Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Owen Jones

The world can be a source of hope, Not of needless military invasions

, May 19, 2016

There is little evidence of any enthusiasm for the way our society is run. Polling is persistently clear: 1.  most people believe that object to utilities such as rail and energy being run for profit rather than in public ownership;

2. Rich should pay higher tax rates for the rich; and

3. there is popular support for improving workers’ rights.

But what people want and what they think possible are often far apart. The status quo may be unpopular, but it is at least tangible: decades of “there is no alternative” drummed into our heads has left us resigned to the inevitability of injustice.

Take the recent Panama Papers revelations.

When, on social media, I suggested the story underlined how a rich elite stashed their fortunes away from the authorities while preaching the need for cuts, the response was a wave of cynicism.

The replies could be summed up as, ‘Well, duhhh, what do you expect?’ or “Is this really a surprise?”. Rich people avoiding tax on an industrial scale was priced in. A bigger surprise would have been if it didn’t happen.

Rather than rage, there was a world-weariness – one that is very successful at defusing popular support for tackling injustice.

Rather than take to the streets, more often people yell at the TV and then return to lives blighted by insecurity.

That’s why Michael Moore’s excellent new film is so important.

Where to Invade Next is based on a simple satirical concept. From Vietnam to Iraq, Moore points out, the postwar US has launched a series of military invasions whose main achievement has been a devastatingly high death toll.

What if, instead, Moore invaded countries in order to appropriate ideas and policies that help people, and then take them back to America?

Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next: exclusive UK trailer – video

The US is practically alone among industrialised nations for not having mandatory annual leave.

So off Moore goes to Italy with a bold question: have you ever wondered why Italians always look like they’ve just had sex? One reason, he suggests, is the number of paid days off that Italians can expect: when national holidays are included, 30 a year.

For those who might blame this healthier work-life balance on Italy’s economic woes, it’s worth noting that the economic powerhouse Germany offers 34 days for permanent workers.

Moore meets Claudio Domenicali, chief executive of the Italian motorcycling manufacturer Ducati, who says providing benefits for workers and recognising a strong union benefited the company.

Then there’s Finland. In Britain, we have a government determined to fragment our comprehensive state school system and introduce the philosophy of the market. If our government had a “what works” philosophy, then – like Moore – it would surely aspire to the Finnish model.

Finland’s educational results are among the highest in the world but it’s a country with barely any private schools and no academic selection, where children don’t even start school until after their seventh birthday, schooldays are shorter, play is emphasised, and there is practically no homework.

Top quality schools for all and an emphasis on the wellbeing of pupils produce results.

And unlike Britain – where morale in the education system is often poor – Finnish teachers are held in high esteem. Finland also has a more equal society than Britain: research has repeatedly underscored a link between deprivation and poor academic performance.

Another of Moore’s “victims” is Norway. Its justice system is like something lifted from a Daily Mail nightmare.

Far fewer people are locked up and the prison sentences are significantly shorter. On Bastoy prison island, for example, inmates have their own TVs, computers and showers, and are provided with a proper education.

Norway’s reoffending rate is among the lowest in the world: reportedly 20%, compared with a stunning 77% in the punitive US system.

When the fascist terrorist Anders Breivik detonated a bomb in Oslo and murdered dozens of young socialists on Utoya island, Norway’s prime minister declared: “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.”

Norway did not allow terrorism to subvert its way of life; there were no clampdowns on civil liberty; support for the death penalty (a fringe position in Norway) did not surge. Rather than giving Breivik the special treatment he craved, the country played it by the book.

There are many other examples.

Countries such as Germany and Slovenia, where university education is treated as a social good and there are no tuition fees.

And Portugal, which has abandoned the calamitous “war on drugs” and no longer locks people up for the personal consumption of illicit substances.

I could go on. Nordic countries, where taxes are higher, which have more extensive welfare states but where living standards are better. Germany, where a state-led industrial strategy has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in renewable energy and is confronting the climate change crisis.

The most important contribution made by films such as Moore’s is to popularise the idea that the status quo is not, in fact, inevitable.

Those of us who believe in societies being run for the benefit of the majority – not as rackets for a tiny elite – all too often assume a defensive posture.

We can be easily defined by what we oppose, rather than what we support.

Our placards are adorned with slogans protesting against privatisation or cuts, rather than presenting an optimistic vision of what society could be.

