Andrew Marr is USELESS

June 17, 2018

by Martin Odoni

Andrew Marr can be an utter pain to watch on TV sometimes, because he really is the softest interrogator imaginable, at least when interviewing Tory Ministers. He interviewed the Prime Minister on his imaginatively-titled programme, The Andrew Marr Show, this weekend, and predictably threw her nothing but puff-ball questions. These included a blatant feeder question about Theresa May’s diabetic condition, which she used unchallenged to court sympathy.

When attempting to decode a load of waffle about (in real terms, very slow and underwhelming) new funding for the National Health Service, he actually asked her permission to put questions to her about it. “I’d like to unpack all of that, if I may?” he requested, as though a Member of Parliament has a right to decide over what issues he or she may be held to account. May spouted an utterly grotesque lie about a ‘Brexit dividend’ paying for the new funding, and Marr made a very half-hearted attempt to question her about it, one May nervously sidestepped.

No brexit dividend

The dividend claim is based on the long-debunked “£350 million per week” claim of Leave campaigners. Marr did not even mention how thoroughly-discredited that notion is.

When discussing May’s ‘position’ on resolving Brexit’s Irish border issue, Marr let her state what arrangements she would not agree to, but never demanded she explain what arrangement she does want. That is problematic, given she stated explicitly that she will not accept a border within the island of Ireland, will not accept a border between Ireland and Britain, and will not accept remaining in the Customs Union or the Single Market. The only vague possibility that remains is the one Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party propose; a new Customs Union with the European Union. But this approach does not tally with rhetoric coming out of May’s administration, meaning May does not want that either. So having ruled out all the options anyone has been able to think of for the Irish border problem, May really needed to be pressed on the matter of what option she does favour. But again, Marr never asked.

At one point, Marr went as far as to ask May whether she was a woman of her word. This has got to be the most pointless, circular question any interviewer can bother with. The question presupposes an answer of yes in order to be able to rely on the answer. May said that she is. But how do we know that she truly is a woman of her word? Because she gives us her word that she is. ‘A perfect example of recursion,’ as was once said on Doctor Who. (The question is made doubly pointless by the fact that all the available evidence shows that May is no such thing anyway, and she is in fact a moral vacuum on many levels beyond honesty.)

Perhaps worst of all though was that Marr missed, or at least failed to challenge, an explicit rejection of the UK Constitution. May insisted that Parliament cannot “tie the hands of Government in negotiations”.

Of course it can. Indeed, it must. That is the whole point of Parliament – to hold the Government to account, and to prevent it from doing anything that its majority judges to be against the interests of the nation as a whole. May talks about it as a principle that does not apply during negotiations, but it does. Hypothetically, if the Government offers, say, to give away the Bank of England to the EU as a condition of a trade deal, or to sell off the nation’s railway lines (not just selling franchises to run the trains, but selling off the infrastructure itself) to the Government of Spain, it is imperative that Parliament is able to nip that in the bud. It will actually save negotiation time in the long run if it can oversee negotiations and stop the administration from heading down the path of a complex deal that proves to be a fundamental non-starter. Wait instead for Parliament to vote the deal down after it is agreed with the EU, and a whole process lasting weeks or even months will have been for nothing.

If the Prime Minister does not understand the practicalities of the democratic principle, which are far greater than they are often given credit for, then she really has to resign as Prime Minister. Any Prime Minister making what is, effectively, a claim on absolute authority cannot be tolerated. It seems Marr will happily tolerate it though, because true-to-form, he never challenged her on it at all.

Andrew Marr really is useless.

by Martin Odoni

What a gift yesterday’s summit in Singapore was to the dictator of North Korea.

Listening to Donald Trump sympathisers worldwide, as they pile in to radio phone-ins to brown their noses in tribute to him, you would think he had personally arranged the Second Coming. The truth is, Trump did not achieve anything, while Kim Jong-Un got what he most desired, in exchange for doing nothing, and is thus laughing like crazy at his rival.

Strangely, Trump’s supporters seem to think he ‘got North Korea to the negotiating table’, and that that was an achievement in itself. In fact, it is quite the other way around. North Korean leaders have been asking for summits with US Presidents for decades, and previous US Presidents all refused such meetings without North Korea making concessions up front.

