Indymedia Responds to SHIfT article

indymedia.jpgIndymedia | Before turning to the article, it is worth noting that the issue’s Editorial makes similar allegations about Indymedia UK. “For many of us,” it starts, “a visit to Indymedia UK is a frustrating experience.” “Most exasperating,” it then goes on, “are the countless posts obsessed with the Israel-Palestine conflict, which are telling of some of the political viewpoints we are happy to associate with.” Countless?! Obsessed?! Happy to associate with?!!

During the 17 months since it was created in January 2007, the Palestine topic has had an average of less than one feature per month (0.8). While some months had no features at all about or related to Palestine-Israel (Feb 2007, Apr 2007, Sep 2007 etc.), others had two (May 2007, Jul 2007, Oct 2007 and Apr 2008). Some of these were UK features, which appeared on the UK startpage, whilst some were only regional (e.g. about local protests or actions) which appeared on regional IMCs startpages. The topic also attracted around 45 posts per month on average (ranging between 27 and 61, depending on the political weather in Palestine-Israel). The only exception was March 2008 (after the escalations in Gaza), which saw 84 posts. March 2008 was the only month when about 11% of all posts published on Indymedia UK had the Palestine topic ticked (84 out of 763). For all other months since January 2007, the percentage was somewhere between 5% and 10%.

Although the editorial admits that the “conflict in the Middle East” is “one of the major atrocities of our time, as the lives of ordinary Palestinians are being destroyed by the bulldozers of a well-equipped army,” it claims that “the issues that are driving this conflict” are “nationalism, religion [and] imperialism.” So the Palestinian liberation struggle is merely motivated by nationalistic and/or religious issues? And the discriminatory and repressive Israeli policies are simply “imperialism”?

“But to have a radical critique of those issues,” the piece continues, “we need to see beyond Israel=evil and Palestine=good.” While no one in Indymedia is advocating or endorsing such simplistic views, there a is big danger in equating the oppressor and the oppressed. As a colonial, racist state, Israel, as a state/system/project, is inherently evil, in the same way that we say capitalism or imperialism is evil. And the victims’ self-defence methods, however ‘uncivilised’, cannot be just dismissed because they do not fit our Western (liberal) activist models, when resistance for them often means fighting for their very survival. “Mostly, however,” the editors then claim, “the opinions presented on Indymedia make the problems of the world seem like one big Jewish conspiracy,” ignoring the fact that such views are so obviously racist/reductionist and have been consistently challenged and hidden on Indymedia.

Finally, the editors ask this loaded question, “What makes Indymedia UK so appealing to conspiracy theorists?” and argue that “it’s not just the open publishing format” but, rather, “it’s the familiarity of the view that the world is run by a few multinationals, Americans and Israelis.”

Indeed, conspiracy theories take a lot of activists’ energy and could be ‘harmful’, in the sense that they paint the ‘movement’ in a bad/mad way (as if its image, without that, is so clean and shiny!). But it is crucial to remember that, in face of the states’ and mainstream media’s relentless efforts to conceal the truth, people, and especially activists, often find themselves forced to contemplate, speculate and doubt what they are being sold, because they have lost, over the years, all faith in what those in power tell them to believe to justify their crimes. Conspiracy theories are thus an ‘act of resistance’. To argue that ‘we’ do not really need them to act and that they would not add anything ‘we’ do not already know, is ignoring the sad reality that people usually do not act out of general moral criticisms; they often need something shocking and disturbing to get off their bums.

It is important to stress here that Indymedia does reject all racially based conspiracy theories (e.g. ‘Jews control the world’, ‘Jews or Arabs did 9/11’ and the like). To argue whether 9/11 or the Iraq war were planned or utilised by some cynical politicians and intelligence services is a totally different argument. After all, history is full of cases like this and it’s not like it hasn’t happened before and won’t happen again and again as long as a few morally corrupt and money-driven individuals and institutions have so much power over people’s lives.

Unprofessional

Turning to the article itself, the first thing one notices is its provocative and misleading title. It employs the largely Western mainstream media-constructed image of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and suggests that Indymedia blindly supports it. The second bit of the title declares, without any evidence throughout the article, that Indymedia is “losing support” and promises its readers of explaining the reason, which does not really happen.

“Go Hamas, Go!!!” was, in fact, the title of a comment on an article published on Indymedia UK [2] about the ‘darkness scenes’ (candle-lit meetings) staged by the Hamas-led Palestinian government to highlight the suffering of Gazans due to the siege and sanctions imposed by Israel earlier this year. The comment basically says that it is legitimate for Hamas to “utilise [Israel’s] war crime as a backdrop for a photoshoot.”