No wonder that, to many, we appear as doomsayers, relentlessly conveying misery and gloom. Ronald Reagan is an unlikely example for the left to emulate – his disastrous legacy includes the stagnation of living standards for millions of Americans. But he wrapped his pro-rich policies in optimism, proclaiming “Morning in America”.

We should not stop opposing injustice. But surely we need to do far more to match our opposition with an inspiring, hope-filled vision.

As Moore illustrates vividly, there is no shortage of alternatives. We don’t talk about them enough, and it’s time we did.

Owen Jones will be in conversation with Michael Moore after the UK premiere of Where to Invade Next on Friday 10 June. The event will be broadcast live via satellite from Sheffield Doc/Fest to more than 120 cinemas nationwide. Find your nearest cinema at










Axing a blog? Nafeez Ahmed’s and The Guardian

Nafeez Ahmed’s account of the sudden termination of his short-lived contract to write an environment blog for the Guardian is depressingly instructive – and accords with my own experiences as a journalist at the paper.

Ahmed is that rare breed of journalist who finds stories everyone else either misses or chooses to overlook.

He regularly joins up the dots in a global system of corporate pillage. If the news business were really driven by news rather than a corporate-friendly business agenda, publications would be beating a path to his door.

Jonathan Cook from Nazareth, December 4, 2014

Nafeez has been mostly ploughing a lonely furrow as a freelance journalist, bypassing the media gatekeepers by promoting himself on social media, and placing his articles wherever a window briefly opens. His 43,000 followers on Twitter are testament to his skills as a journalist – skills, it seems, that are in short demand even at the bastions of liberal journalism.

That neglect looked like it might finally be remedied last year when the Guardian gave him a blog.

Let’s be clear: the Guardian is now a raucous market-place of opinion – its model for monetising the mostly voluntary labour of desperate journalists, writers, academics and lobby groups. The paper calls it “Comment is Free” – free for the Guardian, that is.

But it is certainly not “free” in the sense of “free expression”, as I know only too well from my many run-ins with its editors, both from my time on staff there and from my later experiences as a freelance journalist (more below).

The Guardian’s website covers a spectrum of “moderate”, meaning  conventional, opinion from right to left, with a couple of genuinely progressive staff writers – currently Seumas Milne and Owen Jones – there to offer the illusion of real pluralism.

Recruiting Ahmed was therefore a risky move.

He is a voice from the genuine left, and one too independent to control. The Guardian did not offer him a column, or the more interesting – and suitable – position of investigative journalist, a platform that would have given him the opportunity and resources to explore the biggest and most under-reported story of our era: the connection between corporate greed and the destruction of the life-support systems necessary for our continued existence on the planet.

Instead he got a minor leg-up: a raise out of the morass of CiF contributors to his own Guardian blog.

Rather than waste inordinate time and energy on arm-twisting the Guardian’s ever-cautious editors, he was able to publish his own posts with minimal interference. And that was the beginning of his downfall.

Ignoring the real story

In July, as Israel began its massive assault on Gaza, Ahmed published a post revealing a plausible motivation – Gaza’s natural gas reserves – for Israel’s endless belligerence towards the enclave’s Hamas government.

(The story had until then been confined to minor and academic publications, including my own contribution here.) Israel wanted to keep control over large gas reserves in Gaza’s waters so that it could deny Hamas a resource that would have bought it influence with other major players in the region, not least Egypt.

This story should be at the centre of the coverage of Gaza, and of criticism of the west’s interference, including by the UK’s own war criminal Tony Blair, who has conspired in the west’s plot to deny the people of Gaza their rightful bounty. But the Guardian, like other media, have ignored the story.

Interestingly, Ahmed’s article went viral, becoming the most shared of any of the paper’s stories on Operation Protective Shield.

But readers appear to have had better news judgment than the Guardian’s editors. Rather than congratulate him, the Guardian effectively fired Ahmed, as he details in the link below. No one has suggested that there were errors in the story, and no correction has been appended to the article.

In axing him, the Guardian appears to have broken the terms of his contract and has failed to offer grounds for their action, apart from claiming that this story and others had strayed too far from his environment beat.

There is an obvious problem with this justification.

No responsible employer sacks someone for repeated failures without first warning them at an earlier stage that they are not fulfilling the terms of their employment.

So either the Guardian has been wildly irresponsible, or – far more likely – the professed justification is nothing more than a smokescreen. After all, the idea that an environment blogger for the liberal media should not be examining the connection between control over mineral resources, which are deeply implicated in climate change, and wars, which lead to human deaths and ecological degradation, is preposterous beyond belief.

