Category: Uncategorized

Left wing Jewish groups don’t agree with right wing ones, surprisingly enough

Image result for antisemitism

Parsing Jewish groups on the grounds of their political beliefs and preferences is deplorable. I have seen the right-slanted media going all out to discredit and denigrate left wing Jewish groups in particular this past few weeks. The general theme has been that Conservative Jews are “good” and left wing Jews are somehow “bad”. In their haste to portray the entire left of centre as dangerous “cultists” and “antisemites”, some of media commentators have inadvertently displayed their own antisemitism for all to see.

Antisemitism on any grounds is an affront in a so-called civilised and democratic country.  Abuse, discrimination and oppression directed at people because of their political beliefs is also contrary to our human rights legislation. Our freedom of expression – protected by Article 10 of the Human Rights Act – is fundamental to a functioning democracy. It means we’re free to hold opinions and ideas and share them with others without the State interfering – which is crucial to keeping our government accountable and transparent. 

Article 10 covers:

  • political expression – including peaceful protests and demonstrations.

The thing about human rights is that they apply to everyone. They would be pretty pointless if they only apply to Conservatives or Centrists. As it is, those of us who oppose neoliberalism are being targeted not only by Conservatives, but by the neoliberal faction within the Labour party. 

andrew neil antisemitic

Antisemitic comments from pundits that target left wing Jews

Over the last few weeks, I have witnessed abuse and experienced it myself from those on the right, and some of the so-called “moderates” in the Labour party. I have written about and campaigned against prejudice for a number of years, and discussed the dangers of a divided society where prejudice and discrimination are permitted to grow – including racism, antisemitism and other expressions of prejudice. These are issues I feel very strongly about. My support of the Labour party is based on principles of solidarity inclusion, equality, valuing diversity, mutual aid, and its antidiscriminatory, human rights-based policies.

I believe that when division and prejudice are permitted to grow within a society, many groups are systematically stigmatised – prejudice “multitasks”. These are invariably groups that have been traditionally marginalised from societies, and most vulnerable to political abuse – disabled people, Jewish people, other ethnic groups, poor people and those deemed to be political “dissidents”, among others. I belong to two of those groups.

In 2014, the UK witnessed the highest level of antisemitism since records began. It does not begin to address this serious problem when it is simply used as a political weapon by the right and centre to discredit the Labour party leader. That is not the same thing as saying there are no antisemitic Labour party members. I have witnessed antisemitism on the far left on two occasions over the last few years. The people concerned were actually Green party members. I challenged it and I always will. Where there are allegations of antisemitism made, the Labour party must be permitted to investigate those allegations and the evidence fairly. Once that is done, the party must then act.

In a world where people can set up fake accounts and troll groups to disrupt discussions, and discredit commentators, it is best to check if the allegations are also genuine. Having experienced this from trolls or shills on the far right and far left, I know that this happens. 

The accusations of “smearingare not a statement that antisemitism does not exist on the left. It exists throughout our society. That isn’t “whataboutery”, it’s an evidenced statement of fact. I am convinced that the antisemitism debate has been politically weaponised by the right and centrists because of the abuse I have experienced myself – including from the executive director of Progress.

Those left of centre – including Jewish groups – are also experiencing abuse in the mainstream media and on social media. If antisemitism in the Labour party was “rife” as the right are claiming, the left leaning Jewish groups would most certainly have been among the first to raise this serious issue. As it is, their accounts are being marginalised, discredited and stifled by the right. 

There has never been a more oppressive, dnagerously authoritarian culture within UK politics as there is right now.

Jewish opinions from the left

Many Jewish groups who are left wing have pointed out that their voices have been marginalised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other right leaning groups.

The chair of the Jewish Voice for Labour group said on Radio 4’s Today programme:  “None of us in my group has ever experienced any antisemitism within the Labour Party.”

In an interview this morning ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, Jenny Manson said evidence of the “very worst” antisemitism “has always been” on the far-right.

Asked about Margaret Hodge’s comments, suggesting she had never known antisemitism in Labour to be as bad it was now, Manson said that Hodge would have been better advised to “go to the Labour Party rather than complain to the media about it”.

Dismissing claims that antisemitism was “rife” within the party, Manson said: “In my area I talk to other Jewish people in my acquaintance and that’s the general consensus.

“What we are saying is it is a misery and a tragedy that Margaret Hodge and other Labour MPs have received nasty antisemitic comments.

“I suspect most of these have been on social media and I suspect nobody has actually worked hard to find out who this nasty stuff is coming from.

“If they do I think it’s much better to go to the Labour Party than to complain to the media about it.”

Discussing Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to deal with the issue, Manson added: “What we can’t have is a witchhunt. What the Board of Deputies and the JLC seem to be demanding far too often… is that people should be expelled from the Labour Party without due process.”

Manson also referred to a survey conducted by the Campaign Against Antisemitism group saying: “Evidence including very recent evidence commissioned by a Jewish body suggests the very worst antisemitism is still on the right, on the far right and always has been.”

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From The Jerusalem Post UK JEWISH LEADER: KINGMAKER DUP IS FRIEND OF THE COMMUNITY AND ISRAEL

Last year, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, told The Jerusalem Post that he and his colleagues met in Belfast with DUP leader Arlene Foster and the party’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, whom he described as having been “exceptionally warm and friendly.”

The DUP has strong links to Protestant churches and is staunchly pro-Israel. It has also publicly stated its support for the Board of Deputies’ “Ten Commitments” – a part of its Jewish Manifesto that includes requests to parliamentarians regarding policy on issues that affect British Jewry.

The DUP defends Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom and takes a conservative approach to social issues. The party’s 10 seats would give May a fragile but workable partnership.

While Arkush said that an arrangement between the two parties would promote the UK’s strong friendship with Israel, he also noted that “May is clearly a strong friend of Israel and her authority and her government’s ability to govern has been weakened, so that is not something our community can take lightly.”

Back in 2016, it was reported that the British Jewish community responded angrily after Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies, publicly congratulated Donald Trump on his election win.

In a statement published on the Board’s website, Arkush said: “I would like to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory.

“After a divisive campaign, I hope that Mr Trump will move to build bridges and ensure that America’s standing as a beacon of progress, tolerance and free-thinking remains strong.”

Arkush’s statement sparked a wave of negative responses on social media. Aaron Simons was one of the first to respond to the announcement, and his reaction set the tone for much that followed:

Dr Ruvi Ziegler, law lecturer at the University of Reading, tweeted: “What does an organisation representing British Jewry congratulate this vile man endorsed by the KKK? #NotInMyName”

Rachel Wenstone, a former National Union of Students vice-president, responded: “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! Why did you think this was at all necessary? You do know that you’re congratulating the KKK-backed candidate?”

Ivor Caplin, a former British Defence Minister and ex-MP for Hove, was personally critical of Mr Arkush, saying:  “Arkush should have kept quiet but he seeks publicity instead of reflecting concerns of Jews.”

Arkush did not escape criticism from fellow Board members.

I don’t think it’s @BoardofDeputies job to congratulate Donald Trump on his election, and I’m sure the Jewish community will agree with me”, said Tal Ofer, who is on the Board’s executive committee and defence division.

Other members echoed that sentiment:

Ella Rose@ellarachelrose
 
 
 

No words for how badly this statement is judged. I’m embarrassed to be a Deputy.

 

Board of Deputies of British Jews

@BoardofDeputies

President Jonathan Arkush congratulates Donald Trump – http://www.bod.org.uk/president-jonathan-arkush-congratulates-donald-trump/ 

The Republican’s final campaign advert before yesterday’s poll was widely criticised by Jewish groups for its alleged antisemitic overtones.

Jay Stoll – who is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement executive, said:

The Board has misjudged the anxieties that many have over the election of a racist demagogue to the highest office in the world. I not only question the necessity of the statement, but believe it is actively harmful to our relations with other faith groups who are deeply fearful of the election’s outcome.

“The Board should not be congratulating a candidate endorsed by a range of white supremacists, including the KKK, and it is mind-blowing that this even needs pointing out.”

More than 90 young British Jews had put their names to a letter addressed to Arkush, expressing their concern at the Board’s decision to congratulate Trump.

The letter was signed by members of the Board of Deputies including Amos Schonfeld, Liron Velleman and Ben Lewis, as well as members of the Jewish Labour Movement and workers from Jewish youth groups including Habonim-Dror, RSY-Netzer and Noam.

We do not welcome the ascendancy of Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” the letter said.

“We urge the Board of Deputies to retract their congratulations and show their support to American communities that have been targeted with Trump’s incendiary rhetoric throughout this campaign.

It is beneath contempt to congratulate a candidate who was censured by the ADL for using antisemitic tropes, who has enabled mainstream antisemitic abuse and who has secured the endorsement of the KKK and other white supremacists.

“This message of congratulations is contrary to our community’s best interests and is an affront to our ancestors and contemporaries who have stood against racism and fascism in all its forms.”

I posted this article on Twitter, with the comment that Jonathan Arkrush supports the DUP and Conservative coalition. I was immediately attacked by the executive director of Progress, Richard Angell, who ludicrously called me a “liar”, a “racist” and said the post was “whataboutery”. I did point out to him that the article wasn’t actually mine. I’ve also been called a”cultist”.  I have strongly opposed and campaigned against racism, antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and oppression for a number of years. There was nothing in my comment that was untrue or even remotely “racist”.

The “whataboutery” charge also doesn’t hold, since the political preferences of Arkrush are relevant in that they have some influence on his motivations and narrative. Pointing out someone’s political preference is in no way denying antisemitism. As it is, there are different, sometimes contradictory perspectives and narratives being presented from the left and right wing Jewish communities. Highlighting that does not mean I either endorse or deny antisemitism within the Labour party.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group statement – Oppose antisemitism and malicious accusations by supporters of the Tory Party says:

“The Jewish Socialists’ Group expresses its serious concern at the rise of antisemitism, especially under extreme right wing governments in central and Eastern Europe, in America under Donald Trump’s Presidency and here in Britain under Theresa May’s premiership. The recent extensive survey by the highly respected Jewish Policy Research confirmed that the main repository of antisemitic views in Britain is among supporters of the Conservative Party and UKIP.

