Monday, July 23, 2012

Commemorating Alexander Cockburn

The Irish New Left journalist and stylist Alexander Cockburn is dead. I don't like dissing the just-deceased, but I have a standard response to the passing of people like Cockburn: I'm not happy that he's dead, and I'm not happy that he lived.

You won't see a lot of straight talk about Cockburn just now. To the extent that anyone still notices his long-dimmed star, it's mainly New Left mandarins and their admirers who are staggering to commemorate him. Katha Pollitt, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Greg Palast are stunned. Gorgeous George is lugubrious. The Nation, which doesn't fly flags, is at half-mast. Assorted padawans are performing homage. Even the Paulite non-interventionist Glenn Greenwald, who moves usually in less rarefied circles, has observed the occasion, and aptly, as we will see.

Cockburn was edgy, ballsy and in some ways brilliant. As a stylist and polemicist, he was a meet peer of Christopher Hitchens, whom he was close to but came to despise. I don't think Cockburn had quite the same level of talent, but he was formidable and was Hitchens' perfect foil.

It goes deep downhill from there. Cockburn was the son of a Stalinist shill, the journalist Claud Cockburn, who according to Bob Gordon, "worked closely [in Spain during the Spanish Civil War] with the Soviet agents who orchestrated both acts of violence against the anti-Stalinist left and the propaganda which whitewashed those acts." Orwell himself documented Cockburn's disinformation in Homage to Catalonia.

Alexander seems to have inherited his father's character and the core of his politics, though he went on to become a New Left icon. Along with Jeffrey St. Clair, he came to edit a political newsletter called Counterpunch, which was admired alternately by International ANSWER types, 60s radicals, libertarians and nativists. As such Counterpunch isn't garden variety radical flora. Its politics comprise global warming denial, pro-NRA and pro-Pinochet positions, as well as paranoid anti-banker populism, hysteria about the surveillance state and Palestinian solidarity. You might be thinking what some have remarked -- that Counterpunch is in some ways more far-Right than Left. Oliver Kamm rightly sources its harlequin politics in
convergence between what may reasonably be termed anti-American instincts on both wings of politics. During Labour's fractious debates in the 1980s, Denis Healey memorably described neutralism - then a vibrant sentiment on the British Left - as "isolationism with an inferiority complex". The identity is by now almost complete.

On Israel, Zionism and Jews, far Right and Left also find common ground, and Counterpunch in this vein is unambiguously anti-Semitic. It's not just over-the-top or an Asperger's affair like Mondoweiss. Counterpunch actually published a blood libel. This is Alexander Cockburn's wicked accomplishment.

The fact is... that substantiated evidence of public and private organ trafficking and theft, and allegations of worse, have been widely reported for many years. Given such context, the Swedish charges become far more plausible than might otherwise be the case and suggest that an investigation could well turn up significant information.


Israel’s organ donor problems

Israel has an extraordinarily small number of willing organ donors. According to the Israeli news service Ynet, “the percentage of organs donated among Jews is the lowest of all the ethnic groups… In western countries, some 30 per cent of the population have organ donor cards. In Israel, in contrast, four percent of the population holds such cards. (17)

“According to statistics from the Health Ministry’s website, in 2001, 88 Israelis died waiting for a transplant because of a lack of donor organs. In the same year, 180 Israelis were brain dead, and their organs could have been used for transplant, but only 80 of their relatives agreed to donate their organs.”

According to Ynet, the low incidence of donors is related to “religious reasons.” In 2006 there was an uproar when an Israeli hospital known for its compliance with Jewish law performed a transplant operation using an Israeli donor. The week before, “a similar incident occurred, but since the patient was not Jewish it passed silently.”


Palestinian disappearances increase

Bostrom, who earlier wrote of all this in his 2001 book Inshallah, (20) reports in his recent article:

“While the campaign was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.

“Talk of the bodies terrified the population of the occupied territories. There were rumors of a dramatic increase of young men disappearing, with ensuing nightly funerals of autopsied bodies.”

“... On an assignment from a broadcasting network I then travelled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza – meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed.”
He describes the case of 19-year-old Bilal Achmed Ghanan, shot by Israeli forces invading his village.

