How ‚America’s Best Political Newsletter‘ Mainstreams the Far Right
CounterPunch, which bills itself as ‚America’s best political newsletter‘, offering ‚independent investigative journalism‘, tends to figure quite prominently in the reading lists of left-leaning activists, who doubtlessly appreciate its consistent antiwar stance, its critical analysis on US economic and foreign policy and US-sponsored Israeli apartheid, and the regular contributions from such leading Left writers as John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Paul Street, Jeremy Scahill, and Tariq Ali. Indeed, CounterPunch generally tends to be thought of as a Left media outlet. However, in writing for, and sharing articles published on, CP, Leftists are unwittingly helping to promote the agenda of the far right.
In addition to the authors relied on by CP for its left cred, ‚America’s best political newsletter‘ also regularly publishes ‚independent investigative journalism‘ by a wide variety of white supremacists, including Paul Craig Roberts, editor of the white nationalist website VDare, Ron Paul (who poses for photo ops with neo-Nazis and warns of ‚race war‘), and Alison Weir, holocaust denier Israel Shamir, and that perennial saboteur of the Palestinian solidarity movement, Gilad Atzmon, author of the racist The Wandering Who.
Although there are some who have expressed concern on this problematic mix, when I have raised this issue in discussions with others in left activist circles, I have often found that it is dismissed as a triviality. In these discussions, the white supremacist contingent tends to be attributed to an unwillingness to bow to ‚political correctness‘ or a mere desire to ‚piss off liberals‘, and generally believed to be an insignificant deviation from an otherwise clear leftist editorial line, the sort of thing only an ‚ideological purist‘ could get excited about.
My own research into the editorial practices at CounterPunch shows otherwise. Not only have white supremacist authors long been a fixture at CP; their ideology is shared by members of the editorial collective. All in all, it is entirely reasonable to say that the formation of a Querfront (an alliance between the far right and the left) is a longstanding project of the newsletter, consistently endorsed by the decisions taken by CP editors and their own stated positions. In the following, I will examine the relationship between the CP editors and the racist Right via individual case studies and several statistical investigations:
- Publication figures for white supremacist versus prominent leftist authors;
- Ron Paul: Supportive vs. critical articles
- Gilad Atzmon: Supportive vs. critical articles
- Origins of US support for Israeli apartheid: ‚Zionist occupied government‘ or imperialist interests?
- Querfront: Supportive vs. critical
Following an introduction to the notion of Querfront/Third-Position politics, we shall see below that a quantitative and qualitative examination of each of the above questions reveals that right-wing populism is heavily favoured by the CounterPunch board, to the extent that on some issues, e.g., the role of Zionist lobby groups like AIPAC in US support for Zionism, left perspectives are so underrepresented as to be negligible.
Querfront: The Right’s Perennial Leftward Overtures
The idea of a red-brown alliance, or Querfront (German for ‚transversal front‘), has been a recurrent motif in far-right thought over the past century. Craving the legitimacy that an alliance with progressive forces can provide, reactionaries seize on ostensibly shared positions, chief amongst them opposition to corrupt élites, to create the impression that progressives could benefit from making common cause with them.
Querfront (also known as ‚third position‘) propaganda can be highly seductive. Today’s (crypto)-fascist and other hard-right suitors, for example, focus on the commonplace left themes of opposition to war and corporate globalisation, the depredations of the ‚banksters‘, civil liberties, and Palestinian solidarity. Because the problems described by Querfront propaganda overlap so well with left-progressive causes, it may even superficially appear to be standard left-progressive discourse. The enemies it describes may even be given the same names – élites, military-industrial complex, corporate power, the US government – that progressives might use. If – as is the case with many of today’s (especially US) left-progressives – one lacks the historical knowledge and analytical tools to recognise this propaganda for what it is, it is quite easy to be sucked in.
Third-position propaganda may have the same ’surface structure‘, to borrow a term from linguistics, as left analysis – working-class people fighting against oppression by entrenched élites – but the ‚deep structure‘ is quite different. Where a left analysis looks to the structure of individual institutions, and to that of the political and economic system itself, the Querfront propagandist attributes the assorted sociopolitical evils to cabals of evil individuals, to unwholesome foreign influences, to secret societies (both real and fabricated) – in a word, to scapegoats. Where a left analysis sees structures that must be attacked and changed in order to end systemic injustice, the third-positionist offers conspiracies. Often, in the modern Querfront worldview, a ‚good‘ élite of ‚enlightened‘ people who know about What They Don’t Want You To Know need only reveal the conspiracy and awaken the masses (often dehumanised as ’sheeple‘) in order for Good to prevail. However, the minions of the third-positionist’s chosen Evil Cabals are lurking everywhere, and must be rooted out. This worldview was usefully termed ‚conspiracism‘ in Chip Berlet’s 1994 work Right Woos Left (RWL). Although Berlet himself is not immune to the sort of wooing from the right (and has been a vocal and dishonest defender, inter alia, of Engage propagandist David Hirsh), steadfastly refusing to apply his analysis to Zionist ideology and propaganda, his work remains worth citing as one of the best analyses of the Querfront phenomenon and its consequences, particularly in the US.
