Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Diary - The Irish Times, settlements in the West Bank, and Zionist ideology

Further to my remarks about the Irish Times below, here's an example of its problematic coverage of the Middle East.  Mark Weiss reports on new settlement construction planned in the West Bank ('Reports of Israeli settler homes anger Palestinians', IT, 27/12/13).

A couple of things stand out in Weiss's report.  Firstly, the title: rhetorically, the formulation suggests that Palestinians are objecting to Israelis having homes.  How hard-hearted, one then presumably asks, can these Palestinians be?  Can't people be allowed to have homes like anyone else?  Secondly, and this is a problem that is repeated endlessly in the reportage in the Irish Times by Israeli correspondents or stringers like Weiss or David Horowitz, the context of this planned construction in international and international humanitarian law is never provided.  For the fact is, of course, that under the Geneva Conventions, the transfer to an occupied territory of members of the population of the occupying power is illegal, and therefore, technically, a war crime.  Israeli settlement construction is a war crime.  This is almost never mentioned in the seemingly pellucid pages of the Irish Times.

Thirdly, the context within which the coverage by the Irish Times (and most of the mainstream media) places such developments is the way that announcements of settlement plans or construction play in regard to the Obama-brokered 'peace talks': will the talks be scuppered or not?  Will Israel release prisoners (as agreed as part of the talks), or not?  Will the Palestinians complain at the UN or not?  Will Saeb Erekat appeal to the European Union or not?  The broad point to be made here is that most of this context is fluff, and of very little longer-term importance.  The most that can be said about the current talks is that they turn on modes by which the Palestinian Authority can perform its role as Israel's enforcer in the West Bank, while allowing Israel to get on with its real projects of settlement construction, resource theft, and incremental ethnic cleansing. 

Fourthly, the ideological context in which Israeli policy is formulated is almost never reported in the Irish Times.  This is in marked contrast to the case with much of the Israel press itself.  Here's an especially striking example from Ha'aretz, given the way that Israel has in recent years stridently promoted itself as the one country in the Middle East that is tolerant of gay practice and culture:

Gay Jews have 'higher souls' than gentiles, says deputy minister ...

When will Mark Weiss be reporting on the pronouncements of the Deputy Minister for Religious Services?   I am not holding my breath.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Mandela, Israel and the Irish Times

The Irish Times holds a significant position in the field of Irish media.  It is the 'national newspaper of record'.  This appellation is of doubtful value in itself, but it is rendered downright dangerous when the newspaper in question is over-burdened with such a sense of itself, with the sense of its own importance.  Such is the case with the Irish Times, a middlebrow journal of some vintage which has always sat at the conservative end of the liberal spectrum.  Unionist in the 19th and early 20th century, it negotiated independence carefully and with the greatest caution.  In my lifetime, it has been an organ for the 'liberal agenda', which unfortunately in Ireland has always been an agenda concerned principally with liberal freedoms in the personal arena, and with freedoms of business and capital in the public arena - two aspects of liberalism that hang together surprisingly well, and which were best embodied in the Progressive Democrats, Ireland's principal neoliberal political party.

Nowadays, the Irish Times struggles to find its way in a media jungle riven with the complications of electronica, collapsed advertising revenue, a somewhat more diverse public, and the apparent destruction of 'traditional' institutions of 'Irish life': the Roman Catholic Church, Fianna Fail, trust in politicians generally, and the Irish financial sector.  Its position remains one of caution, a conservative consensus bunched on the centre-right of the political field.  It takes its position seriously enough to attempt to maintain correspondents abroad, and policy analysts at home, though many of these are themselves minor institutions, valued in the paper as much for their cosy south Dublin familiarity and loyalty, as for any penetrating interpretative capacities, stunning erudition, or coruscating prose.

The paper's coverage of the Middle East is very much of a piece with this.  For every relatively clear-eyed and decent piece it publishes by Michael Jansen, veteran American Middle East correspondent  based in Beirut, it will 'balance' it with a piece laden with Zionist or Orientalist presuppositions by an Israeli 'liberal' such as Mark Weiss or David Horowitz.  For every honest and conscience-driven letter on the plight of the Palestinians, it frequently seems to publish multiple letters of the most astonishing mendacity and ignorance from the 'friends' of Israel.  Amidst this 'liberal' notion of 'balance', the reality of a rogue state choking an oppressed people often disappears, and an ethical sense nearly always does.

So, it was entirely to be expected, no matter how frustrating, that the Irish Times would fail to register any linkage or parallel between the death of Mandela and the question of Palestine.  Mandela's own statements on Palestine were forgotten, the useful and valid comparisons between Israel's ethnocratic apparatuses and the apartheid regime (both founded in 1948) ignored, and the deeply sordid collaborations of Israel and South Africa under the National Party carefully hidden.  Perhaps this is also why the paper did not publish the letter below, which I submitted last Tuesday:

December 10, 2013

In the context of global mourning for the passing of Nelson Mandela, I note 1) that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that travel to South Africa was too expensive for him to make the memorial service held in Mandela's honour today; 2) the Embassy of the State of Israel has not been flying its national flag at half-mast, unlike, for example, the Embassy of the United States, since Mandela's death last Thursday.