“This political context, alongside declining support for the Tories, reveals the malicious intent behind the latest flimsy accusations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. These accusations have come from the unrepresentative Board of Deputies and the unelected, self-proclaimed “Jewish Leadership Council”, two bodies dominated by supporters of the Tory Party.”

The rest of the article is also worth a read. (Link above).

 

Related

Promoting social solidarity is a positive way to address antisemitism and the growth of social prejudice

 Institute for Jewish Policy Research – Antisemitism in contemporary
Great Britain

 


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Antisemitism and the growth of prejudice and oppression in the UK

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Political context

The Labour party’s strong inclusion, equality and diversity principles are being used to undermine the party by the neoliberal right, as part of an ongoing propaganda war. Jeremy Corbyn throughout his leadership – and particularly before elections – has been accused of “siding” with variety of state constructed and reconstucted ‘enemies’. However, every Labour leader with the exception of Tony Blair, who was conveniently neoliberal, has been accused of having some kind of ‘sympathy’ with Russia.

It’s a Conservative idée fixe that began with the fake Zinoviev letter and should have ended with Ben Bradley’s libellous attempt at combining Conservative malice with bon mot. The Conservatives are creatures of  tradition and habit, no matter how much the world moves on, they try to pull it back to where they stand. 

The Conservatives’ McCarthyist leitmotif of ‘enemies and the traitor’ reveals a lot about their own operant bullying, emphasises their divisive and hierarchical perspective of societies and their outdated colonialism, ethnocentrism and nationalist understanding of the world.

One of Corbyn’s finest qualities is his mature internationalism, and his inclusive and respectful vision of the world. Corbyn sees people first, and does not differentiate their human worth and value on the basis of their group identities and individual characteristics. This is why he is an outstanding diplomat, and champion of social justice.

In an era of nuclear first strike posturing, which indicates the international breakdown of the principle of nuclear deterrence, I’d personally prefer a leader who has such skills and qualities, rather than someone who has no regard for the lives and safety of citizens.

The Conservatives have said that they wouldn’t hesitate in some circumstances to launch a nuclear attack, even if we weren’t under threat.” The government throw scorn at Corbyn for his reluctance to incinerate populations, and some of the UK public don’t seem to realise that they too face the same fate due to the mutually assured destruction which comes free with the nuclear retaliation principle.

Corbyn has publicly condemned the vilification and abuse of Labour MPs who attended Monday night’s demonstration against antisemitism in the party.

Leaders of the Jewish organisations that staged the protest told him that they would not meet him until he intervened to halt the attacks on social media, Corbyn said he was profoundly concerned by any abuse. It’s difficult to know who is making the attacks on social media, since many fake accounts exist for the purpose of creating disruptions, discrediting political opponents, and harassing them. Furthermore, it would be impossible for the Labour leader to monitor social media, given his work load. No-one expects the Conservative government to end the abusive trolling of Conservative supporters, yet I have encountered MANY of them.

People have the right to speak out and the right to demonstrate,” Corbyn told the Jewish News in an interview. “I will not tolerate abuse of people for their beliefs.”

“Any abuse that’s done is not done in my name,” he added.

He also rejected the idea – put forward by a rival demonstration by the Jewish Voice for Labour on Monday – that the reason for the main protest was to smear Corbyn himself.

“Of course it’s not a smear, it’s perfectly reasonable to raise any question about one’s public profile activities,” he went on. “I don’t see that as a smear.”

He is right of course. However that doesn’t quite explain the vitiolic and often irrational comments from some of the right wing pundits over the last few weeks. As a person who has written extensively about prejudice, I won’t ever claim that antisemitism is eradicated or negligible. It isn’t either, unfortunately. There are two issues here. One is absolutely genuine concern about antisemitism. The other is how that concern is being used politically, outside of the Jewish community. 

Yesterday, Corbyn condemned Israel’s killing of at least 27 Palestinians on the Gaza border as an “outrage” and attacked Western silence about the deaths. In a message read out at a demonstration outside Downing Street, the Labour leader quite reasonably demanded that Theresa May support the United Nation’s call for an independent international inquiry. He also said that Britain should also consider stopping the sale of arms to Israel that “could be used in violation of international law”. Israel has faced very little criticism over the killing of civilian Palestinians. 

The latest deaths came a week after 18 Palestinians lost their lives when Israeli soldiers opened fire at similar demonstrations in support of a “right to return” to land lost to Israel in 1948. The UN human rights spokeswoman, Elizabeth Throssell, has suggested the shootings could amount to wilful killing of civilians – a breach of the fourth Geneva Convention.

Corbyn spoke out after at least nine more Palestinians were killed, and hundreds more injured, by Israeli gunfire, some reportedly shot in the head or upper body.

He said “The majority of the people of the Gaza Strip are stateless refugees, subject to a decade-long blockade and the denial of basic human and political rights.

“More than two thirds are reliant on humanitarian assistance, with limited access to the most basic amenities, such as water and electricity.

“They have a right to protest against their appalling conditions and the continuing blockade and occupation of Palestinian land, and in support of their right to return to their homes and their right to self-determination.” 

“The silence from international powers with the responsibility of bringing a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict must end,” he added.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has said nothing since the first killings on 30 March, although his deputy, Alistair Burt, issued a statement saying he was “appalled by the deaths and injuries”. Burt said: “There is an urgent need to establish the facts, including why such a volume of live fire was used and what role Hamas played in the violence.”

Israel came under pressure after a video was released which showed a protester being shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as he walked away from the fence separating Gaza from Israel. In other footage, Palestinians were shown being killed or wounded as they prayed, walked empty-handed towards the border fence, or simply held up a Palestinian flag.

According to reports in the Israeli media, the Israel Defence Forces’ rules of engagement allow live fire to be used against anyone who approaches the fence. Justifying its response, the Israeli military said: “Several attempts have been made to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of the smokescreen created by the burning tyres that the rioters ignited.”

Corbyn has been loudly condemned previously by the Conservatives because he wanted to include all parties in discussions to bring about a peace process in the region. However, it is worth noting that Corbyn has never made any demands that Jewish communities publicly repudiate the actions of  Israeli settlers and extremists. People who make this demand are assuming that Jewish people more generally are undeserving of being heard out unless they “prove” themselves acceptable by non-Jewish’ standards.

Nor is it acceptable to demand that Palestinians publicly repudiate the actions of Hamas in order to be accepted or trusted, either.

It’s also worth noting that although people in power in Israel are Jews, not all Jews are Israelis (let alone Israeli leaders). There are many people left and right who don’t understand what Zionism is, and it has frequently been used as a derogatory label. However, Zionism is simply the belief that Jewish people should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the antisemitism and persecution they face elsewhere.

It does not, however, mean a belief that Jews have a right to take land from others, or a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews. Using the word “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful. “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies).

Misunderstanding of Zionism is used to justify antisemitic attacks outside of Israel.  Many of the Jews in Israel who are violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist – they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law). We must be very careful with the labels we use. The problem with labelling is that it is often used to create negative stereotypes, denying us our complexity and diversity. Labelling creates stigma and prejudice.

Now, with this clarified, I am not going to claim there hasn’t ever been antisemitic Labour party members or that no problem has ever occurred. Antisemitism is a prejudice arising in wider society. Few people would deny that some people joining the Labour Party may harbour antisemitic prejudices. It’s not possible to know in advance if a person joining the party is prejudiced, however, until that prejudice has been revealed in some way. It’s also important to keep in mind that condemning the murder of Palestinians is not antisemitic.

I want to make this clear: I absolutely condemn any form of prejudice, including antisemitism, regardless of where it arises. 

The party has taken action in addressing these arising issues by vowing to implement all of the recommendations in Shami Chakrabarti’s 2016 report (PDF) into alleged antisemitism in the party. Corbyn has also told the party’s newly appointed general secretary Jennie Formby “that her first priority has to be the full implementation of the Chakrabarti Report and there has to be an appointment of an in-house lawyer, a legal team, to ensure that there is a proper approach to these cases.”  

Corbyn has always been a consistent and reliable opponent of racism in all of its forms and he has committed Labour to dealing robustly with the allegations of antisemitism.

Antisemitism is profoundly disturbing, as is any other kind of prejudice and discrimination in democratic, civilised societies. If it is happening, I want to see it addressed just as I want to see prejudice and discrimination against disabled people and other socal groups in the UK addressed. People seem to forget that disabled people were the first social group to be murdered by the Nazis – the Aktion T4 “euthanasia” programme. 

Perhaps at this point it’s worth reflecting on the many deaths and suicides among the disabled community over recent years, and that a correlation with the Conservative welfare “reforms” has been established several times over. The government have persistently denied that there is any “causal relationship” between their policies and the distress, harm and fear experienced by disabled citizens, and furthermore, have refused to investigate this issue any further. There has been relatively little media attention concerning this issue and no public outcry. Yet disabled people are living in fear for their future.

Each case of premature mortality or suicide linked with welfare policy that has been presented to the government has been disregarded, described with contempt as “anecdotal evidence”. Each academic study that shows a clear correlation between policy and harm has been dismissed. The complicit media are by and large far more interested in anything that may be used to smear and criticise Corbyn than in holding the government to account for the terrible consequences of their draconian policies. 