Occupy Democrats on Trump and his summit

Occupy Democrats are sharing this meme on social media, summing up what a loss the US summit with North Korea will ultimately prove.

Trump idiotically just agreed to this summit off the top of his head without imposing any conditions. The upshot of that is that Kim is now able to claim – without even having to lie – that he is the President who got the USA to the negotiating table. That diplomatic boon was a gift to Kim in itself.

But worse, what came out of the summit is a total victory for Kim – the metaphorical gift that has kept on giving – and a propaganda coup that has probably secured his position as absolute ruler of North Korea for another twenty years. He got everything, and gave up nothing.

Despite Trump’s characteristic boasting, the summit accomplished nothing for the USA. Trump extracted only vague, very familiar promises from Kim about ‘moving towards de-nuclearisation’. We have heard this from Pyongyang at least a dozen times before, just since the mid-1980s.

NK denuclearisation promises

There really is no good reason for the clamour of admiration for Donald Trump’s ‘diplomatic achievement’. He has gained nothing by it.

The reality is that, given the nature of the regime in Pyongyang, no ruler there will ever willingly give up his atomic weapons. Whoever the dictator is, he will know that if he surrenders nuclear arms, he will be dead within months. The regime there is one of the most brutal and repressive on Earth, and it rules, not through its power, but through fear of its power. No matter how much political power the dictator wields, he is still just a man, and can be assassinated as totally as any man-in-the-street. It is the threat, not of the man, but of the power he wields, that keeps him in place. So if he were to show that he is willing to give up nuclear weapons, his most powerful military resource, that would be a sign of weakness, while also potentially weakening the regime itself. He would have less power for those he rules to fear. So prominent figures near the top of his Government would probably respond by overthrowing him, before killing him – probably in a very bloodcurdling manner – to make sure he poses no threat to his successor.

In short, Kim Jong-Un cannot decommission his nuclear weapons; his own life depends on keeping them.

Meanwhile, Kim has extracted a promise from Trump to stop US military exercises off the coastline of the Korean peninsular. An end to that threatening practice is what the Pyongyang Government has been desperately seeking since Lyndon Johnson was American President. Now sure, there is nothing to guarantee that the USA will keep its side of the bargain either, but that is at least a firmly-defined promise, and it can be fairly measured whether the USA delivers on it. The Korean promise to ‘work together to move towards de-nuclearisation’ could mean anything upwards of “We’ll draw up a hypothetical plan for decommissioning that is obviously unworkable, and send it to you, and then when you reject it, we can say, ‘Well, at least we tried’.” That hollow, empty gesture would still count as fulfilling their side of the bargain, and would, absurdly, give North Korea the official moral high ground if the USA continues military manoeuvres off the Korean coast.

The South Korean Government in Seoul must be on the brink of a collective cardiac arrest, as they watch their most important backer giving their bitterest rival everything-for-nothing!

Worse, what does all of this say to Iran? The regime in Tehran followed the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal with the USA and its allies pretty much to the letter. But Trump simply cancelled the deal arbitrarily a month ago, for no apparent reason beyond wanting just to be different from his predecessor, Barack Obama. Now, the Iranians have sat, open-mouthed, as North Korea has received a major military concession in apparent exchange for shallow flattery of a narcissistic buffoon. The lesson the Iranians will doubtless take is that if they start saying nice things about Trump all the time, he will start giving them anything they want.

So Trump is cozying up to anti-democratic rulers like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un, and repeatedly giving them something-for-nothing, while imposing trading tariffs on his country’s democratic allies.

This is not an era of triumph for Western diplomacy, it is an era of easy triumph for authoritarianism, and of alienation for democratic nations.

by Martin Odoni

The founding idea behind Zionism is that Jews cannot safely co-exist with ‘gentiles’, and therefore require a homeland of their own. This concept led, for better or worse, to the existence of modern Israel, and is intermittently invoked by the Israeli Government, especially when Jews in other countries are the victims of atrocities or hate-crimes.