It is not that Ahmed strayed too far from his environment remit, it is that he strayed too much on to territory – that of the Israel-Palestine conflict – that the Guardian rigorously reserves for a few trusted reporters and commentators. Without knowing it, he went where only the carefully vetted are allowed to tread.

I know from my own long years of clashing with Guardian editors on this issue. Here is just one of my many experiences.

Comment is elusive

I moved to Nazareth in 2001 as a freelance journalist, after a decade of working for the Guardian and its sister publication, the Observer. I knew many people at the paper, and I had some kind of track record with them as a former staff member.

I arrived in Nazareth at an interesting time. It was the height of the second intifada, and I was the only foreign reporter in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

In those days, before Israel built its concrete and steel barrier, Jenin – one of the most newsworthy spots in the West Bank – was a 20-minute drive away. I have previously written about the way the paper so heavily edited an investigation I conducted into the clear-cut execution of a British citizen, Iain Hook, in Jenin’s refugee camp that it was effectively censored (see here and here).

But I also spent my early years in Nazareth desperately trying to raise any interest first at the comment section and later at Comment is Free in my contributing (free) articles on my experiences of the second intifada. Remember CiF, then as now, was a cacophony of competing opinions, many of them belonging to dubious lobbyists and interest groups.

I was a former Guardian staff member, now located not only in one of the world’s hot spots but offering a story no other foreign journalist was in a position to tell.

At that time, CiF had several journalists in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem detailing the experiences and traumas of Israeli Jews. But Israeli Palestinians – a fifth of Israel’s population – were entirely unrepresented in its coverage.

It exasperated me that no one at CiF, including the paper’s late deputy editor Georgina Henry, seemed to think this of any consequence.

I finally broke briefly into CiF after the Lebanon war erupted in summer 2006. Pointing out that I was the only foreign journalist actually living daily under threat of Hizbullah rockets finally seemed to get the editors’ attention.

I survived at CiF for just a year, managing at great effort to publish 7 stories, almost all of them after difficult battles with editors and including in one case sections censored without my permission.

My time with CiF came to an end after yet another baffling exchange with Henry, after she refused to publish an article, that I have previously documented here.

Escaping scrutiny

Why is writing about Israel so difficult at the Guardian? There are several reas

1.  as I have regularly observed in my blog, is related to the general structure of the corporate media system, including the Guardian. It is designed to exclude almost all deeply critical voices, those that might encourage readers to question the ideological basis of the western societies in which they live and alert them to the true role of the corporations that run those societies and their media.

Israel, as an intimate ally of the US, is therefore protected from profoundly critical scrutiny, much as the US and its western allies are.

It is okay to criticise individual western policies as flawed, especially if done so respectfully, but not to suggest that the whole direction of western foreign policy is flawed, that it is intended to maintain a system of control over, and exploitation of, weaker nations. Policies can be dubious, but not our leaders’ moral character.

The problem with Israel is that its place in the global order – alongside the US – depends on it being a very sophisticated gun for hire. It keeps order and disorder in the Middle East at Washington’s behest and in return it gets to plunder the Palestinian territories and ethnically cleanse the native population.

It’s a simple story but not one you can state anywhere in the mainstream because it questions not just a policy (the occupation) but Israel’s very nature and role as a colonial settler state.

Beyond this, however, special factors pertain in the Guardian’s case.

2. As Ahmed notes, in part this is related to the Guardian’s pivotal role in bringing to fruition the ultimate colonial document, the Balfour Declaration. For this reason, the Guardian has always had a strong following among liberal Jews, and that is reflected in its selection of staff at senior ranks.

In this sense, the editorial “mood” at the Guardian resembles that of an indulgent parent towards a wayward grown-up child. Yes, Israel does some very bad things (the occupation) but, for all its faults, its heart is in the right place (as a Jewish, colonial settler state practising apartheid).

3. And then there is the Jonathan Freedland factor, as Ahmed also notes (including by citing some of my previous criticisms of him). One should not personalise this too much. Freedland, an extremely influential figure at the paper, is a symptom of a much wider problem with the Guardian’s coverage of Israel.

Freedland is a partisan on Israel, as am I.

But I get to write a blog and occasional reports tucked away in specialist and Arab media in English. Freedland and other partisans for Israel at the paper get to reinforce and police an already highly indulgent attitude towards Israel’s character (though not the occupation) across the coverage of one of the most widely read papers in the world.

