By Israel Shamir – February 1, 2011
The campaign by the establishment press against Julian Assange is intensifying. CBS’s 60 Minutes tried to trash him last Sunday, but Assange left CBS’ interviewer, Steve Kroft, floundering. Last Sunday also saw New York Times editor Bill Keller consume several thousand words in the NYT’s Magazine abusing Assange with disgraceful lack of scruple, Assange being a man who gave the New York Times some actual news scoops, instead of its regular staple of gastroporn from Sam Sifton. Here Israel Shamir reports, with some personal involvement, on the impending slurring of Assange on the BBC, and the attacks on him in The Guardian. Alexander Cockburn/JStClair
I picked up the phone on the third ring, and a melodious British voice informed me that the BBC wanted to include me in its Panorama programme. The BBC wanted to hear my views on the world, and was especially interested in Wikileaks. Oh what a glorious moment! I felt myself puff with pride. There is something about “the Beeb” that makes my heart flutter! I have always been partial to their style, and I considered it an honour to have the BBC listed on my CV, even though it was over thirty years ago. When I worked in the Bush House on the Strand, the BBC’s Panorama was one of the best investigative programmes anywhere – and suddenly here they are, soliciting my comments! Eager to build a relationship of trust, I answered all their preparatory questions with an unvarnished honesty. I thought I had done well; they offered to fly me to London, or if that were inconvenient they would fly out and speak to me in Moscow – civil chaps, aren’t they?
Looking back, the signs of danger are easy to see. They were producing a programme about Wikileaks, but they had no plans to interview Julian Assange. Perhaps he is too busy? Furthermore, the questions began to take on a sinister tone. I shrugged off the feeling as a by-product of all the dirty politics we were discussing, but a few telephone conversations later my ill feelings finally seeped into my swelled head and it dawned on me what was going on. These nice chaps from the BBC were actually collecting dirt to use against Wikileaks! I was being played for a sucker. Suddenly I felt like Julian Assange, face to face with the honey trap.
The clincher was a letter I just received from producer John Sweeney, outlining the substance of the broadcast. It does not read like a television show, it reads like a criminal indictment. Every wild accusation is listed, and those without a shred of evidence are given pride of place. Most amazing of all, the Sweeney letter includes some lines lifted from a missive I had sent to Julian some time ago. The words were taken out of context and they were a misquotation of the original, but I recognise my prose. Some questions immediately spring to mind. How did the BBC get their hands on my private correspondence? Does the BBC actually steal private mail, or do they hire out? Ominously, this is not the first time this has happened to me. Another private letter of mine was (mis)quoted by The Guardian’s investigative editor David Leigh. Is it too conspiratorial of me to recognise a disturbing pattern? Could it be that three stolen laptops of Julian Assange found their last resting place at Leigh&Sweeney after a brief sojourn at Langley?
John Sweeney and David Leigh are cut from different cloth, but they both know how to play the journalism game. Leigh smoulders with jealousy. He plays the Salieri to Assange’s Mozart, but he thinks of himself as the unsung hero of Wikileaks. A hero? Rather, a villain. As Bill Keller of the New York Times admitted it was Leigh who “concluded that these rogue leaks (he engineered them) released The Guardian from any pledge”. Since then, he’s started his own private war against Wikileaks. His liaison with Sweeney was a convenient one. Sweeney is a pit bull; he’s the sort of guy you assign to smear Mother Theresa. He has skated along thus far because only the very rich might contemplate suing the BBC, but he has been found by a court to be a criminal libeller at least one time. Sweeney’s lunatic outbursts of fury are calculated to intimidate interviewees and have been preserved for posterity. It is all too plain to me now why Assange and company refused to have anything to do with Panorama and its pre-planned outcome. It is all too obvious to me now why they came hunting for your humble narrator.
The Panorama programme on Wikileaks will run on February 7, 2011, the very day that the trial of Julian Assange will be reopened. The result of the trial is unpredictable, not so the programme. Assange has more than a chance before the British courts, but if this Sweeney letter is anything to judge by, Panorama will leave no survivors. This is the British version of The Empire Strikes Back, the ultimate response to those who try to challenge mainstream corporate media’s hold over the public mind. In the meantime, the FBI and Scotland Yard have been keeping busy, making as many as 45 raids on various premises connected with Wikileaks, so that the alliance between the BBC and The Guardian is an ethereal mirror of some very earthy, if not subterranean, activity.
I doubt we will see the BBC’s Panorama make any attempt to examine what was disclosed by Wikileaks. I’m sure they will neglect to include Julian Assange’s philosophy of clarity as the people’s weapon against conspiracies of powerful; nor will they discuss the wilful redacting of the cables by The Guardian, or their arbitrary use of misleading headlines. I do not think they will investigate The Guardian’s journalistic attempts to destroy Julian Assange, including publishing an anticipatory book about the fall of Wikileaks. I wonder if they will inquire into OpenLeaks, the Guardian-sponsored alternative to Wikileaks, and how their version of “transparency” might be used to unmask whistleblowers and deliver their leaks back to their masters.
The one thing I do expect to see: smears! Some of these smears will deal with the alleged rape. I am no prophet, but I am willing to bet they will not mention these salient facts: the fact that the alleged victim was seen enjoying the company of the alleged rapist the day after the alleged crime, and the breathless twitters sent by the alleged victim after the alleged crime about how “amazing” it was to hang out with Julian and the Wikileaks crew. They will certainly not bring up Karl Rove’s involvement in the entrapment, nor will they list the complainant’s connections to the CIA. I suspect they will not bother to interview the eminent Swedish judge Brita Sundberg-Weitman about why she thinks the extradition request is illegal, and why she thinks that the people behind the request are pursuing their own agenda. I doubt the programme will quote Swedish attorney Marianne Ny, who said that it is better to keep a man in jail even if he turns out to be innocent.