Framing and entrapment 

The allegations regarding Labour’s “problem with antisemitism” are framed using the same kind of psycholinguistic entrapment tactics that we have seen deployed in trying to frame Corbyn as a “Russian dupe”, and by implication, a “threat” to UK security.  This propaganda process was projected onto a basic McCarthy-styled, over-simplistic and  false dichotomy frame: “You either agree with our very narrow terms, or you’re ‘siding with the enemy'”.

As it turns out, Corbyn was absolutely right to exercise caution in stating that Russia was “irrefutably” behind the attack. It would have been more appropriate to claim “on balance of probability” it is likely to be a Russian attack – because of the context and history. However, it now emerges that Boris Johnson lied about the information Porton Down provided the government. Regardless of whether or not Russia were actually behind the poisoning of the Skripals, the UK has lost its international credibility.   

Armin Laschet, the leader of North Rhine-Westphalia and a deputy chairman of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), took to Twitter after the UK’s Porton Down government laboratory announced on Tuesday that it could not link nerve agent samples it had collected to Russia.

“If you force almost all NATO countries to show solidarity, shouldn’t you have sound evidence?” Laschet said. “You can think of Russia what you want, but I have learned a different way of dealing with states from studying international law.” 

The international law framework is designed, after all, to ensure that inadequately evidenced allegations and knee jerk political responses don’t lead to the collapse of diplomatic relations and a descent into a catastrophic, escalating war among nuclear states. As a citizen, I’d prefer a leader who is skilled in diplomacy and international law,  who regards the safety of the world’s citizens as a key priority. Instead we have a group of blundering elitist authoritarians in office who, not content with creating monstrous social and economic divisions in the UK, want to extend their dystopic neoliberal vision on a global scale.

It is the same kind of simplistic false dichotomy frame regarding the Labour party’s alleged antisemitism, which the media have also rolled out. It runs like this: If the Labour party confirm that they are “addressing” an antisemitism problem, regardless of whether that problem is real – then it is read as an admission of guilt. However, if the party says there is no problem – regardless of whether there is or isn’t – that will simply be read as a denial of “guilt” and the action of a party that “doesn’t care” about antisemitism more generally.

It’s an accusation designed to make the party and members look bad either way. Note that word – designed. However, as a person who has written extensively about prejudice, Again, I won’t ever claim that antisemitism is eradicated or negligible. It isn’t either, unfortunately. There are two issues here, which I hope I have made clear. One is the justified concern regarding antisemitism, the other is how that is being politically exploited.

The accusations of antisemitism have been redesigned for use as a political stick with which to beat Corbyn. Again, I would not claim there is no antisemitism within the party. If there is, it must be addressed. However, mine is a question of proportionality, and whether the media focus and comments of right wing commentators are reasonable and justified. This is the same media that displayed no qualms in systematically dehumanising migrants and asylum seekers in their drive to force the EU referendum.

There is an element of irrationality and unreasonableness in trying to blame Corbyn for every allegation made of party members, since any member of the public is free to join the party of their choice. Political parties have no way of knowing of the prejudices of each new member in advance. There has also been a surge in membership over the past couple of years. The Labour party has put in place measures to deal with allegations of antisemitism among members. Nor can party leaders be omnipresent in social media groups to monitor offensive antisemitic comments made. The important issue is that it is addressed when it does arise and is brought to party leader’s attention.

In my own experience of Facebook political groups, there are recognisably active trolls and shills who are present simply to discredit Labour activists and derail discussion. There is always a marked increase in their activity prior to elections.

Unfortunately, even vetting people who wish to join groups doesn’t seem to stop this happening, as some of the profiles are very credible, with no indication they are fakes. If this sounds too “conspiracy theory” for you, perhaps it’s worth considering the implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the uncovered psychological profiling and “strategic communications” element that was revealed in its’ wake. The Snowden leaks before that also revealed that a variety of covert actors, including the state, infiltate groups to manipulate and derail discussions, and to discredit critics and opposition.

I am not, once again, arguing that no Labour party member or supporter holds antisemitic views. And again that must be addressed. However, there is an intense focus and constant, irrational and negative commentary aimed at Corbyn in particular, which is also based on orchestrated and purely politically motivated attacks. There is a lack of openness and reasonableness on behalf of some of the more aggressive critics as to how the party have been permitted to respond by the government, the media and by some of the centrist neoliberals within the party to an array of issues, including the allegations of antisemitism. 

Corbyn and Labour party members have been the target of severe criticism, with allegations being made that left wing members are more prone to antisemitic opinions and behaviour – and of course that Corbyn has “not done enough to prevent this.” 

However data commissioned by a leading antisemitism charity strongly suggest that this narrative is not only inaccurate but counter-factual. YouGov carried out two surveys which may be compared, and the findings are that since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, the party and its supporters have become significantly less antisemitic on every metric used in the survey. (YouGov’s full datasets: 2015 and 2017.)

Concerns among Jewish communities about antisemitism are absolutely valid and absolutely must not be minimised or dismissed. However, it does no-one any favours when those concerns have also been distorted by the media, misused as a propaganda tool and weaponised for political gain. 

Antisemitism quite rightly draws horror from the public because of the terrible atrocity of the Holocaust, the process that led to it, and the historical consequences. It was founded in part on social Darwinist and eugenic ideas.

Those same ideas also underpinned the ideology of competitive individualism in the US and UK. Whenever we have socioeconomic systems that create hierarchies of human worth (based on meritocratic notions of ‘deserving’ or ‘talent’), we also have social prejudice and that is perpetuated by the use of political justification narratives regarding inequality. 

These usually place responsibility on individuals for their low socioeconomic status, rather than the system, which inevitably creates a few ‘winners’ and many ‘losers’ – because that is the nature of any system based on competition. However, inequality is a fundamental feature of the neoliberal system of organisation. Justifying inequality creates stigma, outgrouping and hierarchies of worth.

Prejudice and oppression

Prejudice is a form of oppression which operates to establish a “defined norm” or standard of “rightness” under which everyone is judged. This defined norm is enforced with individual and institutional violence which makes and sustains the oppression.

Oppression may be defined as a pervasive system of supremacy and discrimination that perpetuates itself through differential treatment, ideological domination, and institutional control. At an individual level, oppression is expressed through beliefs (stereotypes), attitudes, values (prejudice), and actions (discrimination) used to justify unfair treatment based on distinct characteristics of one’s identity, real or perceived. These can be internalised and directed towards the self or externalised and directed towards those we interact with on a day-to-day basis. 

Oppression expresses itself through default positions of power within an organised group, both formal and informal. Specifically, it is the denial of accessing and holding positions of power based on the belief that one lacks experience in and/or is incapable of fulfilling (or learning how to fulfill) certain roles and responsibilities based on assumptions related to identity. This also includes the assumption that someone sharing identity with a dominant group is automatically capable, regardless of experience, skills  or talent.

On an institutional level, oppression expresses itself through the denial and limitation of resources, agency and dignity based on one’s social identity. This includes policies, laws, and practices that are enforced in and by an institution, such as governments, made for the benefit of the dominant group with little to no consideration for the longer term harm inflicted on marginalised individuals and groups. In turn, institutions have the power to shape and control cultural narratives that reach individuals on a global scale, regardless of whether they directly interact with such institutions. Narratives are used to normalise oppression, which are shaped by the ruling class. 

Antisemitism is not the only form of oppression. Saying that does not minimise it, however. We currently live in a society where prejudices more generally has been politically encouraged and permitted to flourish. Prejudice tends to multitask. I have written a lot about this over the last few years, as a witness. 

We live in a society where racism has grown over the last few years. We have witnessed profoundly socially divisive rhetoric from an authoritarian government and that has been amplified by a largely right wing, compliant media. As a consequence of that, the far right was given a public platform. The same thing happened under the Thatcher administration, we saw parties like the National Front and the British National Party flourish. This is because the context provided by a such socioeconomically divisive governments leads to the creation of political scapegoats to justify their own prejudices and authoritarianism, draconian policies and wider inequality –  this always leads to racism, as well as other forms of prejudice, too.

The scale of social prejudice

Various forms and systems of oppression are not separate, and can’t be isolated into distinct categories, to be addressed on their own. Oppression is a network of intersecting and related forms of domination and the oppression of one group must be resisted alongside the oppression of others. We must stand side by side to address oppression in solidarity.

Image result for allports ladder of prejudice

Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right supporting individual who gave gardening tips and services to his neighbours, with a secret festering hatred of some groups of citizens. No-one knew about his monstrous prejudice and intention until he murdered a British MP, who staunchly opposed racism.

This is what political propaganda and scapegoating does to susceptible individuals – it shapes their perception of others and permits them to hate. Some social groups have been marginalised and dehumanised by the government, including disabled people and those needing social security support. It’s no coincidence that hate crime directed at these groups has risen in the UK.

The government have violated the human rights of disabled people, and such acts serve as a role model of behaviours that indicate prejudice and discrimination is publicly acceptable. It also sends out a message that emphasises the differential status and implied devaluation of social groups.

This is how moral and rational boundaries are being pushed: casual comments from more than one Conservative minister about disabled people, who are not “worth the minimum wage”, from a chancellor who claims that national productivity is reduced because more disabled people are in work; a Conservative councillor who called for the extermination of gypsies, and a Conservative deputy mayor said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Conservatives believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” anresearch the consequences of austerity for the most economically vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how Conservatives think. It is only when such comments conflict with our collective moral norms that we see the process for what it is, and wonder how such comments could ever be deemed acceptable. However, those moral norms are being intentionally transformed. 

This is a government that is creating and using public prejudice to justify massive socioeconomic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinism and neoliberal “small state” principles. We have already seen the introduction of a clear eugenic welfare policy – only the first two children in families needing social security support will be provided with any support. Aside from the frightful human rights implications of this, the fact that it was announced and introduced to “change the behaviours” of the poorest citizens – regardless of whether they work – indicates a political prejudice and active discrimination regarding poor citizens, and a political intention to limit the number of children they have. 