As Berlet notes in RWL:
In paranoid political philosophies, the world is divided into us and them. Evil conspirators control world events. A special few have been given the knowledge of this massive conspiracy and it is their solemn duty to spread the alarm across the land.
Conspiracism and scapegoating go hand-in-hand, and both are key ingredients of the fascist phenomenon. Fascism is difficult to define succinctly. As Roger Scruton observes in „A Dictionary of Political Tought,“ fascism is „An amalgam of disparate conceptions.“
[Fascism is] more notable as a political phenomenon on which diverse intellectual influences converge than as a distinct idea; as political phenomenon, one of its most remarkable features has been the ability to win massive popular support for ideas that are expressly anti-egalitarian.
Fascism is characterised by the following features (not all of which need be present in any of its recognized instances): nationalism; hostility to democracy, to egalitarianism, and to the values of the enlightenment; the cult of the leader, and admiration for his special qualities; a respect for collective organization, and a love of the symbols associated with it, such as uniforms, parades and army discipline.
The ultimate doctrine contains little that is specific, beyond an appeal to energy, and action.
‚Another way to look at fascism‘, Berlet continues,
is as a movement of extreme racial or cultural nationalism, combined with economic corporatism and authoritarian autocracy; masked during its rise to state power by pseudo-radical populist appeals to overthrow a conspiratorial elitist regime; spurred by a strong charismatic leader whose reactionary ideas are said to organically express the will of the masses who are urged to engage in a heroic collective effort to attain a metaphysical goal against the machinations of a scapegoated demonized adversary.
A great deal of the appeal of Querfront propaganda is likely due to its simplicity. A serious left analysis, say, of US support for Israeli apartheid will start by looking at the documented record of US foreign policy as a whole and the history of US policy in the Middle East in particular, examining the institutional structures that consistently produce some version of the same outcome – in this case, massive US military and diplomatic support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its racist internal regime – all of which requires considerable research and intellectual effort to develop, verify, and understand. The third-positionist version, on the other hand, shines in its elegance: A foreign lobby has taken over the US government and media, and is forcing the US to act against ‚American interests‘ and ‚American values‘, and anyone who says otherwise is a Zionist infiltrator. A moment’s informed scrutiny will raise doubts about this account, but it is not designed to appeal to those who are inclined to dedicate a moment to scrutinising convenient narratives.
The Querfront approach to social injustice also allows those on the more comfortable end of certain systems of oppression (e.g., sexism, ableism, racism, cissexism, homophobia) to avoid the hard work and introspection involved in recognising that, despite their own oppression, they benefit in some ways from the oppression of others. A serious left analysis will consider a politician’s appeals to racism, sexism, and/or homophobia a red flag that counsels against aligning oneself with him. The third-positionist sees such concerns as nothing but ‚political correctness‘ and ‚liberal thought policing‘, and even worse, as ‚divisive‘ (and indeed it is divisive: it divides those who oppose systemic oppression from those who support it).
These days, of course, the hard right has an image problem: Open bigotry tends to be frowned on, and outright fascist imagery will often put off people who otherwise do not object to reactionary ideology. As such, an organisation or publication exclusively dedicated to publishing reactionary voices is not likely to have a broad appeal. However, when interspersed with genuinely left-progressive content, it may achieve a certain progressive respectability, at least as a legitimate position for debate amongst social justice activists. If you want to sell excrement, you’ll get better results if you surround it with chocolates.
This is a lesson the CounterPunch editorial collective, from Alex Cockburn on down, have clearly internalised.
The CounterPunch Assortment:
From the sort of material shared from CounterPunch in left-leaning circles on Facebook, one could easily get the impression that it is a left media outlet that only occasionally publishes voices from the right. In reality, however, CounterPunch offers a very steady diet of white supremacist and other reactionary authors.
To ascertain the number of white supremacist vs. leftist authors published on CP, I did Google searches using the search term site:counterpunch.org „by [AUTHOR NAME]“, with no time restriction, disregarding the inevitable repetitions and uses of the phrase other than in by-lines.
For the white supremacists, a list of prominent white supremacist authors was used, including Gilad Atzmon, Mary Rizzo, Israel Shamir, and Jeff Blankfort, known for their racist conspiracism and holocaust denial, white nationalist and Reagan-era US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts, Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, Bill and Kathleen Christison, and Franklin Lamb.
For the left contingent, I cast the net broader to include an assortment of radical left and left-liberal commentators, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Jeremy Scahill, Norman Finkelstein, Tariq Ali, and John Pilger. The results are shown in Table I:
|RIGHT/WHITE SUPREMACISTS||NO. OF PUBLICATIONS ON COUNTERPUNCH|
|Paul Craig Roberts||264|
|Bill & Kathleen Christison (includes individually and jointly written articles)||78|
|TOTAL RIGHT/WHITE SUPREMACISTS||674|
The total number of publications by representatives of the racist Right numbers 674, or more than double the total number of publications on CP by the various left/progressive authors. Indeed, with his 264 publications, Paul Craig Roberts, editor of the white nationalist website VDare, has been published more times by CounterPunch than all of the left/progressive authors studied combined.