As I have commented before, I do not accept that Zionism was a ‘necessary’ ideology, and there is an absurdity in that many Jews living outside Israel are Zionists. But nonetheless, Israel sometimes encourages more and more Jews to move there. This may sound perfectly natural, but the real reasons for doing this may not be the ones you might imagine. They are less to do with the survival of the Jewish people, and more to do with the survival of Israel itself.

When Israel was formed in the 1940s, it was a bit of a patchwork of land that had previously been part of the British Mandate For Palestine. The division of land drawn up by the United Nations was rather bizarre and not very efficient, from the perspectives of both Jewish and Arab populations; –

1947 partition israel palestine

The lay-out of Israel in particular was quite puzzling, and strategically quite weak. The new country was a long, thin, curling ‘zig-zag’ of land, which had very long, complicated borders with few natural defences. There was no ‘territorial depth’ i.e. in many places, the border was close to the sea, meaning a defending army had nowhere to retreat to, and settlements were within easy reach of any invading force. There was also not a great deal of habitable space. Bits of Israel were cut off from other bits by narrow stretches of Palestinian territory, and vice versa.

Neighbouring Arab countries were furious that Israel had been founded on lands that they felt belonged to their own people, and had been ‘stolen’ from them. The arrangement was seen as a ‘sell-out’ to Zionist terrorists, who had caused a lot of chaos in the former Mandated territory over the previous few years. Therefore, just one day after Israel formally came into being, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt all invaded the fledgling country.

Under the circumstances, it is perhaps surprising how easily Israeli troops fought off their neighbours. But in the process, they also occupied much of the rest of the land of the former British Mandate. This land was useful for creating ‘buffer-zones’ against further invasions, but also gave Israel extra space into which more Jewish settlers could be accommodated – land that was taken from the Palestinians. Arab communities chased off this land refer to this displacement as ‘the Nakba‘ or ‘the catastrophe’.

Given the enormous strategic difficulties of a return to land-divisions even remotely resembling the lay-out of the UN partition, Israel is understandably very unhappy about the idea of a ‘two-state solution’ to the Palestinian crisis. It is unlikely under those terms that either Israel or Palestine would be anywhere near safe from invasion by neighbours.

Since that First Arab-Israeli War, the desire for more land has become a repeated feature of Israel’s existence. Part of the reason is that one of the sworn ideals of the state is that it will give a home to anybody of Jewish maternal descent, and some Jews abroad have chosen to make use of that of their own volition. As the Israeli population has grown accordingly, inevitably the Israeli Government has needed more land to accommodate them.

But there is another issue at play that Israel does not like to discuss, but which complicates its pursuit of land – relative population sizes. In a world in which (supposed) democratic practice is seen as a mark of humane Government, Israel wants to be viewed as a nation ruled by the majority. But it is also, in a manner of speaking, an ethnocracy i.e. a nation ruled by and for one ethnic group at the expense of any others. Israel is a land where the Jewish population has to be the priority – ‘primus inter pares‘ (“first-among-equals”) almost – in order to serve the country’s founding purpose of preserving the Jewish people. Israel cannot logically be a ‘Jewish state’ without treating the needs of its Jewish population as its most important duty. Unfortunately, such an approach runs contrary to the democratic principle of ‘one-man-one-vote’, and would probably be undermined by a Government elected on most other terms.

But the combined Arab population inside Israel and in territories under dispute is almost exactly as large as the Jewish population. Projections suggest that it will also grow faster than the Jewish population in the years ahead.

Hence Israel’s dilemma, and its reluctance to pursue a one-state solution any more than a two-state solution; the only way it can square the circle of managing to be both a democracy and an ethnocracy is to pursue (obviously undemocractic and unjust) policies aimed at keeping the Jewish population within its borders larger than the Arab population, so that should a one-state democracy come about, Israeli Jews will still be able to out-vote Israeli Arabs. Anything else, and the Jewish state will almost certainly be voted out of existence, when its continuation is so obviously against the interests of most Arabs. While a significant minority of Palestinians are actually quite happy to accept the Israeli way of life as their own, a great many others, especially those sealed in Gaza, and cut off from their real homes for generations, feel very differently.