The political creation of socioeconomic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of previously protected social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision. It also indirectly justifies low and exploitative wages and insecure employment, since these issues are no longer considered to be part of the problem of poverty. Instead the poverty debate is reduced to a political narrative of “incentives” and individual behaviours.

The state is informing the public that poor people can simply be punished out of their poverty. Regardless of the incoherence of that narrative, the media have been complicit in amplifying this dogma. The pathological socioeconomic structure of our society, the market place Darwinism and the growing imbalances of power relationships remain hidden in plain view, obscurred by linguistic behaviourism and normative manipulation.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision, which is being steadily dismantled. The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Those the government perceives to be the weakest are carrying the burden of austerity to cover the tracks and guilt of the wealthy and powerful people, who are actually responsible for the global recession. Scapegoats. If you read any social psychology, you will know that this is how social prejudice grows. It’s an incremental process, where normative boundaries are pushed until what was once perceived as unacceptable suddenly becomes a reality. 

Gordon Allport wrote about the advancement of that process – by almost inscrutable degrees – in Nazi Germany. It starts with dehumanising language and scapegoating, it progresses to open prejudice and political discrimination, violations of human rights, social and economic isolation, hate crime, murders then, if left unchecked, it results, ultimately, in genocide.

Antisemitism exists in our society. It isn’t a “Labour” problem, it is a SOCIAL problem. It flourishes in a context of extremely divisive political rhetoric. That rhetoric is in part to justify a socioeconomic system that leads to massive social inequality. That inequality is being politically justified by the creation of political scapegoats and the Othering of already marginalised groups. Neoliberalism is a system that leads to the growth of wealth and power for those who already have wealth and power – it sustains an elite.

For citizens, it results in a decline in our standard of living, disempowerment, growing poverty and because it requires an authoritarian regime to impose it – see the history of Pinochet’s neoliberal experiment in Chile, for example – it also profoundly erodes our democracy. The media and right wing ideologues are now simply the PR agents for more neoliberalism. The answer to the disastrous socioeconomic problems created by neoliberalism is apparently, to apply more aggressive neoliberalism. That also means the steady erosion of human rights, citizen freedoms, massive inequality and the removal of any democratic alternative. That is where we are at, as a society. This is happening, and we are the witnesses.

When Corbyn met with a Jewish group recently, commentators on the right – Andrew Neil and  Fraser Nelson, for example – ranted about how this left leaning Jewish group weren’t “representative of Jews”. Fraser Nelson dismissed anyone who disagreed with his views as members of a left wing “cult”. This displays a kind of totalitarian thinking, in that it portrays Her Majesty’s opposition as somehow non-legitimate, and emphasises the sole legitimacy and hegemony of neoliberalism. It also undermines the very notion of democracy. 

It’s reasonable that a left leaning leader would meet a left leaning group. The right leaning Jewish groups have not exactly been particularly accommodating in meeting with Corbyn. However, Andrew Neil actually commented on Jewdas: “who are all these ‘nutters'”. Now THAT is antisemitism. Neil was implying that some groups are “acceptably Jewish” and some are not, defining by his own prejudiced criteria which are “acceptable”. 

These mainstream media commentators on the right are so caught up in a clear ideological crusade and propaganda war that they really don’t see their own prejudices. And furthermore they are furious that Corbyn has allies in the Jewish community. Hence the irrational and diversity-blind rage. And there is this to consider: the criticisms of Corbyn and allegations of antisemitism being rife in the party because of him are coming almost exclusively from the right. 

andrew neil antisemitic

This tweet is so offensive and displays prejudice on more than one level. 

Of course Jewish people reflect a variety of political preferences. Political debate is an essential Jewish tradition that allows no section of opinion to set itself up as the only acceptable one. But the UK right wing don’t particularly value democratic principles, and treat every opposition leader with an outrageous loathing and sneering contempt. They oppose antisemitism only on condition that Jewish groups do not show any support towards the left, and in particular, for Corbyn. 

Image result for daily mail support for nazi germany

Yesterday I saw a comment from Dan Hodges –  who writes for the Daily Mail, that Labour are “irredeemably racist”. This is simply untrue. He never responded to the comment I left him, reminding him of the Daily Mail‘s constant anti-immigration rants, in a series of shots of toxic Daily Mail headlines.  I explained that most Labour supporters were not up for taking lectures on the value of inclusion and diversity from Daily Mail journalists. 

Dan Hodges

I posted this to remind him of the significant contribution the Mail has made to the growth of racism in the UK. 

Image result for daily mail immigration front pages

And this was very offensive, antisemitic, irrational and dangerous comment:

The right have manipulated a concern for social justice on the left – and particularly that concern regarding the murder of Palestinian civilians – and have intentionally pathologised it, weaponising it as a propaganda tool. This has been going on for a long time. 

Jon woodcock judas

Which “mainstream Jewish community” is that, John? How does a meeting with a Jewish community “bait” the Jewish Community? Why are Corbyn’s critics okay with marginalising a Jewish group and deliberately attempting to discredit them when it suits them to? This is absolutely atrocious hypocrisy and completely unacceptable antisemitic behaviour. 

It is telling that some of the Labour “moderates” used right wing gossip-mongers and bloggers – Paul Staines and Alex Whickam – to criticise their own leader. These people should be ejected from the party, since all they do is damage it and support another Conservative term. They don’t care about the misery and despair of citizens living in escalating poverty because of Tory policies, the suicides and deaths of disabled people, or those children living in poverty with their futures and human potential stolen from them, by an authoritarian government.

Shame on them. This is not what the Labour party are about, and until Blair, it never was. The neoliberals’ time has been and gone, the party has moved on and realigned itself to the majority of its members demands for a democratic agenda that reflects their values of inclusion, equality and diversity. That’s how it should be.

Corbyn is one of the leading anti-racists in parliament – one of the very least racist MPs we have. So naturally Corbyn signed numerous Early Day motions in Parliament condemning antisemitism, years before he became leader and backed the campaign to stop Neo-Nazis from meeting in Golders Green in 2015.

Before being elected as Labour party leader, Corbyn chaired Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom) in succession to Stan Newens, who is the President of , Liberation. Liberation, founded in 1954 on the initiative of Fenner Brockway, was in the forefront of the struggle against all forms of racism.

When Jeremy took the chair it was accepted that one of our continuing fundamental purposes was opposition to racism – including antisemitism. Liberation has been critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – and often had Israeli or Jewish speakers at meetings arguing the case.

Newens says “It is patently obvious that criticism of Corbyn and the Labour party on grounds of antisemitism is being encouraged by individuals who – unlike the Labour leader himself – have rarely participated in the general struggle against racism. Most are motivated by opposition to Labour under Corbyn and any excuse to harass him will be taken.”

Joseph Finlay, writing for the Jewish News online, says: “The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of it’s ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.

Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him,  As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?”

He goes on to say: “Because all racisms are interlinked it is worth examining Corbyn’s wider anti-racist record. Corbyn was being arrested for protesting against apartheid while the Thatcher government defended white majority rule and branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Corbyn was a strong supporter of Labour Black Sections – championing the right of Black and Asian people to organise independently in the Labour party while the Press demonised them as extremists.

“He has long been one of the leaders of the campaign to allow the indigenous people of the Chagos Islands to return after they were forcibly evicted by Britain in the 1960s to make way for an American military base. Whenever there has been a protest against racism, the two people you can always guarantee will be there are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. Who do you put your trust in — the people who hate antisemitism because they hate all racism or the people (be they in the Conservative party or the press) who praise Jews whilst engaging in Islamophobia and anti-black racism? The right-wing proponents of the Labour antisemitism narrative seek to divide us into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ minorities — they do not have the well-being of Jews at heart.

“Let’s return the story to the facts. Antisemitism is always beyond the pale. Labour, now a party of over half a million members, has a small minority of antisemites in its ranks, and it suspends them whenever it discovers them. I expect nothing less from an anti-racist party and an anti-racist leader. If the Conservatives took the same approach to racism they would have to suspend their own foreign secretary, who has described Africans as ‘Picanninies’ and described Barack Obama as ‘The part-Kenyan President [with an] ancestral dislike of the British Empire’. 

“From the Monday club, linked to the National Front, to MP Aidan Burley dressing up a  Nazi, to Lynton Crosby’s dogwhistle portrayal of Ed Miliband as a nasal North London intellectual it is the Conservative Party that is deeply tainted by racism and antisemitism.

“There are many threats to Jews – and we are right to be vigilant. These threats come primarily from resurgent nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and a Brexit narrative that seeks to restore Britain to a mythical age of ethnic purity. The idea that Britain’s leading anti-racist politician is the key problem the Jewish community faces is an absurdity, a distraction, and a massive error. Worst of all, it’s a bad story that we’ve been telling for far too long. Let’s start to tell a better one.”

The Labour party has prided itself on its inclusion, equality and diversity principles since its inception. Corbyn has always been one of the most inclusive MPs and this is being used to undermine him. His idea of a “broad church” Labour party was based on an assumption that the neoliberals within the party shared the same equality, diversity and inclusion values, and supported a social justice agenda.  It was assumed that they had principles in common with the wider Labour party.  They don’t.

These are MPs that would prefer another Conservative term, further damage to our society, and more suffering of poor and disabled citizens than see a party they consider ideologically “inpure” take office. Their comments and actions are vile. The implications are vile. They are contributing to the sabotage of our party just in time for the local elections. Again. 

I have thought carefully these past months about these issues, and explored the evidence. I haven’t commented on it all until now because I needed to see evidence, analyse and evaluate. The hypocritical outrage from the likes of Hodges, Nelson, Neil and Lord Sugar, along with the sheer rage, incoherence and unreasonableness of their attacks has convinced me that this is a serious strategic propaganda war, nothing more or less.