Paul Craig Roberts, for example, has been given a platform on CP to inform us that:
For the left-wing, Ronald Reagan [in whose administration Roberts served] is the great bogyman. Those on the left don’t understand supply-side economics as a macroeconomic innovation that cured stagflation by utilizing the impact of fiscal policy on aggregate supply. Instead, they see “trickle-down economics” and tax cuts for the rich. Leftists don’t understand that the Reagan administration intervened in Grenada and Nicaragua in order to signal to the Soviets that there would be no more Soviet expansion or client states and that it was time to negotiate the end of the cold war. Instead, leftists see in Reagan the origin of rule by the one percent and the neoconservatives’ wars for US hegemony.
The defence of the disastrous Reagan-era economic policies in which he was complicit is a recurring theme for Roberts. Elsewhere, he tells us that ‚In their hatred of „the rich,“ the left-wing overlooks that in the 20th century the rich were the class most persecuted by government. The class genocide of the 20th century is the greatest genocide in history‘, an insight that will surely bring comfort to those left to mourn the dead of genocidal US wars and proxy wars in Indochina and Latin America, and repeats the oft-debunked lie that immigration is responsible for unemployment.
‚If Americans have any honor‘, Roberts asks in yet another article that makes it clear why he’s so popular with a supposedly left-leaning publication, ‚how can they betray their Founding Fathers, who gave them liberty (…)?‘. However, for someone like Roberts, who can claim with a straight face that the US proxy war against the civilian population of Nicaragua was about ‚Soviet expansion‘ or that ‚the rich were the class most persecuted by government‘ in the 20th century, clearly there’s no reason little things like slavery and denying political rights to all but well-to-do white men should get in the way of the idea that the ‚Founding Fathers…gave [Americans] liberty‘.
Alison Weir of If Americans Knew (a think tank promoting the ‚foreign lobby‘ version of US Middle East policy, to which we will return), on the other hand, has received space on the pages of CounterPunch to tell us – as an aside, no less! – that the blood libel – the European myth of ritual murders by Jews – was true:
In February 2007 the Israeli and Italian media were abuzz (though most of the U.S. media somehow missed it) with news that Professor Toaff had written a book entitled „Pasque di Sangue“ (“Blood Passovers”) (24) containing evidence that there “was a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews.”
Based on 35 years of research, Toaff had concluded that there were at least a few, possibly many, real incidents.
Gilad Atzmon, for his part, has been invited to CP to spread conspiracy theories that scapegoat Jews in the Palestinian solidarity movement, claiming that ‚Palestinian Solidarity is an occupied zone‘ because of its rejection of Zionist narratives that he holds dear. The Palestinian solidarity movement he has dedicated much effort to sabotaging, he charges, is ‚almost indifferent towards the fate of millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps and their Right of Return to their homeland‘, which is a bit much coming from someone whose Twitter account is pure self-promotion, scarcely even mentioning such banalities as the hunger strikes of Palestinian political prisoners. Rather than focussing on ‚a dull, banal dynamic‘ such as the colonial and racist nature of the Zionist regime and ‚[d]utifully unit[ing] against racism‘, the Palestinian solidarity movement should ‚look at the Zionist crime in the light of Jewish culture and identity politics.‘
In From Esther to AIPAC, Atzmon, who once dodged a phone-in radio listener’s question about whether the Nazi holocaust happened by saying that he was ’not a historian‘, bemoans the fact that:
Though some may dispute the numbers (Shraga Elam), and others question the validity of memory (Ellis, Finkelstein), no one goes as far as revisionism, not a single Holocaust religion scholar dares engage in a dialogue with the so-called ‘deniers’ to discuss their vision of the events or any other revisionist scholarship [sic].
Mary Rizzo’s sole publication thus far in CounterPunch was dedicated to smearing Tony Greenstein, a British leftist who has been prominent in anti-Zionist activism for decades. Greenstein had dared to picket a talk by Gilad Atzmon at the Bookmarks bookshop owned by the not-yet-utterly-disgraced British Socialist Workers‘ Party (SWP). Or, as Rizzo would have it,
He has put forth an edict that Atzmon is an anti-semite (as well as anyone who supports him), that he is associated with anti-semites (because he, like thousands of others, reads material which Tony does not approve of), and that he is a Holocaust Denier or at the very least, an apologist for them.
The reading material in question was The Holocaust Wars by holocaust denier Paul Eisen, which Atzmon had distributed. Although it may seem rather unobjectionable for a member of an anti-racist movement to expect an ostensibly anti-racist party to distance itself from someone who regularly disseminates racist propaganda, to Rizzo this showed nothing other than Greenstein’s ‚desire to weed out the movement, and divide it into Tony-friendly or not‘. Rizzo goes on at some length misrepresenting Greenstein and others‘ opposition to white supremacist hijacking of the Palestinian solidarity movement as some ‚Stalinist‘ quest for personal power (any similarities to conventional racist stereotypes about Jews are doubtless coincidental).
