Why can't we talk about Palestine?

Propaganda, Censorship and the Israel Lobby

with Jonathan Cook and Asa Winstanley

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

We hosted a discussion with Asa Winstanley and Jonathan Cook on why is has become so difficult in recent years to speak about Palestine.

Jonathan described the attacks on free speech as a 'culmination of a series of crises for Israel that put it on the offensive.' He said the rise of Netanyahu and the ultra-right has given Israel a 'major image problem.' it has 'lost control of the narrative' because of social media and the emergence of the global, BDS movement has allowed people all over the world to become involved in solidarity in a very practical way.

Alongside this he described the emergence of a new partisanship on Israel in UK and US, prioritising Palestinian rights and putting Palestinian politics into the public arena, as well as the increasingly visibility of a 'one state solution.'

'That's seen as a big threat to Israel because once you start talking about why doesn't everyone just live happily all together with equal rights, Israel's really in a difficult position.'

All of this has come together to put the Israel lobby on the defensive - the gloves are off '.....and they've gone on the attack and call anyone who says anything bad about them an anti-Semite.'

'In the discussion the speakers analysed the term 'the lobby,' with Asa describing 'a diffuse global network of organisations' and Jonathan outlining both explicit and veiled lobbying as well as special interest groups:

'Israel doesn't direct explicitly but is like a conductor in an orchestra, making sure everyone is on the same page, working in the same direction.....disseminating information to useful groups.'

Asa described the real world consequences of adopting the problematic IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and Jonathan gave an analysis of the new, antizionist left wing politics in Israel which prompted a slew of draconian internal laws designed to silence internal critics, as well as preventing human rights groups reporting from the occupied territories.

There was also a fascinating analysis of the corporate media and their investment in the status quo with Jonathan describing the constant efforts to 'delegitimise discourse.'

He described how the democratisation of news through social media has prompted a backlash on all sorts of levels, with Israel running 'troll armies,' recruiting ex and existing soldiers to join its 'online community of warriors,' editing Wikipedia, running courses on Zionist editing, intimidating and terrorising journalists into submission.

However both speakers saw grounds for optimism. Asa said the pro-Zionist lobby does not hold the grassroots of the left: 'For two years in a row we saw this groundswell of resistance from grassroots, boycotts of Israel motions were passed, the second one even recognising the Palestinian right of return. Historic.' He said there was a massive sea change on the popular level and it is why Israel is so worried:

'What inspires us all is it is a universal struggle for human rights and freedom. And equality, that's what it comes down to, equality.'

He noted that Israel was the last European colony in the so-called third world and was 'a symbolic struggle for equality and human rights - and that for me is the hope.'

Jonathan added: 'There is a price being paid by the lobby - it is looking very authoritarian and repressive, it's outstaying its welcome. The damage it did to Corbyn, it damaged itself at the same time.' It has 'opened a lot of people's eyes to see just how rigged the game is.'

Some of the issues raised at the meeting:

  • The Israel lobby's campaign against David Miller.
  • What is the Israel lobby?
  • The Israel lobby looks strong but there's a hollowness to it.
  • Israel doesn't direct explicitly but it's like a conductor in an orchestra.
  • Problems with the IHRA definition of anti-semitism.
  • IHRA used to shut down free speech.
  • Developments within the Israeli left.
  • The B'Tselem report describing Israel as an apartheid state.
  • Why the silence in the UK corporate media with the story about UK Labour Party hiring Assaf Kaplan from Unit 8200 and other issues.
  • The Israeli embassy in the UK. It referred to its 'war room,' the frontline being Britain's campuses and the activist groups.
  • Guardian sacking of Nathan J Robinson for criticising Israel.
  • The corporate media's role to promote the narrative of the need to maintain a 'western benevolence.' But Israel is the weak chain in this. The media needs to conceal western colonial imperial histories and continuing legacies. If that domino (Israel) falls, the fear is what else falls with it.
  • The Guardian won't fundamentally address what Israel represents and its deep embeddedness in the continuation of western colonial exploitation of regions like the middle-east.
  • "We have no friends in the corporate media."
  • Israel's troll armies.
  • Tech companies compliant with Israel.
  • As long as Palestinians continue to resist, there is hope.
  • Israel is the last colonial outpost of European colonialism.
  • Why is Israel the only racist state in the world that we're not allowed to criticise without being accused of racism? (cf Saudi Arabia).

    Our press release distributed prior to the meeting:

    We will be joined by award-winning Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook, described as "one of the reliable truth-tellers in the Middle East" and investigative reporter Asa Winstanley from The Electronic Intifada and Middle East Monitor.

    These two journalists are on the frontline of a propaganda war which has seen the weaponization of 'anti-Semitism' worldwide,resulting in the smearing of Palestinians and their supporters and the chilling of free speech in all public spheres.

    In the UK, Asa Winstanley's fearless reports about the Labour party have shown the devastating extent to which pro-Israeli groups led a sustained assault on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and supporters, and more recently he revealed the party under Keir Starmer, who supports 'Zionism without qualification,' hired a former Israeli spy.

    Jonathan Cook's books, reports and articles have continually challenged Israeli propaganda, exposing the long cover-up of ethnic cleansing, erasure of Palestinian history, the cyberwar unleashed on pro-Palestinian voices on social media as well as the work of the Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs to delegitimise support for Palestinians worldwide.

    The Zoom talk, free and open to all members of the public, will take place on Wednesday 24 February at 7pm - registration is essential.

    HRPSC Chair Katy Colley says: 'There has never been a more dangerous and difficult time to be a supporter of Palestinian human rights. All UK solidarity groups, including our own, have come under fierce attack from pro-Israel lobbyists and our meetings threatened, just for the crime of trying to tell the truth about Israel's actions against the Palestinian people.'

    'How do we fight this war? How do we continue to give support to a displaced and oppressed people when voicing criticism of Israel is criminalised? These are the vital questions we need to address now in order to continue to work for Palestinian justice, equality and freedom. We are honoured to host Jonathan and Asa to help us understand and address these pressing issues of our time.'