However, I also agree with Jonathan Freedland, who says “Yes, you can make a strong case that plenty are acting in bad faith, trying to use this issue as a stick to beat Labour – but if you do that, you need to exempt Jews themselves from that charge.” I absolutely agree, and for many of the reasons he has laid out. 

I don’t, however, agree with his assessment that Corbyn represents the “hard left”.

He goes on to say, however, “Less tangibly, it’s the cast of mind, the way of thinking, that antisemitism represents that we should fear. Conspiracy theory, fake news, demonisation of an unpopular group: what happens to our politics if all these become the norm? This is why Jews have often functioned as a canary in the coalmine: when a society turns on its Jews, it is usually a sign of wider ill health.

“Put another way, hasn’t history shown us that racism never stays confined to mere “pockets”? Once the virus is inside, it does not rest until it has infected the entire body.”

As I discussed earlier in this article, the symptoms of an increase in social prejudice have been there for some years, he seems to have overlooked the fact that it has been the disabled community who were the “canary in the coalmine”, and still are.

I agree that prejudice multitasks and grows. Freedland has overlooked that racism has already become the norm, not least because the oppression of others has remained invisible and unacknowledged by the media. In fact the media has tended to amplify it. Furthermore, political prejudice and legislative discrimination directed at already marginalised social groups is causing absolute poverty, harm, distress, death and suicide. Those are visible, real consequences of political prejudice which the media have chosen to ignore. It seems that some prejudices are considered more important than others, even when outright political discrimination and its tragic consequences are evident for all to see. You see, this is how the Holocaust began. 

This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘[A] New People‘, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.” 

Here the political portrayal of German disabled people as a “socioeconomic burden” is being used to justify the AktionT4 extermination programme. 

The UK government prefers a wall of private bureacracy that extends a system on their behalf, which simply leaves many disabled people without the means to meet their basic living requirements, while making a profit at the expense of those people in doing so.

This said, Pfannmüller also advocated killing disabled people by a gradual decrease of food, which he believed was more merciful than poison injections. Most of the Nazis were eugenicists, nationalists and antisemites. Carbon monoxide gas was first used to kill disabled people, then its use was extended to other groups of people. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Spanish Republicans, Romani and political dissidents, including many leftists, socialists and communists. 

The Nazis promoted xenophobia and racism against all “non-Aryan” races. African (black sub-Saharan or North African) and Asian (East and South Asian) residents of Germany and black prisoners of war, such as French colonial troops and African Americans, were also victims of Nazi racial policy.  In Germany, gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians, were two of the numerous groups targeted by the Nazis and were also, ultimately, among the millions of Holocaust victims.

The role of propaganda and the media

Propaganda can be defined as biased information or misinformation designed to shape public perception, opinion, decision-making and behaviour. It simplifies complicated issues or ideology for popular consumption, is always biased, and is geared to achieving a particular end. Propaganda is often transmitted to the public through various media, drawing upon techniques and strategies used in advertising, public relations, communications, and mass psychology.

The real danger of propaganda lies when competing voices are silenced. When democratic dialogue, legitimate criticism and valid opposition is systematically pathologised and dismissed as a “cult”, “the loony left”, “Marxists” “leftards”, “virtue signalers” and so forth. Using the internet as well as mainstream media outlets, propagandists have been able to transmit their messages to a wide audience. 

Propaganda served as an important tool to win over the majority of the German public who had not supported Adolf Hitler and to push forward the Nazis’ radical program, which required the acquiescence, support, or participation of broad sectors of the population.

In 2016, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) took aim at some British media outlets, particularly tabloid newspapers, for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

The  report said hate speech was a serious problem, including against Roma, gypsies and travellers, as well as “unscrupulous press reporting” targeting the LGBT community. The ECRI’s report also concluded that some reporting on immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis was “contributing to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection”.

It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a blistering response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups,” the report concluded. Yet this international condemnation has not encouraged more journalistic responsibility in the UK.

The Nazis used propaganda successfully to increase their public support and appeal. They spent huge sums of money on newspapers, leaflets and poster campaigns with simple slogans encouraging people to support the party. The military style of the Nazis also involved using large political rallies to gain support. Joseph Goebbels began to build an image of Hitler as a great leader. Goebbels manipulated people’s fear of uncertainty and instability to portray Hitler as a man with a great vision for “prosperity and stability.” Germany’s economy was in such a poor state that Hitler’s promise of “strong government” and stability was widely supported.  

I do maintain that our own media are being controlled by the government, and are being used to stage-manage our democracy. The recent history of sustained and vile smear campaigns, lies and unchecked fury directed at the last two labour leaders is pretty clear evidence of that, as is the blatant scapegoating project dressed up as the divisive stigmatising rhetorics of xenophobia, bigotry, prejudice and open discrimination directed at disabled people and other groups who need social security support.

Prejudice multitasks. This is a point made very well by Martin Niemöller, who was a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime. Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) emerged as an outspoken public critic and foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The quotation stems from Niemöller’s lectures during the early postwar period. Different versions of the quotation exist. These can be attributed to the fact that Niemöller spoke extemporaneously and in a number of settings. Some controversy surrounds the content of the poem as it has been printed in varying forms, referring to diverse groups such as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists,  disabled people or Communists depending upon the version. Nonetheless his point was that there had been what he saw as a cowardly complicity through the silence of the church the media, academic institutions and citizens regarding the Nazi imprisonment, persecution and murder of millions of people.

The UK media are at best compliant, paralysed by bystander apathy, and at worst, directly complicit in extending political prejudice, justifying discimination and manipulating social divisions. Unless we actually want to live with an authoritarian one-party state, it’s time to research, think and analyse these issues for ourselves, and quickly.

If not for ourselves, then for our friends, neighbours and loved ones. And especially, for our children.

May there be peace, justice and unity in our days.

 


 

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DWP is facing investigation following the suicide of 42-year-old mum of nine

Jodey Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, with Jodey’s daughter Emma Bell (Image: Ian McIntyre)

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing a legal investigation after a mother of nine took her own life “because the DWP stopped her benefits”. 

Jodey Whiting, who suffered severely disabling medical conditions, ended her own life in February 2017, shortly after the DWP stopped her disability support payments. The payments stopped because was claimed by the DWP that Jodey failed to attend a work capability assessment (WCA).

However, her family claims that she never received the appointment letter and is blaming the Government for her suicide.

The 42-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with a brain cyst and curvature of the spine and could barely walk to her own front door, but an inquest has heard that despite her  disabilities, Jodey Whiting faced a distressing battle with the DWP for lifeline benefits.

Supported by volunteers from the Citizens Advice Bureau, Jodey appealed the DWP decision to end her claim, but was told that due to a backlog in appeals it could take up to sixteen months before her case was reviewed.

Her mother, Joy Dove, who assisted her daughter in claiming the lifeline support she was entitled to, has taken up the battle with the DWP following her daughter’s death. She told Gazette Live“To have to wait another 16 months is devastating, but we can’t do anything about the fact there are so many cases that need investigating.

“I’m glad they’ve taken the case on. We will always fight for justice for my daughter.

“She has kids and grandchildren left without a mum, and I’ve been left without a daughter. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

The case will now be investigated by an Independent Case Examiner (ICE), who will look at the circumstances surrounding Jodey’s death and whether the DWP’s decision to stop her benefits affected her metal state at the time of Jodey’s suicide.

The ICE will looks at five key parts of the case against the DWP:

  • The Citizen’s Advice Bureau sent a letter to the DWP regarding Jodey’s health issues on February 15, six days before her death, but it failed to act on it until March 23.
  • Despite being made aware of her death on February 23 using the ‘tell us once’ system, the DWP issued a claim to Jodey about her Employment Support Allowance claim on February 25.
  • The DWP failed to take appropriate action to upgrade their computer systems until March 1.
  • The DWP continued to call Jodey’s phone and leave her voicemail messages until May, despite knowing of her death.
  • The department failed to respond to Mrs Dove’s letter of April 13, 2017 until June 14, 2017.

Jodey had been sent a letter that instructed her to attend a work capability assessment on January 16 last year, but missed the mandatory meeting while being in hospital because of a brain cyst. She knew nothing about the appointment.

On February 6, the DWP ruled that Jodey had not ‘provided sufficient evidence’ for missing the appointment and stopped her disability benefits. Jodey raised concerns about the decision on February 10 and made a formal appeal on the 13th. She killed herself on February 21, before a different DWP decision maker had reviewed her case and decided on February 25 – just four days after her death – that she should have continued to receive disability benefits.

A message about the ruling was sent to Jodey’s mobile phone inbox after her death, despite the DWP being informed of her death.

Joy has also started a ‘Justice for Jodey’ petition, with the aim of persuading the DWP to look again at how it handles social security claims. You can sign it here: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/justice-for-jodey

She said that messages of support there have helped her as she struggles to overcome her grief: “We’ll never stop battling. The messages I get on the petition, and from people who have been in similar situations, are incredible.”

The DWP did not respond for requests for comment.


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YouGov, an antidemocratic survey question and a brief investigation

SameDifference reports being deeply upset by this question from YouGov, today.

Firstly, all of these questions reflect a very cavalier and authoritarian view of the democratic rights of citizens. Excluding people from voting on the basis of their characteristics and the group they belong to violates their human rights. We do need to question why this subject is being surveyed, who will use the information gathered, and to what purpose. Secondly, the questions themselves normalise a view that repressing the right to participate in democracy for  some social groups is somehow acceptable.

Last year I wrote about how polls serve as a propaganda technique, by encouraging a bandwaggon effect, and sometimes act as self fulfilling prophesies of sorts. 