Greenstein contacted CounterPunch seeking to respond to these smears, which, as he has noted, are likely the only thing most of CP’s readers will have heard of him. The response? ‚CounterPunch’s editor, Alex Cockburn, whose father Claude must be spinning in his grave, refused even to acknowledge my correspondence.‘
At CounterPunch, it seems, publishing racist smears against committed social justice activists is entirely acceptable, but allowing them to reply when attacked in CP’s pages is simply not on. Indeed, statistically, it seems a leftist is more likely to get libelled than published by CounterPunch.
Ron Paul: Querfront Standard Bearer
On of the most significant examples of pernicious right-left ‚alliance‘ building in the past decade has been the support of many on the left-progressive spectrum for Ron Paul, white supremacist and occasional Republican presidential hopeful. Thus, if Querfront politics is part of the CounterPunch editorial line, we would expect to see a preponderance of articles praising Ron Paul, and ignoring, denying, or trivialising his racist, sexist, and homophobic views and hard-right economic policies, on the pages of CounterPunch.
Once again, the CP editors do not disappoint. In addition to the 19 occasions on which Paul himself has been published on CounterPunch, Ron Paul’s presidential aspirations have been the subject of 45 opinion pieces, nearly all of them supportive of a left-right ‚alliance‘ with Paul as its electoral figurehead.
To assess this, I performed a search for all CP articles mentioning Ron Paul by name. In addition to repetitions, I excluded here all mere mentions of Paul (e.g., factual statements mentioning his sponsorship of a certain bill in articles on other subjects). Only those articles were counted as ’supportive‘ that took a clear position in favour of Paul, either by explicit expressions of support or praise for some aspect of his politics. The results are shown in Table II.
Table II: Articles on CP Taking a Position on Ron Paul
|SUPPORT FOR RON PAUL||OPPOSITION TO RON PAUL||TOTAL|
As can be seen above, articles supporting Ron Paul on CP outnumber those opposing him by a ratio of more than 2:1.
If it is mentioned at all, Paul’s racism is largely mentioned only to dismiss it as an unfounded accusation (‚No one can attribute a single racist word to Dr. Paul‘) or to trivialise it as being insufficient grounds to oppose Paul’s presidential ambitions (‚Whether or not Ron Paul is, was or ever will be a „racist“ seems a moot point…‘). Tellingly, several of the supportive articles are written by members of the CP editorial collective, including Alex Cockburn and Joshua Frank.
Just as I have defined ’supportive‘ narrowly, to exclude mere factual mentions, even when these might be construed as laudatory, I have defined ‚opposition‘ broadly, to include factual mentions that might reasonably be construed as critical (because they mention some unappealing aspect of Paul’s politics). I have done this in order to address the potential objection that the overwhelming editorial support for Ron Paul is the result of my definition of the terms.
As such, the articles opposed to Paul include one that mentions Paul’s support for stripping the Supreme Court of jurisdiction ‚ to protect first amendment, privacy, and marriage equality rights‘, one article in support of Vermont’s secession from the US that criticises Paul incidentally for being one of those who ‚persist in the belief that the U.S. government is still fixable‘, and one that discusses Paul’s racist and reactionary politics in detail, but concludes ‚In fact, a vote for Ron Paul is certainly a better use of the franchise than a vote for almost any of the other candidates currently running. For better or worse‘ in the context of arguing that ’nothing-especially nothing as important as ending the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan-can be solved simply by voting another face into the White House‘. The last of these differs from those articles that mention Paul’s reactionary politics, but dismiss them as reasons not to support him, in that
(a) it points out that Paul was not the only presidential hopeful at the time to oppose the war, and that the others did not share his reactionary politics and
(b) the endorsement only comes in the context of discussing the pointlessness of electoral politics (‚On the other hand, do I think it’s the end of the world if Ron Paul gets your vote (or gets elected)? Of course not.‘).
The supportive articles, which constitute the vast majority, often compete to see who can heap the most superlatives on the reactionary US Representative from Texas. One informs us that ‚Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate who stands up for the Constitution, but the majority of Americans are too unconcerned with the Constitution to appreciate him.‘ Another opines that ‚America has one last chance, and it is a very slim one. Americans can elect Ron Paul President, or they can descend into tyranny.‚
In Why the Establishment is Terrified of Ron Paul, Dave Lindorff hails Paul as ‚an uncompromising defender of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution‘ (except for the bit about birthright citizenship, of course). Lindorff goes on to dismiss criticisms of Paul’s racism as ‚guilt-by-association‘, by association with Paul’s own public statements, that is, and concludes with the following words:
We’d have a hell of a fight on our hands in a Ron Paul presidency, defending Social Security and Medicare, promoting economic equality, fighting climate change and pollution, defending abortion rights and maybe fighting a resurgence of Jim Crow in some parts of the country, but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about being spied upon, beaten and arrested and then perhaps shipped off to Guantanamo for doing it.
‚We‘ of course means people like Lindorff, who will have little to fear from Paul’s scapegoating of immigrants and people of colour.
