Letter from America – Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: May 14, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

A decade later, who remembers the alleged United Nations’ Oil For Food Scandal? Once the smoke had blown away, and the media had put down their mirrors, “the biggest financial scandal in history” had gone with the wind.

It was clearly about governments and their companies and had little or nothing to do with the UN. In fact, the media totally ignored the real scandal, which was that the programme’s surplus, some $10 billion, was handed over to the US occupation authorities who, in the end, could not say how they spent it. It was certainly nothing to do with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, whom they pilloried and witch-hunted.

The American neoconservatives succeeded with this beyond their wildest dreams: to weaken and punish the United Nations and Kofi Annan, to destroy their moral authority which was an obstacle to American hegemony, as expressed in the Project for a New American Century. One of the purposes of that hegemony was backing up Israel – and in particular the like-minded Likudnik regime there.

Tony Blair’s support for the Iraq War largely derived from his genuine distaste for the regime of Saddam Hussein. It followed his intervention in Sierra Leone, and in Kosovo against the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Slobodan Milosevic. The American instigators of the Iraq War generally had not shown any concern for Saddam’s murderous behaviour with Kurds and others in the 1980s while he was invading Iran. In fact, the Iraqi ambassador was the toast of Washington, which rushed to cover for Saddam over poison gas usage. They were more concerned about removing a threat to Israel.

Kofi Annan went out of his way to accommodate Israel at the UN, but once the BBC badgered him into admitting that the Iraq War was illegal, the pack was on his tail. The neocons and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were already calumniating the UN for its condemnations of occupation. The media followed with pitchforks and the torches and amplified each other’s ill-founded allegations and exaggerations. All it took was a coterie of well-connected ideologically committed pundits, like-minded journalists and publishers to whip up a perfect smoke storm. Of course, they did not mention their real motives, since the reality of its aftermath had already made support for the Iraq War very questionable.

Who in the media would risk a career to defend the United Nations – which in the US (and Murdoch media) was axiomatically corrupt, anti-American and anti-Israel? They weakened Annan and the institution as he tried to steer through changes that would make the UN more effective – although, ironically, the “Two Years Hate” in the American and British media possibly made Annan’s reforms more palatable to the developing world bloc since it suggested he was not in fact the superpower’s chosen one.

And so now to Britain and the Labour Party. The anti-anti-Semitism campaign is truly an anti-Jeremy Corbyn campaign. Did any of the fervent accusers of Ken Livingstone’s, maybe crass but on the whole verifiable statements, oppose the Iraq War? One suspects not. Many of them are connected to lobbyists for Israel. Have any of them condemned the settlements, or the verifiably illegal behaviour of Benjamin Netanyahu? No.

The spectacle of the Daily Mail, original sponsors of Oswald Mosley and apologists for Adolf Hitler right up to war’s outbreak, helping to lead the charge against leftists in the Labour Party under the banner of combatting anti-Semitism gives a choice of gagging or laughing.

Pillorying Ken Livingstone for defending Naz Shah, the Labour MP who had lifted a website image from the site Norman Finkelstein, an American son of Holocaust survivors, certainly suggests a witch-hunt. But who wants to stand up to defend anyone against such charges if you end up tied to the stake yourself?

For the record, the Labour Party supports the United Nations, which has ruled repeatedly that Israel is illegally occupying the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and is besieging Gaza. The International Court of Justice has ruled that those are occupied territories, that the Separation Wall is illegal, as are the settlements. Numerous international jurists have condemned the Israeli forces for their behaviour in the territories. The UK Government has supported those positions over the years. After Sabra and Shatila, so did the Labour Party. It is now apparently thoughtcrime.

Surely, Gerald Kaufman follows in the deeper, more historical humanitarian tradition of British Jewry in the Labour Party. But I forget. The former member of the British Board of Deputies was one of the first to find the pitchforks and torches massed outside his door.

Let us stick with UN principles. The Iraq War was illegal, as is the Israeli occupation. Let those who are delating Labour colleagues establish their credentials and say where they stand on those issues – and maybe admit that their real target is Jeremy Corbyn, and that they are prepared to destroy the Labour Party “in order to save it”.

About Ian Williams

Ian Williams is Tribune’s UN correspondent