Given that Israel’s character, as a colonial settler state, is the story, the Guardian effectively never presents more than a fraction of the truth about the conflict. Because it never helps us understand what drives Israeli policy, it – along with the rest of the media – never offers us any idea how the conflict might be resolved.

And this is where Ahmed tripped up. Because his piece, as the Guardian’s editors doubtless quickly realised, implicated Israel’s character rather than just its policies. It violated a Guardian taboo.

Ahmed is hoping to continue his fiercely independent reporting by creating a new model of crowd-sourced journalism. I wish him every luck with his venture.

Such initiatives are possibly the only hope that we can start to loosen the grip of the corporate media and awaken ourselves to many of the truths hidden in plain sight. If you wish to help Ahmed, you can find out about his new funding model here.


The Guardian has issued a short official statement that manages to avoid addressing any of Nafeez Ahmed’s complaints about his treatment or throwing any further light on the reasons for the termination of his contract. It’s a case study in evasiveness and can be read here.


I have amended the section of my post concerning my early struggles to get published in Comment is Free. I inadvertently suggested that these related to my whole time in Nazareth. In fact, CiF was set up in March 2006, and my earliest travails concerned efforts to get published in the main comment section, battling with many of the same editors who would later join CiF.

Immediately CiF was launched, I contacted those editors asking to be included among the many contributors who were being taken on. As I explain above, my repeated approaches were either ignored or rebuffed, while many journalists and writers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were recruited to write from an Israeli Jewish perspective.

That finally changed in July 2006 when I persuaded the CiF editors that my unique perspective on the Lebanon war needed to be included. Interestingly, it seemed their interest was finally piqued not by the perspective I could share of how Palestinians were treated in a Jewish state but by the fact that Palestinians in Israel were under threat from fellow Arabs, in this case Hizbullah.

– See more at:


Top of British society is a racket for the privileged

Judges sit in the House of Lords

Do you believe graduates from public universities would be caught dead wearing these stupid lawyer hats?
71% of senior judges in Britain were privately educated. Photograph: Toby Melville/REUTERS

Much of the upper crust of British society is a racket for the privileged in defiance of the democratic wishes of the majority.

That really is the core of Elitist Britain, that while 95% of Britons believe “in a fair society every person should have an equal opportunity to get ahead”, the figures in a government report published on Thursday reveal an ingrained unfairness.

Only 7% in Britain are privately educated.

And yet this section of society makes up 71% of senior judges, 62% of the senior armed forces and 55% of permanent secretaries.

It is quite something when the “cabinet of millionaires” is one of the less unrepresentative pillars of power, with 36% hailing from private schools.

The statistics should provoke Britain’s media into a prolonged period of self-reflection.

They probably won’t since 54% of the top 100 media professionals went to private schools, and just 16% attended a comprehensive school – in a country where 88% attend non-selective state schools.

43% of newspaper columnists had parents rich enough to send them to fee-paying schools.

In the case of the media this has much to do with:

1. The decline of the local newspapers that offered a way in for the aspiring journalist with a non-gilded background.

2. The growing importance of costly post-graduate qualifications that are beyond the bank accounts of most; and

3. The explosion of unpaid internships, which discriminate on the basis of whether you are prosperous enough to work for free, rather than whether you are talented.

Why does the unfairness highlighted by the report matter?

As it points out, elitism leaves “leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be”.

They focus “on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society”.

If there are so few journalists and politicians who have experienced, say, low wages or a struggle for affordable home, then the media and political elite will be less likely to deal with these issues adequately.

Instead, they will reflect the prejudices, assumptions and experiences of the uber-privileged.

The flaw with the report is an implicit assumption that inequality is not the problem, but rather that our current inequality is not a fair distribution of talents.

If only a few bright sparks from humble backgrounds could be scraped into the higher echelons,” seems to be the plea.

Certainly Britain is in desperate need of radical measures to ensure all can realise their aspirations, including the banning of unpaid internships, the scrapping of charitable status for private schools, investment in early-years education, and dealing with issues such as overcrowded homes that stifle educational attainment.

But surely Britain’s chronically unequal distribution of wealth and power has to be tackled too.


‘Israel under renewed Hamas attack’, says the BBC.

Is More balanced coverage needed?