The SHIFT article starts with a quote by Naomi Klein that goes, “Every time I log on to activist news sites like Indymedia.org which practise ‘open publishing’, I am confronted with a string of Jewish conspiracy theories about September 11 and excerpts from the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.” While Klein is not actually talking about Indymedia UK but the global Indymedia site, which has far less and less active volunteers and moderators, as well as Open Publishing in general, it is worth noting that the quote is from an article published in The Guardian back in 2002 [3]. It is, indeed, one of Open Publishing’s problems that contributors can post all kind of rubbish, but whether the admin collective endorse, or tolerate, that or not is a totally different question.

The first parts of the SHIFT article ‘borrow’ extensively from an Indymedia UK feature [4] on the ‘Atzmon-Greenstein affair’, which the article discusses in some detail drawing on that feature. It is, however, surprising and unprofessional of the author that it does not mention the feature. The reason is perhaps best understood when one tracks down the ideological/editorial twists in the article and the differences between it and the feature.

Misleading

Without any warrant or hesitation, the author declares from the beginning that “in the past few months the site Indymedia.org.uk has lost support from many activists for letting anti-Semitic posts go unchallenged.” Not only does the author not cite any evidence that Indymedia UK has “lost support”, s/he also claims, without giving any examples, that “anti-Semitic posts” went “unchallenged”.

The average for hidden posts out of all posts published with the Palestine topic ticked is 12% (95 out of 811 for the period Feb 2007-Apr 2008). This is more or less the same as with other topics, such as Iraq (also 12%), and is not very far from the UK hiding average (19%), taking into account that a lot of spammers (mere links, commercial ads, announcements etc.) usually use the UK publish form and do not always tick topics.

The only instance the article mentions is Gilad Atzmon’s controversial article “Saying NO to the Hunters of Goliath”, which generated a lot of discussion and disagreement exactly because moderators could not agree that it was anti-Semitic.

A few lines later, the author again claims that “the Atzmon affair, as it has become known, led to heated discussions, personal accusations, and a loss of credibility for UK Indymedia amongst some of its moderators, in activist circles and even in the wider leftist movement.” Could it just be the case that the author him/herself is generalising, or projecting, his/her own opinion onto the “wider leftist movement”?

The article then continues with some distortion and/or misrepresentation of what happened: “At the height of the affair, three active Indymedia moderators resigned from the collective [they were, in fact, two; the third had nothing to do with this affair] giving many readers [which readers?] the impression that the obsession [what obsession?] with the Palestine-Israel conflict had gained the upper hand [how exactly? Wasn’t the issue anti-Semitism?].”

As a retraction, perhaps, the author then admits that “Indymedia.org.uk has been the target for anti-Semitic posts before and many have been hidden straight away with reference to the guidelines.” However, s/he follows that with another misrepresentation: “In this latest affair however the guidelines did not seem conclusive enough to judge what is anti-Semitism and what isn’t.” Again, the author fails to grasp the fact that the racism guideline already covers anti-Semitism but the issue here was that not all moderators agreed that the article was anti-Semitic, and hence racist.

The article then dedicates a 6-paragraph section to discuss “The Atzmon Affair”. The ‘summary’, however, is clearly biased and misrepresenting (it is worth comparing it with the Indymedia feature mentioned above). For example, the author (intentionally?) misinterprets a statement by Atzmon, which s/he wrongly ascribes to an audio interview conducted by a UK Indymedia activist (it is actually from an article by Atzmon entitled “On Anti-Semitism”, published in December 2003 [5]). The quote reads: “There is no anti-Semitism any more. In the devastating reality created by the Jewish state, anti-Semitism has been replaced by political reaction.” The author claims that, by this statement, Atzmon, “once again, affirmed that the hatred of Jews and Israel is simply caused by themselves,” without explaining to us how “political reaction” to Israel is the same as “hatred of Jews”.

Lies?

In a section supposedly about the “Resignations and resolution attempts” (following the Atzmon-Greenstein spat), the author claims that “many more articles appeared, some promoted, some not, that attempted to prove that Jews had built ‘the last openly racist state on the planet’ or that ‘the situation of the Palestinians is little different than the situation of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII’.” A few lines later, s/he adds, “Blog reposts about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict multiplied and have since taken up a large part of the newswire.” But since the author does not reference any of these “many more articles” that were allegedly so obviously racist but were not only kept showing but also promoted, it is difficult to respond to such allegations.