Editor Alex Cockburn describes Paul as ‚endearing‘ based on his alleged anti-war stance and his support for re-privatising the monetary system. CounterPunch editor Joshua Frank ignores Paul’s vote in support of the murderous, illegal invasion of Afghanistan to declare him ‚the most visible and enthusiastic antiwar candidate in the country‘, a candidate ‚we consistently ignore‘. It’s hard to tell who this ‚we‘ is who ‚consistently ignores‘ Ron Paul; certainly it isn’t CounterPunch, which has positioned itself firmly in Paul’s cheering section. Of Paul’s base, which consists to a significant degree of a wide segment of neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and Birchers, Frank tells us ‚[Paul is] exciting many newcomers to the movement and that must be welcomed‘.
In the same piece, Frank openly calls for a red-brown alliance: ‚As a movement that allegedly grew out of WTO protests in Seattle‘, i.e., a movement against corporate globalisation that saw numerous attempts at co-option by white supremacist and fascist groups, Frank remarks, ‚one would think the left would be at the forefront in calling for such an alliance again today.‘
Ron Paul is such an instructive case not only because he is a prominent recent example of Querfront building, but because of all that must be ignored or dismissed in order to make a progressive case for supporting him. A left-progressive justification for supporting Ron Paul must not only ignore his call to end Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and to re-privatise the monetary system (‚End the Fed‘); as if all that weren’t enough, a progressive case for Paul must ignore or dismiss his ties to far-right groups like the John Birch Society (at whose anniversary gala a few years ago he gave the keynote address), Stormfront (with whose leaders he posed for a photo-op), the neo-fascist American Third Position Party. Furthermore, it must ignore his misogynist stance on women’s reproductive freedom, the racist newsletters he acknowledged writing back in 1996, and his more recent racist statements on immigration. In short, it takes a mountain of denial to construct a ‚progressive‘ case in support of Ron Paul based on his supposed antiwar views (which do not extend to opposing the war on Afghanistan).
It’s no easy task, but CounterPunch does it as well as anyone can.
Table III: Articles defending Gilad Atzmon vs. articles criticising Gilad Atzmon
|DEFENDING ATZMON||CRITICISING ATZMON||TOTAL|
Few people personify the white-supremacist hijacking of Palestinian solidarity activism as thoroughly as the ‚ex-Jewish‘ saxophonist Gilad Atzmon. His entire oeuvre is dedicated to suffusing Palestinian solidarity activism with racist tropes according to which Jewish anti-Zionists are a fifth column in the movement and are to blame for what he takes to be the ineffectiveness of pro-Palestinian activism. Atzmon consistently rejects any analysis of the U.S.-Israeli occupation of Palestine that is based on imperialism, racism, and colonialism (explicitly denying the colonial nature of the Zionist project) because this analysis tends to portray Jews as ‚ordinary people‘. Rather, he blames the ‚third-category racial brotherhood‘ of Jews. He has attempted to portray even the Palestinian-led BDS (boycott, divestiture, sanctions) campaign as a Jewish conspiracy led by George Soros by falsely alleging that the demands of the campaign have been changed.
As such, he has been roundly rejected as a liability by a wide array of Palestinian and solidarity activists. If the Querfront hypothesis holds true, however, we would not expect this rejection to be shared by the CP editorial team.
And, indeed, it is not.
Of seventeen articles published by CP about Atzmon (not counting those actually written by him), exactly one is critical of Atzmon’s racism. The rest are explicit apologias for Atzmon that regularly misrepresent criticisms or defame his critics. It is this latter category that includes Gilad Atzmon’s [sic] A Guide for the Perplexed, by CP editor Jeffrey St. Clair.
In The Case of Gilad Atzmon (February 2013), Blake Alcott purports to examine ‚ The Wandering Who? and some of Atzmon’s blogs and videos with an eye out for the racism, „antisemitism“ and Holocaust denial of which Granting accuses him‘, and gives away the game by singling out antisemitism to put in scare quotes (which Alcott does repeatedly throughout the article), as if the existence of antisemitism were somehow in doubt. He then introduces a familiar trope in Atzmon apologetics with his announcement that ‚I’m restricting my analysis almost entirely to Wandering on the assumption that evidence for the accusations would be there, if anywhere‘, despite the fact that Atzmon’s critics have repeatedly made clear that their criticisms are in no way based exclusively on Atzmon’s signature work on the ‚racial brotherhood‘ of Jews.
As if this sleight of hand were not enough, Alcott proceeds to assert that ‚[Granting No Quarter, the Palestinian call for the solidarity movement to dissociate from Atzmon] claims that “Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project…” The text of Wandering does not support this claim,‘ only to admit in the same paragraph that Atzmon echoes Zionist denials about the colonial nature of Zionism throughout that book. This is not, Alcott tells us, because Atzmon means what he says. Rather, despite Atzmon’s explicit words, what Alcott knows he really means is that ‚ the settler-colonialist paradigm is not sufficient to explain Zionism.‘
Also typical of the Atzmon-related fare on CounterPunch is Who’s Afraid of Gilad Atzmon (June 2005) by Mary Rizzo (also discussed above), in which Jewish activists issue ‚edicts‘, and Tony Greenstein in particular is singled out as a latter-day Beria, who
decides who he likes or not, who has the right to speak or not, and when they do speak, he dictates what it is they talk about. He wants to be master of discourse; the most vocal, most pure, and official voice of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. Those who disagree with him and his agenda are in his mind on the „other side of the camp“ and gone full circle, having fallen into anti-semitism.