Image result for Peter Hitchens polls

And that’s from a Conservative

The question about people who ‘receive more money from welfare benefits than they pay in taxes” is particularly worrying. Many people claiming welfare currently need welfare support because of exploitatively low pay. People on low pay pay low rates of income tax. Also the question assumes that people’s circumstances are static, and seems to disregard previous tax contribution through previous employment. It also disregards the reasons why someone may be claiming welfare support – for example, because of disability or illness. It looks like Conservative kite flying, to me.

I decided to join YouGov. I was asked some initial questions such as whether or not my workspace is tidy or chaotic, if I arrive at events early or late, if I’m a ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ person, and about how I vote, which news papers I read and so on.

All of which will be used to “segment” and psychologically profile me. YouGov Profiles is the “media planning and audience segmentation tool for brands and their agencies. Powered by the world’s largest connected data set. YouGov Profiles gives marketers a richer, more detailed portrait of their customers’ entire lives.”

It is powered by our connected data vault, which holds over 190,000 data points, collected from 275,000 GB YouGov members.

Get the profile of your target audience across multi-channel data sets with greater granularity and accuracy than ever before.”

And also: “By using advanced techniques we can go beyond merely describing the data, we can begin to explain and even predict attitudes, behaviours and harder business outcomes. These explanations and predictions can help our clients to adapt their strategy, both internally and externally, and create informed decisions about their products/policies and how they approach their marketing, communications and people strategies.”

And: “YouGov helps PR clients gain maximum coverage for their campaigns everyday, and as the most quoted market research agency in the UK, we are able to offer clients the best possible chance of generating headlines and gaining media visibility.”

We also run bespoke services including Reputation Audits, thought leadership B2B studies, and Nation Branding projects, global or local.”

YouGov says its ad platform, YouGov Direct, will allow advertisers to use its audience data to target consumers more accurately and transparently. YouGov has made its name with political polling at general elections and selling data and analytics to ‘brands’ but has had little direct involvement in advertising until recently. (See YouGov eyes media budgets as it launches advertising data platform).

More about YouGov

YouGov is an international internet-based market research and data analytics company, headquartered in the UK, with operations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Shakespeare, the firm’s CEO, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. Shakespeare has been YouGov’s Chief Executive Officer since 2010. 

Roger Parry has been YouGov’s Chairman since 2007. Political commentator Peter Kellner was YouGov’s President until he stepped down in 2016. Formerly the political analyst of the BBC Newsnight current affairs programme, Kellner was engaged by YouGov’s founders, Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi, in December 2001. When YouGov floated for £18 million in April 2005, Kellner owned 6% of the company.

In 2012, Shakespeare was appointed as Chairman of the Data Strategy Board (DSB), the advisory body that was set up by the government to maximise value of data for ‘users across the UK’. He is the former owner of the websites ConservativeHome (now owned by Lord Ashcroft) and PoliticsHome (now owned by Dods Parliamentary Communications Ltd) which he launched in April 2008 after closing down his Internet television channel 18 Doughty Street.

Nadhim Zahawi is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010, after the retirement of previous MP John Maples.

YouGov has a Reputation Research practice which runs studies for governments, regulators, blue chip multinationals, NGOs and trade associations around the world, supporting clients in their reputation management and reputation development work.

YouGov combines research with ‘consulting and PR/public affairs’. The site describes YouGov as an international data and analytics group.  The site says: “We combine this continuous stream of data with our deep research expertise and broad industry experience into a systematic research and marketing platform.”

Our suite of syndicated, proprietary data products includes YouGov BrandIndex, the daily brand perception tracker, and YouGov Profiles, our planning and segmentation tool. Our market-leading YouGov Omnibus provides a fast and cost-effective service for obtaining answers to research questions from both national and selected samples. Our custom research service offers a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research, tailored by our specialist teams to meet our clients’ specific requirements.

With 30 offices in 20 countries and panel members in 38 countries, YouGov has one of the world’s top ten international market research networks.”

Summary of strategy: “A key objective for the Group is to increase the proportion of revenue from data products and services and bring these to parity with custom research. We are focusing on growing revenue from our core product suite across all our existing geographies. This involves bringing to market new products, as well as continuing to innovate with new products. In addition to making targeted investments in growing and expanding our syndicated data products and services suite, we are also continuing to explore opportunities to expand our core model geographically.”

On YouGov’s cookie page, it says they use cookies: “to monitor, and permit third parties to monitor the effectiveness of advertising campaigns; and to enable us, and third parties, to create target segments for advertising purposes.”

So, a good question to ask is this: Whose interests are YouGov actually serving?

More on the cookie page: “By continuing to use the Site and/or by accepting our Terms and Conditions of Use and ouPrivacy Policy, you are agreeing to the use of such cookies and tracking technology.

The company also uses Meltwater, which is a software that develops and markets media monitoring and business intelligence software

I tried in vain to find YouGov’s privacy policy. The link above just takes you here:

yougovThe homepage link takes you to YouGov’s Malaysia site

Related

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

 


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Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision making and marketisation of democracy

CA data

“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of profiles. And built models to exploit that and target their inner demons”. Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower, Christopher Wylie.

Neuroliberalism 

It’s been a longstanding major area of concern, of course, that neurotechnologies and ‘behavioural change’ techniques may be used to redirect citizen decision making without their explicit permission. After all, neuromarketing – the idea that the brain, behaviours, emotions and preferences can reveal hidden and profitable truths – is founded on the development of strategies of persuasion in order to profit.

This doesn’t just raise ethical concerns in the market place, since neuromarketing strategies are being used in wider contexts, such as in shaping political narratives and communications, election campaigning, policy making and within the media. The motive for employing these techniques is nonetheless about gaining a profit, if not financially, then certainly in terms of advantage and power. 

I have criticised behavioural economics extensively and frquently on previous occasions, for precisely the same reasons. Since 2010, it has somehow become acceptable for governments to exercise an influence on the decision-making and behaviours of citizens. Libertarian paternalism, under the guise of ‘behavioural science’, has normalised a manipulative, authoritarian approach for state micro-management of the perceptions, decisions and behaviours of populations. However, being a political doctrine itself, libertarian paternalism is not value-neutral or ‘objective’.   

Behavioural economics is a flagrant political misuse of psychology, a form of manipulation without the publics’ knowledge and consent. This of course has profound implications for democracy, as the state is ‘acting upon’ citizens in ways that they won’t recognise to change their behaviours and to manipulate their decision-making. In fact the government’s use of behavioural economics turns democracy completely on its head.

It’s accepted uncritically that people can pay companies and organisations to change people’s minds and persuade them to change their decisions and behaviours, be it simply aimed politically at individuals’ perceived ‘faulty’ decision-making, allegedly involved in their circumstances of poverty, claiming welfare support, or voting for a party that hasn’t paid a PR company to manipulate your voting decision.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, (co-author of “Nudge” and one of the founders of behavioural economics), wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was  named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

Back in 2014, GCHQ documents released from the Edward Snowden archive by Glenn Greenwald, were the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. The ultimate aim, of course, is to shape public perceptions, decisions and behaviours.

Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies and misinformation on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends. The Snowden archive outlines how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Then there is, as I’ve discussed, the political misuse of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds.

Glenn Greenwald’s published document on the Intercept touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell,” devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption.” Under the title “Online Covert Action”, the document details a variety of means to engage in “influence and info ops” as well as “disruption and computer net attack,” while dissecting how human beings can be manipulated using “leaders,” “trust,” “obedience” and “compliance”.

It’s not such a big inferential leap to conclude that governments are attempting to manage legitimate criticism and opposition while stage-managing our democracy.

I don’t differentiate a great deal between the behavioural insights team at the heart of the Conservative cabinet office, and the dark world of PR and  ‘big data’ and ‘strategic communications’ companies like Cambridge Analytica. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”. 

However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, because the bottom line is that it is all about influencing people’s perceptions and decisions, using psychological warfare strategies

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be.

Last year, I wrote a detailed article about some of these issues, including discussion of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in data mining and the political ‘dark’ advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients. This is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time. 

About Cambridge Analytica: political psyops approach verified by a whistleblower

Controversy has arisen concerning Cambridge Analytica‘s use of personal information acquired by an external researcher, who claimed to be collecting it for “academic purposes”. The use of personal data collected without knowledge or permission to establish sophisticated models of user’s personalities raises ethical and privacy issues.

In a somewhat late response, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. The Guardian has further reported that Facebook had known about this security breach for two years, but did nothing to protect its millions of users.

It is well-known that Cambridge Analytica (CA) collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer activity and internet activity, among other public and private sources. It has been reported that the company is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. In short, the company operates using political voter surveillance and strategies of psychological manipulation.

The data analytics firm is a private company that offers services to businesses and political parties who want to “change audience behaviour”. CA combines data mining and data analysis with ‘strategic communication’ for the electoral process. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories Group, to participate in US politics. 

The company claims to use “data enhancement and audience segmentation techniques” providing  “psychographic analysis” for a “deeper knowledge of the target audience”. The company is known to use the ‘big five’ OCEAN scale of personality traits, among other methods of psychographic profiling. 

The company also claims to use “behavioural microtargeting” and indicates that it can predict ‘needs’ of subjects and how these needs may change over time. Services then can be individually targeted for the benefit of its clients from the political arena, governments, and companies providing “a better and more actionable view of their key audiences.”

CA, who worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the Brexit campaign, has harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the technological giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to psychologically profile, predict and influence citizens’ voting choices. The managing director of CA’s controversial political division is Mark Turnbull, who spent 18 years at the communications firm Bell Pottinger before joining Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), which is a British ‘behavioural science’ company.

The SCL Group, that once advised Nato on so-called ‘psy-ops’, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI). 

Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up SCL and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national  communications campaigns for a broad variety of international governments.

