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Stop the War criticism has gone way too far

December 16, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Stop the War have a lot of faults. It can be frustrating to feel “represented” by them, particularly if like me, your general politics doesn’t follow their leftist world view – but you are opposed to military interventions in the Middle East. There is perhaps a failure of the many voices in the centre and right of British politics to organise a similar group. That said, columnists like Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens have made the case, as have former armed forces Conservative MPs like Julian Lewis and John Baron. At the last war vote, under their new leader Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats sided with the government. Stop the War’s mass mobilisation during the Iraq war march in 2003 has clearly given way to a core group who have failed to understand either the severe threats posed by President Vladimir Putin, or President Bashar Al-Assad.

It was an appalling moral error to have re-published a poem (since removed) by Heathcote Williams which dealt with the deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of the security services, while also making reference to “Baloch” – the child-eating Babylonian god. Elsewhere, I have however seen the line “serial killing Palestinian children” claimed by StW critics as a blood libel. I’m pretty sure this refers to the death of a Palestinian child every three days at the hands of the Israeli security services. The poem, written during the knife intifada, notes that the Jewish people used street stabbing against their Roman occupiers. This is not blood libel – it is historical comparison between today’s situation and yesteryears. I have seen critics claim that a reference to Herod in this poem is “blood libel”. I don’t see it. Nevertheless – the core criticism is valid, referencing “Baloch” and “child eating” is blood libel and deserves condemning. Stop the War were wrong to publish and it suggests poor judgement.

Curiously, a critique of Williams’ poem by a newly established and highly critical blog called The Real Stop The War, implicitly defends Ze’ev Jabitinsky, the founder of Ergun. Ergun conducted a reign of deadly terror attacks against British soldiers, diplomats and citizens from 1943 to 1948. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this means the bloggers behind Real Stop the War supported attacks on British troops during the Second World War, but it’s worth noting. The re-publication of an article by Alison Weir, who openly associates with white supremacists, should also be condemned, although the article itself (originally published by Counter-Punch), contained no anti-Semitic content.

The issue becomes how Stop the War critics have gone beyond condemning the blood libel above. One of the authors of Real Stop the War, Jeremy Duns, feels an article entitled “United States of Israel?How the Great Liar Netanyahu twists America round his finger,” is anti-Semitic. The article quotes Netanyahu himself saying in 2001: “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.” It’s clear that the state of Israel has its supporters in Washington, and that organisations like AIPAC admit their influence over American politics. Duns concluded: “No cartoons of Jews with hooked noses or references to a world Jewish conspiracy, but here where anti-Semitism rests just below the surface, it is truly at its most insidious.”

Duns, the author of well-reviewed spy novels argues that discussing bilateral relations between Israel and the United States is anti-Semitic, unless delivered in language so cool as to be stultifying. Accusations of being anti-Semitic can ruin a career, and if this article now passes for anti-Semitic, we might as well give up.

Elsewhere, another re-published article saw the group accused of “complimenting” Daesh. You can trace this claim back to James Bloodworth, the former editor of Left Foot Forward and a strong critic of Jeremy Corbyn. Bloodworth cited: “Benn does not even seem to realise that the jihadist movement that ultimately spawned Daesh is far closer to the spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove the International Brigades than Cameron’s bombing campaign.” Responsible commentators will remember that Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn had directly compared Cameron’s bombing campaign to the International Brigades. Carr was pointing out that Benn’s comparison simply made no sense, because it doesn’t. The International Brigades were a grassroots movement – the Royal Air Force is not. Making this comparison is also not that controversial.

An article in The London Review of Books last October, by Marco d’Eramo, made the point: “The new international brigades are a phenomenon that needs to be taken seriously,” noting that young men wanting to go abroad to fight without the state’s permission is a centuries old problem. Who would want to dwell on these issues though, what writer would want to raise their head above the parapet? Nowadays, to discuss “international brigades” is to be accused of supporting Daesh. Bloodworth, nor any of the numerous media articles that followed the smear, included Carr’s conclusions on Daesh; “a savage and dangerous movement which needs to be defeated.” Carr’s name has been ruined, hopefully temporarily, all to score a point against Jeremy Corbyn.

The pattern is repeated. “Time to go to war with Israel as the only path to peace in the Middle East,” was cited by critics as evidence of duplicity. Not mentioned was that the author, a Princeton professor, was calling for the BDS movement and Palestinian civil society to fight what he called a “legitimacy war”, “exemplified by Gandhi’s nonviolent victory over the British Empire.” Even if you cite Mahatma Ghandi, a thinker can now be accused of war mongering.

Then you have the strange case of Peter Tatchell, the human rights activist who supports the PKK and the Kurds, even if they have been credibly accused of human rights abuses (ask the Assyrian minority or ethnically cleansed Sunnis if they think the Kurdish state respects human rights, or the families of the journalists killed by the Barzani mafia). Tatchell has repeatedly accused Stop the War of not allowing “Syrians” to speak at one of their events. Tatchell, whose work I generally admire, has not stated in his numerous media interviews that these “Syrians” are actually pro-war Syrians, part of Syria Solidarity UK, who have repeatedly turned up at Stop the War meetings demanding to speak (rather than organising their own events). Giving pro-war activists, of whatever genre, a platform at an anti-war event is clearly nonsensical. Tatchell has alleged that Stop the War refused to condemn the war crimes of Bashar Al-Assad, which amongst many other claims, simply isn’t true.

I don’t want to be in a world where not only must my editor adjust articles for form, and sub-editors correct my appalling grammar, and lawyers check for libel – but I must also scrutinise my pieces for opportunities to misquote and misrepresent. Even Brendan O’Neill, the Telegraph columnist who has repeatedly argued that the pro-Palestinian left are anti-Semitic, has called the media attacks on Stop the War a “tyranny of the moderates”, describing the critics’ behaviour as “nasty and intolerant”. This endless criticism, dressed up as moral outrage but deeply political, has gone way too far. We are moving from the legitimate policing of genuine anti-Semitism, and into chilling legitimate criticisms of government policy. That’s a dangerous, illiberal consequence of playing so fast and loose with the truth about Stop the War.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.