In the period between 14 Feb and 31 Mar 2008, there were 220 posts on Israel-Palestine. Of these, 31 were IMEMC reports, 22 on UK actions and events and 12 reports from inside Palestine. That’s almost 30% and most of these were promoted/promotable. Some 65 appear to come from a persistent disinformation troll and were mostly hidden; another 30 were posted by a user who posts a lot of Israle-Palestine material to Indymedia sites worldwide, usually reposts of corporate coverage with commentary; and 13 were complaints about moderation, which should take place on the moderation list. Together these three categories constitute almost 50% of the total. The rest (20%) was divided between Latuff cartoons, commentaries and reposts from blogs or other media. So the claim that “blog reposts […] have since taken up a large part of the newswire” is totally unfounded.

As to the two quotes above (still without any referencing or context), the first is apparently from an article [6] about the Israeli policy in Gaza, which the author says is “as evil as it is self-defeating”. The article is reposted from a blog called “The Vineyard of the Saker” [7] by someone describing him/herself as “a ‘legal alien’ currently living in the Imperial Homeland.” The context within which the quote appears is this: “The main, over-arching, issue Israel, as a self-described “Jewish state”, is facing today is not terrorism or Iranian nukes but demographics. Israel, as the last openly racist state on the planet, considers it vital to keep a Jewish majority within its borders. This is why a council of rabbis gets to decide who qualifies as “Jew” and who does not, and why the so-called law of return makes any Jew on the planet eligible for relocation to Israel and Israeli citizenship (even if this Jew is non-religious, does not speak Hebrew or Yiddish, and does not care in the least about Israel) while those Arabs who were born in today’s Israel and who were expelled from their homes and towns are not allowed to return even though such a right is enshrined in international law.” This is hardly racist or anti-Semitic unless one regards any criticism of Israel’s racial policies as racism.

The second quote is from a short comment [8] on an article about the UN condemning the Israeli collective punishment of Gaza (the brutal siege and sanctions). The comment says that “the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza (and even in the West Bank) is little different than the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII.” Now this might be an exaggeration and it is not really funny seeing people ‘competing for victimhood’, but ‘monopolising victimhood’ the way Zionists do, for example, is not funny either (see the following comments on the same thread).

It is worth noting that both articles/comments were published in January 2008, i.e. during the Israeli siege of Gaza and the worldwide protests condemning it. So, to respond to the SHIFT article’s complaint that posts about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “multiplied”, this can be explained as the site users’ reacting to world political events, which is pretty normal and true of all other topics on Indymedia UK.

That month (January 2008), the Palestine topic saw 51 posts, slightly above the average (45). The number increased steadily during the following months, with the Gaza crisis unfolding and protests taking place throughout the world, culminating in 84 posts for March 2008. The same is probably true for comments but, unfortunately, we do not have any statistics for these at the moment to back that up.

The SHIFT article then goes on to complain that “comments such as ‘Long live Palestine’ or even ‘Go Hamas Go’ were no longer hidden,” without enlightening us when they used to get hidden and why they should be. As mentioned above, the “Go Hamas Go” comment mainly argued that it is legitimate for Hamas to “utilise [Israel’s] war crime as a backdrop for a photoshoot.” It does not suggest any support for Hamas or cheering for the killing of Israelis. As to the SHIFT author’s rant about Hamas, one can probably only raise eyebrows at how a supposedly radical, alternative writer in a supposedly radical, alternative magazine could reiterate such mainstream propaganda crap, with a typical Western activist’s patronising value-judgement that takes ‘others’ struggles out of their political/historical contexts.

The second ‘worrying’ quote (“Long live Palestine”) [9] seems to come from a ‘Western’ activist and merely concludes with that slogan (almost like a signature) after congratulating the author of a report (incidentally about an Atzmon event in Brighton) on the “great summing up of the background to this latest debacle in Greenstein’s vicious campaign.”

The article further claims that “many” of these comments “were posted [by] agitators based in Canada and the US, who have recognised Indymedia UK’s willingness to host their posts.” Besides asking the author how did s/he got to know this, given the near-total anonymity of posters on Indymedia, one cannot help wondering what s/he understands from Open Publishing?

“‘Nazimedia’?”?

In fact, the author does appear to understand that well but seems to have other things in mind. In a section provocatively titled “Nazimedia”?, s/he declares, “It thus became evident that the problem did not just lie with the open publishing format. Some Indymedia activists began to pursue an agenda that belittled anti-Semitism.” And what is this agenda that “belittled anti-Semitism”? Well, the publishing of a feature about the siege on Gaza titled “Israel keeps its promise of a ‘Holocaust’ in Gaza” [10].