“The first shot hit him in the chest. According to villagers who witnessed the incident he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then ran down from the carpentry workshop and shot Bilal once in the stomach. Finally, they grabbed him by his feet and dragged him up the twenty stone steps of the workshop stair… Israeli soldiers loading the badly wounded Bilal in a jeep and driving him to the outskirts of the village, where a military helicopter waited. The boy was flown to a destination unknown to his family.”
Five days later he was returned, “dead and wrapped up in green hospital fabric.” Bostrom reports that as the body was lowered into the grave, his chest was exposed and onlookers could see that he was stitched up from his stomach to his head. Bostrom writes that this was not the first time people had seen such a thing.


It’s time to bring clarity to this macabre business, to shed light on what is going on and what has taken place in the territories occupied by Israel since the Intifada began.
Cockburn, in publishing the ruminations by Alison Weir on Israeli organ harvesting, was the last notable First-World purveyor of blood libel. Weir's work is based on an earlier blood libel by Donald Bostrom appearing in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet. She folds into it the research of anthropologist and organ trade investigator Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who documented sporadic unethical and illegal organ harvesting of Israelis, Palestinians and foreign workers in the 1990s by staff at the National Legal Medical Institute in Tel Aviv. The staff "said that they believed they were helping to save lives, and that this was more important than trying to procure the consent of ill-informed and grieving family members." Chief Pathologist Dr. Yehuda Hiss was fired for these improprieties, which ended by 2000, though he stayed with the Institute.

Weir, and Counterpunch, want you to believe a broader, darker narrative: that Israel maintains the occupation of the Palestinians in part to shore up its reserves of organs for Jews in need of donations. This is necessary, the conspiracy theory goes, because Israel, owing to the religious compunctions of devout Jews, has a very low supply of donor organs.

This isn't like the case with Ron Paul and his newsletters, which were ghost-written and which Paul indirectly benefited from. Counterpunch was Cockburn's primary project, to which he contributed writing, and his sentiments elsewhere are congruous. "It's supposedly the third rail in journalism even to have a discussion of how much the Jews do control the media," Cockburn observed, and published a book called The Politics of Anti-Semitism on the supposed misuse of the charge to silence people like him. About conspiracy theories fingering Israel for the 9/11 attacks or for having foreknowledge of them, Cockburn was noncommittal: "I don't know there's enough exterior evidence to determine whether they are true or not."

While the progressives grieve, consider all this and the following tweets and links that lead to a breviary of other anti-Semitic quotes and their primary sources at Counterpunch. Also see if you can obtain the latest issue -- it features a piece called "THE DREYFUS CASE, REVISITED" by the Holocaust-denier Israel Shamir, who asks "... was [Dreyfus] really a victim of anti-Semitism?"

  • Lenni Brenner, the American Trotskyist who is the leading Western amplifier of the Soviet lie that Nazis and Zionists were kindred collaborators: "The slaughter of between 5 and 6 million Jews has become history’s best known black hats/white hats movie."
  • Alison Weir on that same lie
  • Gilad Atzmon, the leading Jewish anti-Semite, was a favorite at Counterpunch, which liked to run him and articles defending him. Here's Atzmon at Counterpunch: "...there is good reason to believe that Hitler developed some of his anti-Semitic arguments after reading early Zionist texts"
  • Recall Bashar Assad told Pope John Paul II that the Jews continue to afflict Christians and Muslims the way they betrayed Jesus and Muhammad. 8 years later, Cockburn published an article called "Israeli Bodysnatchers" by Bouthaina Shaaban, Political and Media Advisor to the Assad Presidency. The piece carries on about the Bostrom blood libel.
Philosophy professor Michael Neumann is a frequent Counterpunch contributor. The hate site Jewish Tribal Review admired Neumann's writings and tried to recruit him for collaboration. Neumann demurred and JTR published their email exchange, in which Neumann wrote: "If an effective strategy [of helping Palestinians] means that some truths about the Jews don't come to light, I don't care. If an effective strategy means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism... I also don't care. If it means encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don't care." Here are a few of Neumann's Counterpunch writings:

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