Rizzo, who has elsewhere claimed that there was no organised Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews, also takes ‚Greenstein and his close allies‘ (i.e., everyone except Rizzo and her close allies) to task for criticising Deir Yassin Remembered, an organisation of holocaust denialists including Paul Eisen and Daniel McGowan, who have long since been deserted by the few Palestinian solidarity activists who had previously been on the DYR board (not that that stops DYR claiming them as board members).
The only exception to the consistent diet of dishonest Atzmon apologetics served up by CounterPunch (apologetics engaged in also by CP board member Jeffrey St. Clair) is a single sentence in a March 2011 article about Jeff Halper of the Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions:
You can be critical of Israel and not be anti-Semitic. You can be critical of Israel and anti-Semitic – like Pat Buchanan, you can be NOT critical of Israel and be anti-Semitic, you can be Jewish and anti-Semitic.“ Halper cites a former friend of his – Paul Eisen. To which list I quickly suggest Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir. We also discuss another category becoming increasingly recognisable in Europe at least, the pro-Israel Christian philo-semites, right-wing white nationalists, formerly harsh critics of Israel who, fearful of the „Muslim threat“ to Europe, have shifted to backing Israel.
This single sentence, offered as an aside and without analysis in an article on another subject entirely, is the closest thing to a critical discussion of the racism of Gilad Atzmon that CounterPunch will allow in their pages.
Table IV: Articles promoting vs. rejecting the ‚foreign lobby‘ explanation for the US-Israel ’special relationship‘
|PROMOTING LOBBY HYPOTHESIS||REJECTING LOBBY HYPOTHESIS||NEUTRAL||TOTAL|
Of the individual issues examined for this piece, explanations for US support for Zionism afforded one of the richest collections of material for analysis, with 108 articles found on the subject. To recall the onus of proof, if the Querfront hypothesis is valid, at least a substantial percentage of CP’s output should be supportive of the notion that the US backs Zionist crimes because of the nefarious activities of a ‚foreign lobby‘.
In the event, of 108 articles found, fully 87 promote the Lobby version of history. Articles that take no clear position are in second place (16 of 108), whilst only five approach the question from a perspective that acknowledges the strategic value of Is to US imperialism. In other words, well over 95% of relevant articles on CP advance the notion that the implicitly just foreign policy of the United States is being subverted by foreign (Jewish) influence, or at least do not dismiss the idea. A clearer indication of the CounterPunch editors‘ own views on the matter is scarcely imaginable.
For example, in the June 2010 piece Helen Thomas: an Appreciation, written by white nationalist Paul Craig Roberts, we learn that ‚Allegedly, the US is a superpower, but in fact it is a puppet state of the Israeli government.‘ Likewise, in How Powerful Is the Israel Lobby?, Paul Findley (October 2007) claims:
There is an open secret in Washington. I learned it well during my 22-year tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. All members swear to serve the interests of the United States, but there is an unwritten and overwhelming exception: The interests of one small foreign country almost always trump U.S. interests. That nation of course is Israel.
It is practically an article of faith on CounterPunch that decades of US support for murderous regimes in the Middle East, Israel included, cannot possibly be anything to do with maintaining control over economic rivals‘ access to a strategic resource. Other elements of the CounterPunch catechism include the belief that US officials are sincere when they utter mild criticisms of Israeli atrocities that they back to the hilt. Whilst the CP articles promoting the Lobby Hypothesis are largely couched in sober-sounding terms, the editors are clearly not averse to publishing ‚analyses‘ like:
The United States government and a majority of the subjects, especially those members of evangelical churches, grovel at the feet of the Israeli Prime Minister? How is a country a superpower when it lacks the power to determine its own foreign policy in the Middle East? Such a country is not a superpower. It is a puppet state.
(The American Puppet State, Paul Craig Roberts, November 2012)
In short, to say that right-wing populism is the default lens through which CounterPunch presents the relationship between the US and its Israeli attack dog is to understate the case. Articles presenting another view are virtually nonexistent.
Querfront: Supportive vs. Critical Articles
Table V: Right-left alliance – supportive vs. critical
|SUPPORTIVE OF RIGHT-LEFT ALLIANCE||CRITICAL OF RIGHT-LEFT ALLIANCE||TOTAL|
Thus far, we have examined specific issues with a view to assessing the openness of the CounterPunch editorial collective to left-leaning and right-wing voices and perspectives. In every case study examined, it has been shown that CP are much more open to right-wing and white supremacist perspectives than to anything that could be seriously described as left of centre. However, if we are to determine whether CounterPunch can fairly be characterised as a Querfront publication, a publication that promotes the ’suckerpunch‘ (C. Berlet) of left-right alliance, one obvious question remains: What perspectives are published on Counterpunch that bear directly on the desirability of an alliance between the far-right and the left? As we shall see, CounterPunch publications overwhelmingly favour such an alliance.