This is the real reason why Israel makes little more than a token effort to discipline the soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force when they massacre Palestinians. Horrible as it sounds, every time a Palestinian dies, that is one fewer Arab voter to worry about whenever a completely free election is held. Massacres may not be good politics for Israel, but they are quietly in the interests of the Zionist ideal. Zionism, indeed any ethnocratic ideal, is simply incompatible with democracy, and sooner or later, the choice will always have to be made between them. While Israel appears to be putting off that choice for the time being, it is leaning in the ethnocratic direction.

This also, however, adds to Israel’s motives to play up the classic Zionist paranoia-chorus about how Jews cannot live safely among gentiles, and how any period without anti-Semitic persecution in other lands is just the pause-for-breath before ‘the next Pogrom‘. This is not only about justifying Israel’s original creation. No, the intermittent appeals for more Jews to come and settle in Israel are even more about increasing the Jewish population there, so that it can keep its numbers ahead of those of the Arab population.

But in order to make that increase feasible, more land will continue to be needed to make space for the new arrivals. And that land will, of course, continue to be taken from Arabs, be it more territory confiscated from Palestinians, or more land taken from neighbouring countries. When land is taken from neighbouring countries, there is the danger that more Arabs may be brought into the fold with them, rather defeating the object of the exercise, and upping the territorial need still further.

Israel, in short, has rather trapped itself in an upward spiral of increasing the land to accommodate a population that it has deliberately increased. It does it only so that it does not have to become truly democratic, and can remain, at least in large part, ethnocratic. Every time it succeeds, its success is only temporary, kicking the proverbial can further down the road, as the Palestinian population continues to grow, even in spite of all the forces pushing against it. And with each passing effort to apply downward pressure on that Arab population, Israel creates more opposition internationally, opposition that cannot be shouted down for much longer with the usual cynical cries of “anti-Semitism!!!

Zionism, an ethnocratic ideal, may be Israel’s founding principle, but eventually, the country will be forced to ask itself, “Is being an ethnocracy really worth all this trouble?”

by Martin Odoni

I am getting a little exhausted with an almost-identical conversation I keep having repeatedly on social media. Below is a copy-paste of just one example of it I have had to correct. Other versions are out there far beyond my will to count, and while they are not word-for-word, they all mean exactly the same thing. They have been repeatedly posted in response to the article I published yesterday.

“Semitic is a term that applies to both Arabs and Jews. The group of languages they all spoke in the area where both Jews and Palestinian Arabs live, are the Semitic languages. To be anti-Semitic, is to be anti both Jews and Palestinian Arabs.”


No, it is not.

I know it should mean that, because ‘Semitic’ does indeed roughly mean ‘of the peoples originating in the lands east of the Mediterranean Sea’ (not only Arabs either, please note – Assyrians and even Persians can be classed as Semites too). It follows logically that ‘anti-Semitic’ would therefore mean prejudice against all such peoples. However – and yes I know it sounds very counter-intuitive – the definition of the term is strictly anti-Jewish.

Friederiche Wilhelm Marr - founder of modern anti-Semitism?

Wilhelm Marr – the man who gave anti-Semitism its unhappy name.

The term was popularised by a nationalist German agitator called Friederich Wilhelm Marr in the 1870s. Marr was himself hostile to Jews, and was stridently opposed to their emancipation or assimilation into the German populace. Marr was one of the earliest known propagators of modern conspiracy tropes about wealth and power being secretly held by small numbers of ‘world-controlling Jews’. Specifically, Marr argued that Jewish Germans had ‘taken control’ of finance and industry in the then-fledgling German Empire.

There was a fresh tidal wave of political hostility towards Jews engulfing much of Europe at the time, leading into the Pogroms of the Russian Empire. Marr coined the term ‘anti-Semitism’ to refer to this phenomenon, and in opposition to the ‘Jewish clique’ he imagined, in 1879 he founded a movement that he  called, The League Of Anti-Semites (‘Antisemiten-Liga’).

Why he chose the term ‘anti-Semitism’ to refer to Jew-hate is not altogether clear. It seems perfectly possible that he had simply misunderstood what the word ‘Semite’ (‘Semitismus’ as he wrote it in one of his pamphlets) means, and thought it was just a synonym for ‘Jew’. Another theory is that he thought it sounded more ‘scientific’ than ‘Juden-hass’ (‘Jew-hate’) and therefore would give his ugly ideas more credibility.

