.  I thought this was an article about anti-Semitism; now it appears to be about the (alleged) influence of (subjectively judged) “fringe” political figures (at least two of whom were long-standing Labour Party MPs) at the Guardian.

      Just what IS this article about?

  • Brumanuensis

    I suspect that if Trevino’s remarks had been directed at the IDF, and not the Gaza flotilla, Marchant would have used stronger words than ‘rather insensitive’ to describe them. In fact, it might have prompted a separate LabourList column.

    But then again, who am I quibble? I am merely ‘a lawyer, or something similar’.

    • Wrong. But you have already made up your mind about what “side” I am on. This post, for the umpty-umpth time, is *not about Palestine*. Have you got it yet?

      • Brumanuensis

        So, if he had made the remarks about the IDF instead of the Gaza flotilla, you would have given exactly the same response?

        Haha. I don’t think so. You would have gone ballistic. I’ll even re-write the remarks for you:

        “Dear Gaza Flotilla: If you end up shooting any IDF soldiers that try and stop you – well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me”

        You wouldn’t have said those words were ‘rather insensitive’. You would have said something much stronger. And you’d have been right. But, ironically, you are now defending Trevino through the same moral relativism you spend so much time denouncing elsewhere.

        Have you got it yet?

  • I read this article and knew I’d see Homfray’s red face defending Cif – the mentioning of Zionism goes without saying. I’ve said before that he’d be much happier in Respect but of course I realise now why he isn’t – he’d have nobody to argue with.

  • UKAzeri

    CiF antisemitic? LOL
    It is one of the few papers that refers to Israel as ‘Jewish state’, fully endorsing this particular, horrific ( through its implications) political development in Israel….

  • Er, who is “them”? Are you referring to the Jewish community?

  • Winston_from_the_Ministry

    And plenty of others as well.


    Well spoken Rob, see my study of antisemitism on CIF here

  • Cheers Jonathan, will take a look.

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