Twelve articles were found that deal directly with the question of whether a red-brown alliance is a prospect to be welcomed or a disaster to be avoided (though this number would be larger if we take into account that just about every one of the significant body of pro-Ron Paul articles already noted stops just short of being an outright appeal to form a united left-right front). Of these, only two were critical of the idea, whilst two of the supportive articles were written by CP editors.
The overall tone is set by an April 2000 article (25 Years after Vietnam: Beyond Left and Right) by no less a CP figure than founding editor Alexander Cockburn himself. In it, Cockburn reports with amusement how he responded to criticisms in ‚angry e-mails from lefties who seem to feel that any contiguity with Buchanan is a crime, even if the subject was gardening and Dutch tulipomania in the seventeenth century‘ for sharing a platform organised by ‚Libertarian‘ Justin Raimondo with white supremacist Pat Buchanan:
(…) thanks for yr [sic] note. So far as Buchanan is concerned, I assume he was invited because he opposed the war in Kossovo [sic], and calls for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. There is a lot that’s funky abt [sic] American isolationism, but frankly, I don’t mind sharing a conference schedule with someone who opposes war on Serbs and on Iraqi kids. Nor do I think B is any more of a fascist — in practical terms — than Albright and Clinton and Gore and Bradley, with the first three literally with the blood of millions on their hands. Go find Mailer’s interview with Buchanan in Esquire a few years ago. See you on the picket lines.
This glib dismissal is all Cockburn has to say about Pat Buchanan, a figure notorious for his promotion of white supremacist and misogynist views: that Buchanan’s ‚isolationism‘ is ‚funky‘. Of note is also that Cockburn distinguishes Pat Buchanan, who helped craft the propaganda that justified the genocidal US occupation of Indochina, from Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore because the latter ‚literally‘ have ‚the blood of millions on their hands. This is the attitude of one of the founding editors towards alliances with white supremacists.
Likewise, John V. Walsh, in June 2013, invites readers to Join Libertarians [sic] and Leftists for a Panel at Left Forum ,noting:
The discussion will take account of the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the Ron Paul libertarian movement, which has been steely in opposing Empire and war. It will take into account the enthusiasm of youth for the Ron Paul endeavor. And it will be a step to prevent Right and Left from being divided on questions of war, Empire and civil liberties, then conquered, by the imperial elite in Washington and on Wall Street.
Like Cockburn, Walsh does not see any need to mention Ron Paul’s white supremacism and his ties to outfits such as the fascist American Third-Position Party, the John Birch Society, and the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, even to dismiss the notion that these might be legitimate concerns for anyone who opposes war from a left anti-imperialist, antiracist perspective.
In his August 2013 Defense of Alexander Cockburn’s Libertarianism [sic] , Walsh opines that the Libertarian (by which he means right-wing ‚anarcho‘-capitalists in the Rothbard-Hayek mould) view of the state ‚is pretty much the same as the Marxist one, an instrument of force and a monopoly on violence which the rich and powerful use to keep their subjects in place.‘ This will doubtless come as a surprise to many ‚Libertarians‘.
In Defense, Walsh uses an article by Vijay Prashad as his foil. After noting that Prashad criticises ‚The deep seam of racism and sexism that runs beneath the dominant strand of right-wing populism‘ and ‚Ron Paul’s racist rants in his newsletter ‚. Prashad’s reference to the racist newsletters that Ron Paul openly acknowledged writing in 1996, Walsh dismisses as ’slander‘, relying on the fact that Paul eventually thought the better of claiming authorship of newsletters that called for ‚race war‘ and described African-Americans as criminal animals 12 years after his initial admission:
More important, his charge against Ron Paul is simply not true. Let us be clear on Prashad’s slander of Paul. No one can attribute a single racist word to Dr. Paul. It is true that a generation ago someone, not Dr. Paul, authored some racist innuendo in a newsletter that bore Paul’s name. But Paul has said multiple times that he did not write them nor read them at the time nor was he aware of them at the time. He goes on to say he repudiates them.
Perhaps by way of full disclosure, Walsh acknowledges that ‚This writer spent as much effort and money on the Ron Paul campaign in 2012 as I did with the Nader campaign in 2008 and earlier years. I found not a single hint of racism or homophobia in the Paul campaign,‘ and closes with the thought that:
The libertarians at least are leading the antiwar, anti-Empire and civil libertarian movement in a principled way, sparing neither the Bushes or Clinton or Obama, which may get us somewhere.
Tellingly, for someone who routinely offers these helpful bits of advice for the left, Walsh has also supported the right-populist account of the US-Israel ’special relationship‘, in his April 2007 Why is The Peace Movement Silent about AIPAC?, a ‚driving force‘ (though Walsh makes an understated nod to reality when he acknowledges that it is not the only one) that ’sinks its teeth into the foreign policy establishment of both parties, perhaps the Dems more so than the Republicans.‘
Similarly, in his April 2014 Left-Right Aliances, Ralph Nader concludes:
It is a neglected responsibility of the mainstream media to expand reporting on left/right concurrences, especially where they move into action around the country. It is our responsibility as citizens to more visibly surface these agreements into a new wave of political reform. Guess what? It starts with left/right conversations where we live and work. Not even corporatists can stop you from getting that train moving.