Whatever Marr’s reasons, his meaning when he coined the term was hostility-to-Jews exclusively, and it was that definition that eventually became widely accepted and adopted into common parlance. It may seem ridiculous that the term does not encompass hostility to all peoples originating in that region, but it is still the truth.

As for Marr, he eventually recanted his own ideas and apologised to the Jewish people shortly before he died. Sadly, his ideas outlived him by a very long time, even lasting up to the present day, and they arguably played an indirect role in some of the worst tragedies of the Twentieth Century.

by Martin Odoni

The notorious outgoing President of the British Board of Jewish Deputies this week made perhaps the most ridiculous public statement of his entire, lamentable career. The eternally right-wing Jonathan Arkush, speaking to the eternally right-wing Daily Telegraph, claimed,

“Delegitimising the state of Israel is antisemitic. [Jeremy Corbyn] was a chairman of Stop the War, which is responsible for some of the worst anti-Israel discourse. If he shares the prevalent discourse about Israel, then that view is unquestionably antisemitic… [The BDI] will not accept a discourse which denies the existence of their own land to the Jewish people. I think we are all entitled to some clarity on his real views about Israel.”

This remark is either a cynical smear, or a call from the heights of deranged paranoia. Arkush and his allies in the Zionist (important; not Jewish) community keep levelling charges like this at the Labour leader, among many others on the left of the party. But each time, they put precious little meat on the bones of their accusations. There is never a coherent explanation from Arkush as to what Corbyn has really said that is so objectionable, examples are few-and-far-between, and what quotations are offered are usually taken out-of-context.

Arkush also said that Corbyn’s Labour has British Jews wondering: “Do we have a future here?” Not for the first time, and probably not the last, I find myself wanting to ask the Board, “When were you going to ask me before speaking for me?” Because I am one Jew who has never wondered whether I have a future here at all, and no one has ever asked me if I have.

Arkush also stated quite concretely that Corbyn holds ‘anti-Semitic views’, but again offers no specific examples to that effect, just more generalised grumbles about Corbyn’s history of criticisng Israeli policies.

More particularly, Arkush’s leading attempt to imply that Corbyn has a history of ‘delegitimising the state of Israel’ is an outrageous lie. Corbyn’s associations with the Stop The War coalition reveal not a shred of evidence of that; Stop The War are frequent critics of Israel, beyond doubt, but they have never argued particularly for its destruction. (And no, before anyone comments with the familiar urban myth, Stop The War did not publish an article four years ago literally demanding a war with Israel. The often-cited article by Professor Richard Falk was arguing for non-military action against Israel.) Stop The War question the decision to create Israel, and the process by which it happened – especially the much-under-discussed role of Zionist militancy in the mid-1940s – but that is quite different from wanting the country to be destroyed. The coalition, like most critics of Israel, want to see the country reformed with full rights for all Palestinians on an equal footing with all Jews, be it by a one-state or two-state solution. Condemnation of policy is quite different from condemnation of existence.


So on examination, Arkush’s protestations are not against the way anyone in the Labour Party or Stop The War treats Jews at all. He objects instead to the way that the left will not endorse Israel’s treatment of Arabs. The refusal to approve the repeated slaughters of Arabs is anti-Semitic, according to Arkush.

The only conclusion we can draw from Arkush’s rant – probably his last before rightly stepping down as the Board’s President – is that he sees Israel/Palestine in the most childish of binary terms. He thinks that people can be anti-Semitic, or they can be anti-Arab. (They can also, perhaps, be both.) But as far as Arkush is concerned, it is not possible to be neither. So if you are not anti-Arab, you have to be an anti-Semite. That is how dimensionless Arkush’s reasoning skills are.

I have written numerous times before about the subconscious anti-Semitic mindset required to weaponise anti-Semitism allegations, reducing Jews from human beings to mere tools of disputational convenience – even when the weaponiser is Jewish. So if the Board as a whole endorses Arkush’s remarks, then the Board of Jewish Deputies is now an anti-Semitic organisation.