“Israel under renewed Hamas attack”: this was last night’s BBC headline on the escalating bloodshed in Gaza. It is as perverse as Mike Tyson punching a toddler, followed by a headline claiming that the child spat at him.
As Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli human rights activist,tweeted: “We are targeted by mostly shitty rockets. Gazans are being shelled with heavy bombs. We have shelters, sirens, Iron Dome. They have 0.”
The macabre truth is that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life – this is the hierarchy of death at work
Israeli soldiers and tanks near the border with the Gaza Strip this week. Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP
 published in, Wednesday 9 July 2014

There is no defence for Hamas firing rockets into civilian areas, and as sirens wail in Israel, the fear among ordinary Israelis should not be ignored or belittled.

But the media coverage hardly reflects the reality: a military superpower armed with F-15 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache helicopters, Delilah missiles, IAI Heron-1 drones and Jericho II missiles (and nuclear bombs, for that matter), versus what David Cameron describes as a “prison camp” firing almost entirely ineffective missiles.

At the first day of this preemptive massacre, 27 Palestinians were reported to have died in Gaza – and, mercifully, no Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets – and yet the BBC opts for the Orwellian “Israel under renewed Hamas attack”.

The macabre truth is that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life: here is the “hierarchy of death” at work.

According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, 565 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since January 2009, while 28 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli security personnel have been killed. The asymmetry of this so-called conflict is reflected in the death toll, but it is not reflected in the coverage.

And so it goes for the events surrounding the abduction and vile murder of three Israeli teenagers. What was not widely reported by the western media was that – in the raids that followed their disappearance – six Palestinians, including a child, were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

As Amnesty International put it, these were “blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”.

Perhaps our media will excuse themselves on the basis of motive: whoever killed the three teenagers intended to do so, while Israel only kills civilians unintentionally. Read, then, the report of Human Rights Watch, not an organisation that can be accused of being a den of lefties.

Israel’s actions “amounted to collective punishment“, it declared, because of “unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions”. Human Rights Watch investigated two deaths and found “there was no evidence that the victim or anyone in the line of fire posed an imminent threat to Israeli soldiers or others”.

On 17 June, 20-year-old Ahmed Samada was shot dead in Jalazon refugee camp, and yet Israel did not even claim to have come under fire; the same for 17-year-old Sakher Abu Aal-Hasan, shot dead on 21 June.

The BBC is a public broadcaster, duty-bound to provide balanced reports that accurately reflect the reality on the ground. It is failing to do so, and it is up to licence payers – to whom it is accountable – to demand that it does.

Confronting War Ten Years On

As millions around the world predicted around the world, the war on terror has caused catastrophe from Afghanistan and Pakistan through Iraq and the Middle East to Libya, Yemen, Somalia and beyond. The Western States have backed brutal Israeli assaults against the Palestinians in theoccupied West Bank and Gaza and is threatening further intervention in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

Ten years after the biggest demonstrations in history in February 2003, the warnings of millions have been vindicated.

This conference will bring together leading activists and commentators to analyse continuing Western aggression and how to confront it.

Speakers include: Tariq AliTony BennPhyllis BennisNoam Chomsky (via Video Link), Jeremy Corbyn MPLindsey German, Owen JonesJemima KhanSami RamadaniSalma Yaqoob and many others.

Conference sessions will cover topics including: Palestine & the Middle East, drones, the new scramble for AfricaIslamophobia and more

Confronting War Ten Years On

An international conference

Tariq Ali Tony Benn Phyllis Bennis Noam Chomsky Jeremy Corbyn Lindsey German Owen Jones Jemima Khan Sami Ramadani Salma Yaqoob

10am – 5pm, 9th February 2013 #tenyearson
Friends House, 173-177 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ

This conference will discuss and plan opposition to continuing and further wars.

The conference will bring together leading activists and commentators to analyse continuing Western aggression and how to confront it.

Sessions will include:

  • The Consequences of War
  • Palestine and the Crisis in the Middle East
  • Drones and Remote Control Imperialism
  • Art and War
  • The New Scramble for Africa
  • Islamophobia: the new racism
  • The War On Terror Today
  • The international anti-war movement

February 15th, 2003 demonstration

A number of campiagns and organisations will be represented with stalls at the conference, including BookmarksCNDFree Talha AhsanGreen PartyPalestine Solidarity CampaignPeace NewsPluto PressStop G4S and others.

Please contact Stop the War if your organisation would like a stall, although as space is very limited and we cannot guarantee availability.

Note: To review pictures on this decade of wars:




March 2023

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