Judging by Sweeney’s letter, there will be more than smears; there will be megasmears! Israel Shamir (that’s me) is a veritable lightning rod for smear jobs. Some folks can’t take the heat, and frankly, I don’t blame them. The Sweeney letter accuses me of being an “anti-Semite” and a “Holocaust denier”. Presumably it will be repeated in the broadcast.
To ensure their case is fireproof, the BBC has hired expert “anti-Semitism fighter” Professor Richard Evans – the BBC spares no expense when the game is afoot. Evans was an expert witness in the David Irving libel trial, and walked away with seventy thousand pounds ($110,000) from the court and a grand total of a quarter of a million pounds ($400,000) altogether for “fighting” anti-Semitism.
This windfall overexcited the Professor and, eager to repeat the coup, he tried to frame a feminist scholar Diane Purkiss for Holocaust denial as she expressed some unusual thoughts about… no, not Jews but witches in medieval England. This was a bridge too far, and he was forced to apologise grudgingly. Evans is no stranger to perjury: under cross examination, Evans, under oath, stated that he would not publish a book and thereby gain further profit from his participation in the trial. Yet of course he did publish a book, and yes, he profited from it. His enthusiasm is not hard to understand – he’s found a real gold mine! Without his reputation as an “anti-Semitism fighter”, his “glumly unimaginative style … [that] makes Evans’s account like a long draft of flat beer” (as Walden said in Bloomberg) would leave him on the margins of life. I’ll be glad to refute Professor Evans’s insights, but let’s maintain a proper historical perspective. I’d reserve my comments until after the BBC hires Evans to analyse the anti-Semitism of George VI, Shakespeare, Eliot and Marx.
I wrote hundreds of pages on the topic, but for the benefit of the reader I’ll sum it up. Naturally, as a son of Jewish parents and a man living in the Jewish state and deeply and intimately involved with Jewish culture, I harbour no hate to a Jew because he is a Jew. I doubt many people do. However I did and do criticise various aspects of Jewish Weltanschauung like so many Jewish and Christian thinkers before me, or even more so for I witnessed crimes of the Jewish state that originated in this worldview.
As for the accusation of “Holocaust denial”, my family lost too many of its sons and daughters for me to deny the facts of Jewish tragedy, but I do deny its religious salvific significance implied in the very term ‘Holocaust’; I do deny its metaphysical uniqueness, I do deny the morbid cult of Holocaust and I think every God-fearing man, a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim should reject it as Abraham rejected and smashed idols. I deny that it is good to remember or immortalise such traumatic events, and I wrote many articles against modern obsession with massacres, be it Jewish holocaust of 1940s, Armenian massacre of 1915, Ukrainian “holodomor”, Polish Katyn, Khmer Rouge etc. Poles, Armenians, Ukrainians understood me, so did Jews – otherwise I would be charged with the crime of factual denial which is known to the Israeli law. It took Evans and Sweeney to feint indignation.
I am not offended easily by morons. However, this ‘denier’ rhetoric keeps many of my erstwhile associates at arm’s length; no one likes being labelled, and I do not wish these labels to be rubbed off onto my friends, especially those like Julian Assange who never were interested in the subject. My Zionist opponents are obsessed with race and holocausts; I am not. Moreover, now I take time off my long involvement with the Jewish topic, involvement that began with translating the works of the Modern Hebrew writer S Y Agnon, moved on to translating the Medieval Hebrew works of Samuel Zacuto, and then finally had a go at undoing the crimes of Zionism. I do not renounce anything I’ve said or wrote, but there is life outside this subject. Wikileaks is the best example of this. Wikileaks has changed the face of the Middle East more radically than my ramblings ever could. Without Wikileaks, Al-Jazeera would never have published its Palestine Papers, and Tunisia and Egypt would not have begun their battle away from dictatorship and towards freedom.
These attacks on me have two reasons: one, to undermine Wikileaks and Julian Assange by association with me, “antisemite and denier”; two, to undermine my efforts to give you, readers, the cables unfiltered by the embedded media. This was confirmed by a new piece in the Guardian that provided foretaste of the forthcoming Panorama, like a 0.5″ tracer precedes payload. It repeats the same points – how anyone can have a view on Belarus that differs from that of Mr Leigh? The piece concludes: “while the newspapers hammered out a deal to handle the cables in a responsible fashion, Shamir’s backstairs antics certainly made WikiLeaks look rather less so”. Dear Guardian editors, your “responsible fashion” was analysed in the Counterpunch and found wanting. Moreover, Bill Keller admitted that every publication of the cables was screened and vetted by “unsmiling men” from CIA and State Department. I have tried to free the cables from the cage you locked them in. I am responsible too – but to people, not to officialdom.
I was mainly involved with the post-Soviet space, and there I delivered cables to very different media outlets, to the mainstream Russkiy Reporter, the mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda, to opposition Novaya Gazeta, to the Naviny, an independent site in Belarus because I did not like The Guardian’s arrangement of keeping embedded media in full control. If it worked in the East, it may work in the West: we may free ourselves from their mind control.
I believe the viewers of Panorama are too smart to be misled by ad hominem attacks. I believe you will judge me and Julian Assange by what we do: breaking the conspiracy of the powerful against the powerless. This is what the BBC is trying to make us forget. We have spent too much time and space dealing with their indictments of the messengers. Instead, we should indict them for trying to distract us from the message.
Edited by Paul Bennett.