BDI say: “The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

There isn’t much information around about BDI’s connection with military operations, though links with NATO are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change science, for example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL on the other hand, has a clearly defined defence and military division who: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL has different ‘verticals’ in politics, military and commercial operations. All of those operations are based on the same methodology (Target Audience Analysis) and, as far as can be discerned from the outside, SCL and affiliates have very obscure corporate structures with confusing ownership.

In the United States, SCL has gained public recognition mainly though its affiliated corporation Cambridge Analytica. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company (the SCL Group,) to participate in US politics. In 2014, CA was involved in 44 US political races.

Their site says: Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior.” 

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of political will or respect on the right when it comes to the publics’ privacy, autonomy in decision making, citizens’ agency and civil liberties.   

The current controversy

Working with a whistleblower and ex-employee of Cambridge Analytica, the Observer and Guardian have seen documents and gathered eyewitness reports that lift the lid on the data analytics company that helped Donald Trump to victory. The company is currently being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is a key subject in two inquiries in the UK – by the Electoral Commission, into the company’s possible role in the EU referendum and the Information Commissioner’s Office, into data analytics for political purposes – and one in the US, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion.

Previous articles by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and Guardian newspapers, respectively published in February and May 2017, speculated in detail that CA had influenced both the Brexit/Vote Leave option in the UK’s 2016 EU membership referendum and Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign with Robert Mercer’s backing of Donald Trump being key. They also discuss the legality of using the social data farmed. CA says it is pursuing legal action over the claims made in Cadwalladr’s articles.

The whistleblower, Chris Wylie, claims that the 50 million mostly American, profiles were harvested in one of Facebook’s biggest data breaches has caused outrage on both sides of the Atlantic, with lawmakers in both the UK and America, and a state attorney general calling for greater accountability and regulation. The profiles were harvested by a UK-based academic, Aleksandre Kogan, and his company, Global Science Research (GSR).

Wylie said the personal information mined was used to build a system to influence voters. The Canadian, who previously worked for Cambridge Analyticahas lifted the lid on this and other practices at the company, which he describes as a “full-service propaganda machine”.

Shortly before the story broke, Facebook’s external lawyers warned the Observer that it was making “false and defamatory” allegations and reserved Facebook’s legal position. Facebook denies the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by CA, working with Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan and his firm GSR, was a data breach. 

While Facebook insists that it wasn’t a data breach, claiming it was a violation by a third party app that abused user data, this responsibility offloading speaks volumes about Facebook’s approach to its users’ privacy.  

Private companies benefit from a lack of transparency over how profits are made from our personal data. Their priority seems to be to silo and hoard our data, prioritising its more commercial uses. Yet we need to think about data differently, moving away from ideas of data as a commodity to be bought and sold, and used to generate profit for a few people – be it financial or political profit.

The internet, and later the World Wide Web, was originally intended to be a democratising force, accessible to all and without walls or ownership. But the reality today is rather different. The inequalities in wealth and power inherent in neoliberalism have seeped online, marketising and commodifying our personal details, choices, views, dispositions, likes and dislikes.  

Personal data has become the driving force of the online economy, yet the economic and social value which can be generated from data is not remotely fairly distributed. In fact it isn’t being redistributed at all.

Facebook shoot the messenger

Facebook have also suspended the whistleblower Chris Wylie from the platform “pending further information” over misuse of data, along with his former employer, CA and its affiliates, and the academic they worked with, Aleksandr Kogan.

The public attack on Wylie came after he had approached Facebook about the data breach, offering to help investigate. He described it as a “chilling attack” on someone acting in the public interest.

“They acknowledged my offer but then turned around and shot the messenger. I’m trying to make amends for my mistakes and so should Facebook,” he told the Guardian.

“Facebook has known about this for at least two years and did almost nothing to fix it. This is not new. And it’s only by coming forward that Facebook is now taking action. People need to know this kind of profiling is happening.”

Kogan assembled the harvested information through an app on the site – it collected details of American citizens who were paid to take a personality test, but also gathered data on those people’s Facebook friends.

Kogan apparently had a deal to share this information with CA. But according to Wylie, most of this personal information had been taken without authorisation. He said Cambridge Analytica used it to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

Last month, both Facebook and CA CEO Alexander Nix told the parliamentary inquiry into fake news that the company did not have or use private Facebook data, or any data from Kogan’s firm, GSR.

But in its statement on Friday night, explaining why it had suspended CA and Wylie, Facebook said it had known in 2015 that profiles were passed to Nix’s company. 

“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our platform policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica,the statement said.

CA is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund billionaire. I’ve mentioned Mercer in a previous article about the right’s undue influence on the media and on voting behaviour. Mercer made his money as a pioneer in the field of Computational Linguistics.

The company was headed by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon. CA used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with ‘personalised’ persuasive  political ‘advertisements’.

It’s scandalous that documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by the Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the Facebook had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale and failed to alert users, taking only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

Last year, Dr Simon Moores, visiting lecturer in the applied sciences and computing department at Canterbury Christ Church University and a technology ambassador under the Blair government, said the Information commissioners Office’s recent decision to shine a light on the use of big data in politics was timely. He said:

“A rapid convergence in the data mining, algorithmic and granular analytics capabilities of companies like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is creating powerful, unregulated and opaque ‘intelligence platforms’. In turn, these can have enormous influence to affect what we learn, how we feel, and how we vote. The algorithms they may produce are frequently hidden from scrutiny and we see only the results of any insights they might choose to publish.”

He goes on to say: ”They were using 40-50,000 different variants of an ad every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response.”

The head of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news has accused CA and Facebook of misleading MPs in their testimony. 

After Wylie detailed the harvesting of more than 50 million Facebook profiles for CA, Damian Collins, the chair of the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee, said he would be calling on the Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify before the committee.

He said the company appeared to have previously sent executives able to avoid difficult questions who had “claimed not to know the answers”.

Collins also said he would be recalling the CA’s CEO, Alexander Nix, to give further testimony. “Nix denied to the committee last month that his company had received any data from [his firm] GSR,” he said. “We will be contacting Alexander Nix next week asking him to explain his comments.”

Collins has attacked Facebook for appearing to have been “deliberately avoiding answering straight questions” in to the committee.

“It is now clear that data has been taken from Facebook users without their consent, and was then processed by a third party and used to support their campaigns,” Collins said. “Facebook knew about this, and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica with it.”

CA claimed that its contract with GSR stipulated that Kogan should seek “informed consent” for data collection and it had no reason to believe he would not. 

GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding its legal authority to license data to SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.

The Observer has seen a contract dated 4 June 2014, which confirms SCL, an affiliate of CA, entered into a commercial arrangement with GSR, entirely premised on harvesting and processing Facebook data. CA spent nearly $1m on data collection, which yielded more than 50 million individual profiles that could be matched to electoral rolls. It then used the test results and Facebook data to build an algorithm that could analyse individual Facebook profiles and determine personality traits linked to voting behaviour.

The algorithm and database together made a powerful political tool for the right. It allowed a campaign to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to ‘resonate’.

“The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information,” the contract specifies. It promises to create a database of 2 million ‘matched’ profiles, identifiable and tied to electoral registers, across 11 states, but with room to expand much further.

CA responded to the Observer story on Twitter before Collins had said Nix would be recalled. “We refute(s) these mischaracterizations and false allegations,” it said:

“Reality Check: Cambridge Analytica uses client and commercially and publicly available data; we don’t use or hold any Facebook data,” the company said. “When we learned GSR sold us Facebook data that it shouldn’t have done, we deleted it all – system wide audit to verify.”

CA

CA not coercive

In response to the series of  defensive Tweets put out by CA, I quoted several claims from CA’s own site, which I had cited in an article last year. 

For example, the company offers to: “More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

And boasts:Leveraging CA’s massive team of data scientists and academics, CA is able to provide optimal audience segments based on big data and psychographic modeling. Then, using a sophisticated electronic data delivery system, CA is able to provide TV advertising campaign data that may be used to inform media buyers about shows that have the highest concentrations of target audiences and the least amount of waste; all of which leading to higher media ROI [return on investment] and more voter conversions.”

“Psychographic Modeling”? “Conversions”?  “[…] specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate” ?

That language doesn’t sound like “advertising” to me. It sounds like microsurveilance and psychological manipulation, using the vulnerabilities that make us susceptible to all kinds of manipulations, including the intentional manipulations performed by the political machinery of our culture.

If CA genuinely thought “people are smarter than that”, then their boasts about their service of psychographic modeling, behavioural science; “understandings of the electorates’ behaviour”, “changing voter behaviours” and increasing “conversions”, “driving” voters to the polls to win campaigns and so on is nothing more than an eloborate  scam. Why bother attempting to manipulate people you think are not susceptible to manipulation?

Either way, this company has transgressed ethical boundaries, either as snake oil merchants, or as peddlers of snake oil on behalf of governments and other clients, while exploiting our personal data.

CA Political will equip you with the data and insights necessary to drive your voters to the polls and win your campaign. We offer a proven combination of predictive analytics, behavioral sciences, and data-driven ad tech.”

“With up to 5,000 data points on over 230 million American voters, we build your custom target audience, then use this crucial information to engage, persuade, and motivate them to act.”

And offers to help to: “More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

One of our fundamental freedoms, as human beings, is that of owning the decision making regarding our own lives and experiences, including evaluating and deciding our own political preferences. To be responsible for our own thoughts, reflections, intentions and actions is generally felt to be an essential part of what it means to be human.

When David Cameron said that “knowledge of human behaviour” was part of his vision for a “new age of government” I was one of a few who didn’t see behavioural economics as the great breakthrough in social policy-making that it was being hailed as. Even the name ‘behavioural insights team’ suggests secrecy, surveilance and manipulation. It was only a matter of time before libertarian paternalism morphed into authoritarianism, hidden in plain view. 