One is surely led to conclude that these offensive snubs are the product of guilt.  For it was the apartheid South African regime - with which Israel nursed corrupt relationships of military and technological collaboration, including nuclear weapons collaboration - which imprisoned Mandela for 27 years.  Presumably Mr Netanyahu and the Israeli diplomatic delegation in Dublin do not mourn the passing of Mr Mandela.  Perhaps they rather mourn the apartheid regime which he helped dismantle.  Indeed, how could they not, when they have created a comparable regime of ethnic domination and oppression in Israel and the West Bank?

yours sincerely

Conor McCarthy


My comrade and friend Raymond Deane has just published a characteristically insightful review of a signficant book on the Israel-South Africa relationship, Sasha Polakov-Suransky's The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, on his excellent blog:

The Deanery

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Mandela's Legacy

The death of Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary moment.  It marks the passing of the most admired politician in the world in the last 30 or 40 years.   It marks the end, arguably, of the great decolonizing wave that began in the Third World after 1945.  But the public and political reaction, at least in the West, is so powerful and striking as to invite, or require, a properly dialectical examination in its own right.   What one finds is that Mandela's symbolic stature and the overwhelming obsequies at his passing are in inverse but precise proportion to the redistributive and class content of the processes of dismantling apartheid and South African democratization.

So, two basic points have to be made.  First, that Mandela's personal qualities, and the allegorical power of his story, are not to be gainsaid.  Second, again, that the outpouring of official effusions, 'tributes', 'grief' may even be in inverse proportion to the radicalism of the actual content of Mandela's tenure.  For what Mandela and his accession to power represented was what Gramsci would have called a 'passive revolution' - a change in political power and popular sovereignty, which is nevertheless evacuated of social and economic change.  Mandela is credited with effecting change without bloodshed - in fact, though the situation might have been much worse, there was very considerable bloodshed during the process of democratization.  What was managed was political change with very little alteration in the distribution of wealth, in a country marked by enormous disparities between rich and poor.  During Mandela's presidency, and since, white wealth has been both joined and reinforced by a rapacious and corrupt black comprador bourgeoisie-bureaucracy, very much along the lines of Fanon's acid prognostications in his masterpiece The Wretched of the Earth - ANC senior worthies and serving politicians at the highest level, including Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, are part of this ugly formation.

One can then say, 'Well, Mandela was not personally corrupt, and he was only one man, and he was in executive power for a short time'.  This all may be true, but the question then must be asked whether that immense personal charisma, political authority and moral capital could not have been deployed to greater effect during his tenure.  One can also note that the balance of power was firmly with the ANC in the early 1990s, even before Mandela's election, and that it could have stood up firmly to the National Party.  But what one finds is that in the run-in to his period in office, and then during it, a devil's compact was negotiated between the incoming ANC, white South African power and capital, and the international institutions of neoliberal capitalism, dominated by the United States - the IMF and the World Bank. 

This tragedy is set out in chilling and clear terms by Patrick Bond, Director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in Durban:

The Mandela Years in Power

Ronnie Kasrils, a former member of the ANC and government minister, suggests that the ANC has made a Faustian bargain in its accession to power, for which the poor of South Africa will pay a long and grim debt:  

How the ANC Sold Out South Africa’s Poor


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Death by Embarrassment

Poor Nelson Mandela.  Not only is he undergoing canonization by flabby rhetoric spewed forth by mainstream politicians and leaders, many of whom would not so long ago have dubbed him a 'terrorist', but he has now suffered the final indignity of being eulogized, or rather appropriated, by the fool otherwise known as 'Bono': Paul David Hewson.

The Irish Times has today republished a spectacularly, though characteristically, self-aggrandizing article which appeared in Time magazine a few days ago: 'My friend Nelson Mandela, the man who could not cry'.  I am sure he is crying now, his legacy muffled and obscured by the wafflings of a little man with a big ego, whose primary function is campaigning for private corporate investment and theft in Africa.   Not that one could expect much better from Time magazine's idea of a 'rock band', which features a lead singer in his early fifties who still insists on being called 'Bono' (boner? bonehead?), and a bald guitarist (let us at last speak frankly) of the same age whose name is, apparently, The Edge - ludicrous and crass Peter Pan tax quasi-exiles and loudmouths who once planned the construction of twin skyscrapers on either side of the Liffey, like ugly international style Pillars of Hercules - hubris unbound.  With the scrapping of this plan, the collapse of the Celtic Tiger achieved at least one moment of creative destruction.

Read Harry Browne's The Showman: Bono (In the Name of Power), for a thorough demystification of this ridiculous and narcissistic upstart.