Jonathan Cook on Israel and the Guardian

16 Feb

When I think of “gamekeepers turned poacher” I usually mean former establishment figures like UK Ambassadors Craig Murray and Peter Ford. Or CIA men like Philip Giraldi 1 and Ed Snowden. Ditto UN Weapons Inspectors Ted Postol and Scott Ritter, and Reagan appointees Paul Craig Murray and the late Stephen Cohen. At a push I might throw in senior politicians like France’s Roland Dumas and Iceland’s Ögmundur Jónasson.2

Two things make such renegades valuable to those of us who see just how corrupt our Western democracies are. One is their credibility. That’s why so much effort goes into discrediting them; most famously the hounding of Edward Snowden but also, barely below the radar, moves like the entrapment of Scott Ritter.

The other is their inside knowledge. Which brings me to a man I seldom include in my examples of gamekeepers turned poacher. That would be Jonathan Cook: former Guardian columnist and now a prolific blogger whose pieces occasionally appear on such as CounterPunch and ICH. His credibility stems less from his renegade status at the Guardian, more from the pristine clarity of his writing. But on that second criterion, knowledge of how things work at his former employer, he is at least as valuable as those listed above. See in this respect his masterful dissection – an application of Chomsky’s point that media are big businesses in the game of selling privileged audiences to other big businesses – of the roles played by different writers at the Guardian.

(It’s in this post, worth reading in its entirety but, if you’re pushed for time, go to the section headed Mopped up by the Guardian.)

A few days ago, on February 13, another Cook piece appeared on the ICH site. It begins:

The Guardian Revealed Its True Face in Sacking a Columnist for Criticising US Military Aid to Israel

The revelation that a leftwing journalist, Nathan J Robinson, has been sacked as a Guardian US columnist for criticising Israel on Twitter – and that he was pressured to keep quiet about it by Guardian editors – should come as no surprise. He is only the latest in a long line of journalists, myself included, who have run foul of the Guardian’s unwritten but tightly policed constraints on what can be said about Israel.

In the tweet below, I have listed a few of the more prominent – and public – examples of journalists who have suffered at the Guardian’s hands over their coverage of Israel. The thread can opened by clicking on the tweet.3

The unspoken Guardian rule we broke was to suggest one of the following: that there might be inherent contradictions between Israel’s claim to be a democracy and its self-definition in exclusivist, chauvinist, ethnic terms; or that Israel’s self-declared status as a militaristic, ethnic, rather than civic, state might be connected to its continuing abuses and crimes against Palestinians; or that, because Israel wishes to conceal its ugly, anachronistic ethnic project, it and its defenders might act in bad faith; or that the US might be actively complicit in this ethnically inspired, colonial project to dispossess Palestinians.

Equivocating editorial

Paradoxically, the Guardian is widely seen as the “mainstream” English-language publication most critical of Israel. It has long shored up its reputation with the left by publishing seemingly forthright, uncompromising material on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Part of that is a historic credit it earnt. There was a time, long ago, when the Guardian’s pages were, for example, the only place in the mainstream to host – if rarely – the late, great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. The paper even once allowed its former South Africa correspondent, who had transferred to Israel, to compare in detail the two countries’ systems of apartheid. It caused a furore – much of it instigated by the Israeli embassy in London – that made the paper even more shy of taking on the Israel lobby.

That is reflected in the perverse fact that today Israeli human rights groups are far more courageous in speaking plainly about Israel than the Guardian. When B’Tselem recently published a report stating that Israel operated an apartheid system oppressing Palestinians not just in the occupied territories but in the whole area under its rule – including inside Israel where officials falsely claim 1.8 million Palestinian citizens have equal rights with Jewish citizens – the paper published a mealy-mouthed editorial whose equivocations contrasted starkly with B’Tselem’s passionate and clear critique of a racist system of separate rights.

Even then, the Guardian would never have conceded what it reluctantly did in the editorial had B’Tselem not forced its hand …

Here again is the link to the full piece.

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  1. I was recently critical of Giraldi’s grasp of the true dynamics underpinning US-Israel relations. I see such criticism as part of my job. It does not make me hostile to a man who has shown moral courage.
  2. Jónasson and especially Dumas aren’t renegades like the others. Neither have broken with the establishment but both are refreshingly honest. On a matrix with ‘Usefully Revelatory’ on one axis, ‘Honourable Intent’ on the other, courageous whistleblowers like Assange and Manning belong in a different quadrant from smug braggarts like Karl Rove, Hillary Clinton and Mike Pompeo. Jónasson and Dumas are in a different quadrant again. Whistleblowing – be it courageous and intentional, the boastings of people who think themselves immune, or something not so easily categorisable – is a striking feature of our polarised times.
  3. I’ve followed several of the links provided by Jonathan. All proved worth the effort but if I had to single out one it would that to Nathan Robinson’s piece.

