Continuing the war of lies

Truth is notoriously the first casualty of war. But the onslaught on Gaza requires Israel and its supporters in the main parties, the trade unions and the capitalist media to balance contradictory narratives. We need our own mass media, says Mike Macnair

Israel’s war on Gaza continues in all its horrors. Half a million people have been told yet again to evacuate (from the place the Israeli army told them to evacuate to in the first place).1 Médécins sans Frontières has decided to cease operations because of Israeli targeting of medical facilities.2 Egypt, evicted from the Rafah crossing on May 7 by the Israeli Aggression (‘Defence’) Force, decided on May 13 to join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.3

On May 8 the US ‘paused’ a bomb shipment to Israel, briefing that this was a ‘message’ about a Rafah offensive. And on May 13, CNN reported that “two senior administration officials” had told the channel that an Israeli offensive in Rafah would be in “direct defiance of president Joe Biden”.4 David Cameron similarly said on May 12 that Israel was ‘on notice’ on the UK’s opposition to a “major” Rafah operation and on the supply of arms.5 Nonetheless, on May 15 - after Israel had demanded evacuation and commenced large-scale bombing - the administration announced that another billion dollars in arms supplies would go to Israel, and also briefed that approaches had been made to Arab countries to supply an “intervention force” for Gaza after the expected complete destruction of Hamas.6

Aggression Force

Belen Fernandez commented on Al Jazeera on May 14 that Washington was characterised by “conflicting chatter”, and the channel headlined the story: “Not even the US government knows the US government line on Rafah”.7 One of the lines being put out by Washington must be a lie - and the ‘facts on the ground’ point to the conclusion that the lie is the claim that Washington is holding Israel back from the completion of its Gaza ethnic cleansing/genocide plans, and the token pausing of a bomb shipment to lend a spurious plausibility to this narrative. On the contrary, the Israeli Aggression Force is dependent on continuous resupply by the US, and the US is absolutely committed to this continuous resupply.

Meanwhile, at home, the big lie that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism continues in full flood. The vice-chancellor of Oxford University has just issued a statement to staff in response to the protest camp outside the University Museum of Natural History, which has the usual weasel verbiage about ‘respect’ as a ground to restrict protest:

Whilst I am grateful that protests have been largely peaceful, we have heard directly from some members of the university and the public that they have been feeling fearful or uncomfortable as a result. At times such as these, we must work together as a community and treat one another with respect and courtesy …

In The Times on May 14, Guy Dabby-Joory for the Union of Jewish Students offers a polemic against the Office for Students’ new guidelines under the Tories’ Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, on the grounds that it “takes a radical approach to freedom of speech” and that the guidance against universities “mandating any ‘controversial’ training, which could potentially include our [UJS’s] anti-Semitism awareness training” … and “Moreover, the guidance prevaricates on the legality of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism …” This remains milder than the open use of police (and non-state far-right actors) to attack student protests in the US.8

The government-sponsored media campaign of defamation is telling us a story that Jews are not ‘safe’ in British or US universities - or in the US or the UK more generally - because of endemic anti-Semitism, which, however, is in reality almost entirely no more than opposition to the state of Israel.

But the effect is, if the smear story is to be believed, to require the ‘right’ of all the Jews in the world to a territorial state with “secure borders” to protect them from endemic anti-Semitism. Never mind that a state which could accommodate all the Jews in the world would have to be substantially larger than the territory of Mandate Palestine. Never mind that neither the US (bordering only two countries, Mexico and Canada) nor the UK (an archipelago with a land border only on the island of Ireland) has actually succeeded in ‘securing’ their borders, so that ‘secure borders’ is an impossible aspiration: the most that can be achieved is peace, on the basis of concessions to reach agreement, which the Israeli state refuses.


The anti-Semitism smear campaign thus entails refusal to accept reality on a series of points. First, ‘two states’, as formulated by the US and its supporters, is actually a proposal merely for ‘Arab reservations’ in a greater Israel analogous to the ‘Indian reservations’ in the US (to call them Bantustans is to dignify them). Even this limited concession to the Palestinians has never been accepted by Israel, including at Oslo - which the US fraudulently represented as offering such an agreement.

Second, the Israeli government actively promoted Hamas as an alternative to the secular nationalists - and governments led by Netanyahu were particularly prominent in doing so.9

Third, in 2006 Hamas won the elections for the ‘Palestinian Authority’. Israel and Egypt responded, among other operations, by imposing a blockade on Gaza, which continues in place until the present day. There was also an attempt in June 2007 by Fatah to oust the Hamas local government in Gaza, which ended in the defeat of Fatah and the present regime - of Fatah ‘authority’ in the West Bank (without new elections) and Hamas ‘authority’ in Gaza (without new elections).10 The effect of the blockade is to convert the Gaza Strip into the world’s largest concentration camp: since the occupants, barred from normal trade and travel, are made wholly dependent on aid supplies authorised by Israel and Egypt (in fact by Israel alone, since Egypt retained only nominal control of the Rafah crossing). The consequence is that the presentation of the Gaza jailbreak of October 7 2023 as pure Hamas malice, and as proving an anti-Semitic genocidal intent (and ability) on the part of Hamas, is indefensible to anyone who pays any attention to the actual history, as opposed to taking the smear campaign at face value.