We are being told what our ‘best interests’ are by a small group of powerful people whose interests are that want to stay powerful, despite being dogmatic, self-righteous and wrong. Despite the fact that they need specialists in techniques of persuasion, rather than rational and democratic engagement, to appear credible to the electorate.  

CA pivotal role
It seems that the overarching logic of New Right neoliberalism has led to the privatisation of citizens’ decision making and behaviour and a new form of exploiting the population by misuse of their trust and their personal information.

Also, it seems democracy has been commodified and marketised.

Update

Cambridge Analytica are trying to stop the broadcast of an undercover Channel 4 News report in which its chief executive talks unguardedly about its practices. Channel 4 reporters posed as prospective clients and had a series of meetings with Cambridge Analytica that they secretly filmed — including at least one with Alexander Nix, its chief executive.

Channel 4 declined to comment. Cambridge Analytica’s spokesman also declined to comment on the undercover Channel 4 report. The company is under mounting pressure over how it uses personal data in political and election campaign work. It was banned by Facebook on Friday, which claimed it had violated the social network’s rules by failing to delete Facebook user data collected by an app supposedly for ‘research purposes’.

Facebook is now investigating ties between one of its current employees and Cambridge Analytica. Joseph Chancellor, currently a researcher at Facebook, was a director of Global Science Research, a company that provided data to Cambridge Analytica.

The nature of Chancellor’s role as a director of Global Science Research and his knowledge of Kogan’s data collection practices are not clear. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica said “there was no recollection of any interactions or emails with” Chancellor.

Facebook didn’t mention Global Science Research. But Cambridge Analytica said on Saturday that it contracted the company in 2014 to “undertake a large scale research project in the United States.”

Global Science Research was incorporated in May 2014 and listed Kogan and Chancellor as directors, according to UK government records. (The records show that Global Science Research was dissolved in October 2017.) 

Channel 4 News went ahead to broadcast the Cambridge Analytica exposé despite the legal threat.

From Channel 4Revealed: Trump’s election consultants filmed saying they use bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians 

Watch Channel 4′s excellent undercover documentary.

Related 

Cambridge Analytica questioned on fake news  – UK parliament

Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

Cambridge Analytica: links to Moscow oil firm and St Petersburg university

More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

The anti-social public relations of the PR industry

The Nudge Unit’s u-turn on benefit sanctions indicates the need for even more lucrative nudge interventions, say nudge theorists

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman


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PM says ‘highly likely’ Russia is responsible for nerve agent attack, without any conclusive evidence

The prime minister says that it has been concluded that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.”

May revealed that experts at Britain’s Porton Down defence laboratory, coincidently very close to where the attack happened, have confirmed the Salisbury poisoning involved “highly-specialised” and “military grade” Novichok, first developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s. 

Updating the Commons earlier today, the prime minister explained that as a result of the nerve agent being found to be military grade Novichok, it is “highly likely that Russia was responsible” for the act against ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which also left Wiltshire Police Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey in a serious condition and parts of the medieval cathedral city closed off.

She also says the Russia was likely to be responsible for the attack because of Russia’s “history of involvement in state-sponsored attacks of this kind.” 

However, the Kremlin has denied involvement, while the Russian embassy accused Britain of playing a “very dangerous game” and warned of “serious long-term consequences.”  

Moscow responded, saying Theresa May’s words were “another political information campaign based on a provocation”, and has branded the prime minister’s suggestion that Moscow was “probably” behind the Salisbury poisonings as a “circus show”.

The spokesperson from Moscow also added, cryptically: “Before making up new fairy tales, let the British disclose how the Litvinenko case ended.” 

Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006. It seems that Russia is pointing an accusation back at the UK. 

A former Kremlin adviser, Alexander Nekrasoff, has said that the nerve agent is “possessed by about 16 countries in their laboratories”.

“Why do I know this?” he added. “Because that’s how the antidote is developed.”

Andrei Lugovoi, one of the two men accused of assassinating Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium in 2006, said Britain’s response to events was suspiciously quick. Evidence, he said, that London was operating according to its own script.

Any chemist or physicist will tell you that as a minimum you need some kind of serious expertise on a serious expert level to determine whether or not a country is responsible,” he told the Interfax news agency.

“When such statements are made in the course of a few days, this speaks only of irresponsibility and the fact that they haven’t set out to discover the truth.”

Novichok agents may feasibly be created in pesticide and agricultural fertilizer manufacturing plants, as they have an organophosphate core, as do other nerve agents. So far the government have offered no firm evidence of Russia’s involvement. 

May has said the decision to blame Russia is based on “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations”.Yet already the government are talking about ‘robust responses’, which is very worrying. 

The Washington Post reports: “Former special services agent Mikhail Lyubimov was quoted in Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of Russia’s most popular newspapers, as suggesting Skripal wouldn’t have been worth the trouble of a hit.

Skripal was sent to the West in a swap; that means he’s absolutely uninteresting to us. He’s a small-fry,’ Lyubimov said.”

Skripal was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI as part of a swap. He was later flown to the UK.

On Sunday, Dimtry Kiselev, one of Russia’s most powerful media figures, spoke during his Sunday news programme on state-owned TV channel Rossiya-1, in Moscow. Kiselev suggested a possible connection between the poisonings in Salisbury, which British officials said resulted from exposure to an unspecified nerve agent, and international  upcoming World Cup football tournament. 

Kiselev suggested the poisoning could be a “special operation” aimed at justifying a boycott of the tournament. I don’t think that is likely, however.

Skripal wasn’t much use to Britain as an exposed ex-spy, but “as someone who’s been poisoned, who is ill, he’s very useful,” Kiselev said. 

The programme included an on-the-ground report from Britain. The reporter noted that Salisbury, the town where Skripal was lived and fell sick, is about a 20-minute drive from the Porton Down laboratories where Britain developed chemical and bacteriological agents.

“But in the British press and special services, there is no suspicion” [of any British involvement], said another reporter, Alexander Khabarov.

So Russia has been given an ultimatum. May goes on to say that if Russia does not give a “credible response”, the government will conclude that the attack involved “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”. 

May also said the UK must stand ready to take much more “extensive measures”, and these would be set out in the Commons on Wednesday should there be no adequate explanation from Russia.

The prime minister will then return to the Commons to outline retaliatory proposals, should there be no adequate explanation.

Here are the key passages from Theresa May’s statement today:

Mr Speaker, this morning I chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in which we considered the information so far available.

As is normal, the Council was updated on the assessment and intelligence picture, as well as the state of the investigation.

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.

Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Mr Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4 March.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country.

Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

This afternoon my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary has summoned the Russian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is – and therefore to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr Skripal and his daughter.

My Rt Hon Friend has stated to the Ambassador that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

And he has requested the Russian Government’s response by the end of tomorrow.

Mr Speaker, this action has happened against a backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian State aggression.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was the first time since the Second World War that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe.

Russia has fomented conflict in the Donbas, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries, and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption. This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others.

During his recent State of the Union address, President Putin showed video graphics of missile launches, flight trajectories and explosions, including the modelling of attacks on the United States with a series of warheads impacting in Florida.

While the extra-judicial killing of terrorists and dissidents outside Russia were given legal sanction by the Russian Parliament in 2006.

And of course Russia used radiological substances in its barbaric assault on Mr Litvenenko. We saw promises to assist the investigation then, but they resulted in denial and obfuscation – and the stifling of due process and the rule of law …

Mr Speaker, on Wednesday we will consider in detail the response from the Russian State.

Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.

And I will come back to this House and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response.

Mr Speaker, this attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals.It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk.

And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.

In his response to May’s statement,  Jeremy Corbyn condemned the Salisbury attack, and he included criticism of the Tories for taking money from Russian donors. .

The government could impose unilateral sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses. However, it is unlikely to get support from European partners for tougher EU-wide sanctions. Brexit makes those kinds of negotiations much more difficult, and some EU countries are already trying to soften their approach to Moscow.

The government could also make it more difficult for Russians generally to get visas to the UK. However, this is unlikely as such restrictions might also hit Russian dissidents whom the UK welcomes and wealthy businessmen whose laundered cash the UK tolerates to support London’s property market. Few analysts believe targeting rich Russians with tougher asset-stripping orders would make much difference. They would simply take their money elsewhere. 

The government could pass a British version of the 2012 US Magnitsky act, which punishes Russians involved in corruption and human rights violations with asset freezes and travel bans. It is named after a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials. Opposition MPs have been pushing for a Magnitsky amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through Parliament. 

Other options include the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK, as happened after the poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service operative Litvinenko in 2006. 

There has also been discussion of taking Russian broadcasters such as RT (formerly Russia Today) off the air , and broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it will “consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licences” after May speaks on Wednesday.  

The UK has already internationalised the matter by asking Russia to provide a “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok nerve agent programme to an international agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

By framing the poisoning as a possible “unlawful use of force” by Russia against the UK,  May has also prompted questions as to whether this could be a matter for NATO, the military alliance of 29 countries. The alliance’s policy of collective defence – under Article 5 – states that an attack on any one ally is seen as an attack on all. It was invoked for the first and only time by the United States after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, told the BBC that such an “unlawful act” warranted the involvement of NATO.

Any action “will be much more effective if there can be a broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us”, he said. So far, Downing Street has played down suggestions that this is an Article 5 matter, though.

However, the magnitude of the response that may be announced on Wednesday will depend on the scale of international co-operation that the government can secure, 

The risk with any of the options  considered is the scale of any Russian retaliation, of course.

Before the basic facts of the case have been established, both sides have indulged in an early confrontational exchange. Let’s hope and pray that a diplomatic solution can be reached, rather than any further potentially catastrophic escalation.

 

Related

From the age of nuclear ‘deterrence’ to an era of first-strike posturing – a creeping escalation

 


 

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