4 Replies to “Jonathan Cook on Israel and the Guardian

  1. “Under the influence of politicians, masses of people tend to ascribe the responsibility for wars to those who wield power at any given time. In World War I it was the munitions industrialists; in World War II it was the psychopathic generals who were said to be guilty. This is passing the buck.

    The responsibility for wars falls solely upon the shoulders of these same masses of people, for they have all the necessary means to avert war in their own hands. In part by their apathy, in part by their passivity, and in part actively, these same masses of people make possible the catastrophes under which they themselves suffer more than anyone else.

    To stress this guilt on the part of the masses of people, to hold them solely responsible, means to take them seriously. On the other hand, to commiserate masses of people as victims, means to treat them as small, helpless children. The former is the attitude held by genuine freedom fighters; the latter that attitude held by power-thirsty politicians.”

    Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

  2. Interesting one this. I had already read the Jonathan Cook article and felt that it was useful in underlining the ‘fake’ left wing objectivity of the Guardian. When I read Nathan Robinson’s piece I found myself questioning why he had posted the two tweets in the first place that resulted in him not being offered further work by the Guardian. I maybe a bit of an old giffer and not really understand the culture of such social media but I thought the tweets added very little to an understanding of the relationship between the US and Israel and certainly wouldn’t have persuaded many to investigate it further. Nathan himself says that he doesn’t read replies ……..

    We all make mistakes of course and most of us (including myself) have been lucky enough to avoid losing our jobs as a consequence. I find it hard to believe that Nathan was unaware of the Guardian’s somewhat nuanced position on the matter and the constraints that this would place on its journalists – but I suppose the famous Marr / Chomsky interview says it all!

    • I suppose there’s an analogy here with Naz Shah and her joke map of Israel fitting snugly within the USA. In true McCarthy fashion – see in this respect my February 15 post on Esther Giles and the “transphobia” slurs – Livingstone’s (and symbolically Corbyn’s) head rolled in part consequence of his defending of Shah.

      The point being, as you and I both know, that the question of Nathan Robinson’s judgment – like that of Naz Shah’s – is of marginal importance.

  3. You are obviously right Phil that in any consideration of the key issues pertaining to the US’s use of Israel in seeking to maintain its global dominance and The Guardian’s role in legitimising it for a liberal / left audience the question of Nathan Robinson’s judgment is of marginal importance. I was, however, moved to consider actions at an individual level by the very personal account he provided of his being ‘let go’ by the news platform. This provoked the following thoughts:

    – I am interested in how individuals make sense of and make accomodation with the world they find themselves in, especially when their understanding of how things work is at odds with the dominant narrative and one which goes out of its way to obscure and denigrate analyses which are more insightful and based on a better grasp of material reality. The world of work is where most of us in the West have to confront such matters. That a seemingly off hand remark ( which is what I equate his tweets as being) resulted in such serious consequences for him, his career and his livelihood is salutary. If I were in his shoes I would regret this and might ruefully feel that my dismissal would have at least felt easier to live with if it had been in response to a well set out article on the relationship and power dynamics between the two countries published in the journal that he edits.

    – The Guardian’s response to his ‘ transgression’ is chilling and says a lot about its corporate culture and view of itself and it’s ‘mission.’ Whatever his political views on the matter, Nathan clearly wanted to rebuild the relationship and was prepared to make compromises accordingly – he wanted / needed the work. The Guardian, however, wasn’t interested – which might reflect concern that those tweets did in fact indicate that his journalism might become a threat to the paper’s position and / or that it just didn’t need the hassle – as in most sectors of capitalism there are always plenty of others willing to take the work.

    – As you know I am a retired public sector professional and not surprisingly most of my friends are liberal / left Guardian readers. I pick my arguments carefully and am always on the lookout for stuff that I could choose to use should I find myself in a discussion about the paper. Jonathan Cook is excellent at debunking its projected image ( and as you say speaks with the credibility of an ex insider) but , on reflection, I would not use Nathan’s story in this context – it is too easy to dismiss it as an error of judgment on his part.

    Having said all that, when it comes down to individuals, I don’t suppose any of this would evince much interest from someone currently living in Gaza.

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