If there are any potential drawbacks to this strategy – perhaps evident from the various historical precedents for Querfront – Nader does not see fit to mention them.
Another indicator of the pro-Querfront attitudes that prevail in the CounterPunch editorial collective (albeit one not published in the pages of CP itself thus far) are the attacks (by Amith Gupta) on Jewish Voice for Peace, and subsequently on the US Campaign to End the Occupation, for their decision not to work with Alison Weir because of her long history of white supremacism, published by CP editor Louis Proyect on his ‚Unrepentant Marxist‘ blog (see http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/louis-proyect-remains-unrepentant.html, http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/knowing-difference-between-antisemitism.html). When various long-time anti-Zionist activists responded with evidence that the accusations against Weir are true and extensively documented, Proyect responded with rebuttals such as: ‚You are a fucking joke. I get 5 hate mails a week calling me a ZioNazi or a CIA agent. Do you honestly think I give a shit what you say?‘
Even more germanely for the Querfront question, Proyect remarks in another comment:
You people are ridiculous. I am on the editorial board of CounterPunch magazine and write a weekly article, usually on film, for the website. This is a publication that features the work of Israel Shamir and Gilad Atzmon. It doesn’t matter to me that they are far worse than Weir.
This, it bears remembering, is the sort of ‚Unrepentant Marxist‘ that is welcome on the CounterPunch board.
The two exceptions to the overwhelming support for the Querfront approach are articles by Anthony DiMaggio, who, along with Paul Street, debunked the media-driven image of the Republican ‚Tea Party‘ as an actual mass movement, (December 2011) and a December 2007 piece by Sherry Wolf (Why the Left Should Reject Ron Paul), which states in refreshingly clear terms that ‚A cursory look at Paul’s positions, beyond his opposition to the war and the Patriot Act, would make any leftist cringe‘, and goes on to discuss the virulent racism of Paul’s newsletters, his position on immigration, his support for ‚free-market capitalism‘, and his opposition to women’s reproductive freedom.
However, a true takedown of the Querfront approach, one that actually looks at the disastrous consequences of such red-brown alliances in the recent and not-so-recent past and the sort of bedfellows one accepts when one decides to work together with the likes of (CounterPunch contributors) Ron Paul and Paul Craig Roberts, will not be found on the pages of CP, where the value of red-brown alliances is received wisdom and the few critics the editors deign to publish at all can expect derisive and dishonest responses such as those of Cockburn and Walsh.
When I first decided to carry out a quantitative analysis of the content published by CounterPunch, my working hypothesis was that the study would reveal a preponderance of left-leaning content interspersed with a significant minority of white-supremacist contributions, indicating a desire on the part of the CounterPunch editorial collective to mainstream far-right perspectives in a predominantly left audience. In other words, the working hypothesis was that CP is run by generally left-leaning editors who have been suckered into believing that alliances with fascist and white-supremacist elements is a worthwhile strategy.
The available data support this view only in part. It is clear that the Querfront approach is endorsed by the editorial collective, both in terms of their publication decisions and of their explicit views. However, the idea that CounterPunch is a generally left-leaning publication with a regular dose of white supremacism turns out to be completely backwards.
Instead, the quantitative analysis of CounterPunch’s editorial decisions indicates that CP is primarily a right-wing publication that attracts left-leaning readers with content from a small number of left authors. On all of the ‚acid test‘ issues studied, right-wing populist views are clearly in the majority, in some cases (e.g. Lobby Fetishism) so much so as to render left views negligible.
It should he stressed that this is by no means a comprehensive study of the political orientation of the CounterPunch editorial team, and much remains to be said in this regard. One might mention, for example, the climate change denialism of CP co-founder Alex Cockburn, or the various articles published in support of Deep Green Resistance’s decision to exclude trans women. CounterPunch provides a wealth of reactionary material to analyse and critique.
All this raises an urgent question: Why are leftists giving oxygen to a publication that is so thoroughly aligned with racist populism and conspiracism, both by sharing CP articles and by publishing there when there are so many worthy left publications that would benefit from the content? By using the CP platform, these authors, whatever their intentions may be, are helping to mainstream a veritable cesspit of white-supremacist ideology. Surely, it would be better to publish elsewhere and expose CounterPunch for the suckerpunch it is.
It seems more than likely that the left authors who publish on CP do not realise what sort of ’newsletter‘ they are promoting. After all, they are probably misled by a biased sample: Leftists on social media are more likely to see Paul Street or Noam Chomsky articles shared from CounterPunch than they are to see the wit and wisdom of Gilad Atzmon or Paul Craig Roberts, and thus may well not realise that CP offers a platform to such bigots at all, let alone sees them as the meat and potatoes of their magazine. However, the true orientation of CounterPunch is undeniable, and it is to be hoped that the leftists who publish there will act accordingly.