Without any other element of Israeli conduct towards Gaza, on the assumption that Gaza is occupied territory governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention, this operation is a war crime, being ‘collective punishment’ of the inhabitants of Gaza (for electing a local government not acceptable to Israel). The settlements in the West Bank are also war crimes under the same convention, being expropriations for the purpose of population transfers.

The Israeli claim, which is half-supported by the US, is that Gaza and the West Bank are not occupied territories under the Fourth Geneva Convention - either because they are Israeli sovereign territory under the terms of the 1920-22 League of Nations Mandate agreements for Palestine and the 1924 Anglo-American Convention on the same subject, which gave the whole of ‘from the river to the sea’ to be administered by the British, by article 6 under a duty to

facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and … encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish agency referred to in article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

Or alternatively, the Israelis claim that, because the UN proposed partition of Palestine in 1947 was never performed and Egypt and Jordan merely occupied Gaza and the West Bank till 1967, there is no juridical sovereign at all, and in consequence the occupied territories are not ‘occupied’!

These Israeli legal arguments are frankly tortured. On the face of the 1920-22 mandate and 1924 treaty, the provision for Jewish immigration is explicitly qualified. To restore the first clause to the sentence quoted above, it is “The administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration …” Hence the territorial claim on this basis would imply that the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza are full citizens of Israel, like the Arab Israelis, with the right to vote, and so on. This is not a view consistent with the conduct of the Israeli state.

On the other hand, to say that there is no juridical sovereign at all does not alter the fact that the Israeli state holds these territories by force and without accepting their inhabitants as citizens. Hence, the view of the overwhelming majority of public international lawyers, and the overwhelming majority of states, that this is an occupation and the Fourth Geneva Convention is engaged, is really the only plausible view.


What I have just described is that the big lie - which is the anti-Semitism smear campaign and the Israeli state’s claim that it is not guilty of war crimes - entails deep implausibility of its claims to the overwhelming majority of public international lawyers and the world’s states, as well as the world’s population outside the imperialist centres.

The problem this poses to the US is that unequivocal backing for Israel threatens to explode the basis of the political regimes in the region. This is reflected in the unwillingness of Arab governments to supply ‘boots on the ground’ for an ‘intervention force’, and in Egypt joining South Africa’s case against Israel, as well as in the political difficulties faced by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt (for example),11 and the Houthis’ continuing and extended attacks on shipping.12

The result is that the US and its senior vassals (like the UK) continue to pretend to play the role of ‘honest broker’ in the Palestine ‘conflict’ - when, in reality, at the end of the day they back the Israeli settler-colonial regime to the hilt.

The problem is that this activity is, in fact, inconsistent with the big lie which ‘justifies’ unconditional backing for Israel. It amounts to a recognition that there is a real danger that the Israelis are guilty of war crimes. And this recognition - itself a lie, because of being a pretence of neutrality - can have the effect of opening a crack in the wall of lies.

Just a little crack, though. The state institutions, the advertising-funded media and the loyalist politicians - including the loyalist leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions - continue to spew out from day to day the big lie that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism and that Jews are under permanent threat from it. To fight against this big lie the workers’ movement needs our own media and our own political voice in the form of a unified Marxist party - in place of which we have today only an array of competing grouplets.

  1. ‘Gaza war: Almost 450,000 people have fled Rafah in a week, UN says’ BBC News May 14.↩︎

  2. www.middleeastmonitor.com/20240515-doctors-without-borders-suspends-work-at-rafah-clinic-as-israeli-army-approaches.↩︎

  3. www.jurist.org/news/2024/05/egypt-announces-intention-to-intervene-in-south-africa-icj-case-against-israel.↩︎

  4. ‘US assesses Israel has amassed enough troops to launch full-scale incursion into Rafah, officials say’.↩︎

  5. www.thejc.com/news/britain-does-not-support-major-rafah-operation-lord-cameron-says-rv4qsni1. A prima facie unreliable source, but this is a ‘statement against interest’ and fuller than the BBC’s version.↩︎

  6. ‘Joe Biden plans to send $1bn in new military aid to Israel’ and ‘US encouraging Arab states to join multinational post-war force in Gaza’ Financial Times May 15.↩︎

  7. www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2024/5/14/not-even-the-us-government-knows-the-us-government-line-on-rafah.↩︎

  8. www.theguardian.com/us-news/article/2024/may/11/us-university-protests-antisemitism-free-speech; and www.salon.com/2024/05/03/donald-is-using-campus-to-stoke-right-wing-violence-for-the.↩︎

  9. www.upi.com/Defense-News/2002/06/18/Analysis-Hamas-history-tied-to-Israel/82721024445587 (June 18 2002). On Netanyahu, see www.timesofisrael.com/for-years-netanyahu-propped-up-hamas-now-its-blown-up-in-our-faces (October 8 2023).↩︎

  10. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gaza_(2007) is a convenient summary.↩︎

  11. Eg, Saudi: www.newarab.com/news/saudi-cracks-down-online-posts-against-israels-gaza-war (May 2). Jordan: www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/21/tightrope-jordans-balancing-act-between-iran-and-israel (April 21). Egypt: www.chathamhouse.org/2024/05/egypt-holding-its-nerve-over-rafah-operation-its-restraint-shouldnt-be-taken-granted.↩︎

  12. www.seatrade-maritime.com/casualty/ships-told-reroute-indian-ocean-houthi-attack-range-extends (May 13).↩︎