But before we go into that, it is worth mentioning that the total number of Palestine-related features during the 17 months since the topic was created is 15 out of 134 UK startpage features or, more accurately, out of 324 UK and regional features. That is just 4.6%. In comparison, the Iraq topic, for example, has received 20 features during the same period.

The feature’s title was somehow turned in the article to “Israel keeps its promise of a Holocaust upon the Palestinians”. Not only is this a careless mistake, the omission of the quotation marks surrounding the word “Holocaust” -which indicate the feature’s authors’ reservation and the fact that it was the word used by Israeli deputy Defense Minister threatening Palestinians before the escalation in Gaza in February this year- that omission might well be ill-intended and in line with the image the author has been trying to paint of Indymedia UK throughout the article. The full paragraph where this is explained in the feature reads: “On February 29th, the Israeli deputy Defense Minister provoked outrage after threatening Palestinians with a “holocaust”. Matan Vilnai told the Israeli army radio that “the more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” The same twisted logic is used by the far-right and Holocaust deniers to blame Jewish people for the Nazi Holocaust.”

The article (intentionally?) misrepresents both what happened in Gaza and the feature itself. The feature, it claims, “argued that Israel’s deadly military raids aimed at some Hamas officials and Gaza gunmen amounted to plans to unleash a ‘Holocaust’ and a ‘full-scale war’ on Palestine.” It also does not support with any evidence its claim that the feature was published “despite obvious discontent amongst many Indymedia users.” The feature was proposed on 4 March 2008 [11] and not a single objection or reservation was posted to the imc-uk-features list, so it was published the following day after the usual 24 hours waiting period. Of course, the feature, like anything else about Palestine, did attract quite a few comments later on (36 in total), 10 of which were hidden as complaints about moderation, which should take place on the moderation list, or simply because they were abusive or discriminatory, which breach the Editorial Guidelines.

The suggestion in the subtitle that Indymedia has become or is becoming “Nazimedia” is cheap and defamatory, to say the least. To put that word in quotation marks and follow it with a question mark does not really spare the author or editors the responsibility, especially that none of the comments, showing or hidden, on that particular feature used the word “Nazimedia”, although it has been used by some trolls in the past [12]. And despite ‘assuring’ readers that “Indymedia Uk is not run by a collective of anti-Semites”, the article further claims that the collective has tried to “redefine the Holocaust” and that comments supporting that “remained on the newswire”, while “all complaints were hidden within minutes.”

It is also worth noting that most of these allegations/accusations were posted by well known trolls/disinfo agents who get hidden straight away all the time. So the whole theory in the article that Indymedia UK has “lost support” seems to be based on hidden disinfo posts and comments (see the Atzmon-Greenstein feature mentioned above for more details). As an edited print magazine, the editors of SHIFT and the author of the article haven’t probably had much experience with full-time trolls and organised disinformation campaigns, which they simply dismiss as another conspiracy theory by some Indymedia admins with a secret agenda!

Yes, really, what is anti-Semitism?

Towards the end of the article, the author contends that there is “nothing new” about the allegations against Indymedia admins of “being blind to anti-Semitrism.” S/he further concludes that “the Indymedia UK collective is unlikely to agree whether Atzmon or Latuff are anti-semitic” and that “in many ways it would be a futile endeavour.” More important, s/he continues, “is the question why controversial and provocative posts that compare Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany find their way onto Indymedia newswires in the first place” and “what attracts anti-semites to the website?”

After repeating the problem with Open Publishing and that the Editorial Guidelines might not be “up to date with current developments in radical politics,” s/he has this to say: “Sadly, Indymedia offers a platform to invent caricutures of the Israeli state and of its policies. Instead of recognising the political context, it helps to perpetuate an image of Israel, and of Jews, as sinister conspirators with a secret plan to turn the worlds into one massive settlement.” Really?! Where did Indymedia UK do that other than some anti-Semitic posts that get “immediately hidden or deleted”, in the author’s own words.

Perhaps the author of the article, along with the SHIFT editors, need to sit down (after publicising their magazine on Indymedia! [13]) and reread the ‘Holocaust’ and Atzmon features carefully without prejugements and hasty accusations. Or better even, post their complaints to the appropriate lists and join the collective discussions about what is anti-Semitism and what is Zionism and how to deal with them.

Notes:

[1] http://www.shiftmag.co.uk. The full text of the article is available here http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/05/398746.html?c=on#c196133

[2] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/01/390275.html?c=on#c188459

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/25/comment.guardiancolumnists

[4] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/02/392188.html

[5] http://www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/onanti.html

[6] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/01/389886.html

[7] http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com

[8] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/01/389757.html?c=on#c187974

[9] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/01/388930.html?c=on#c187195

[10] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/03/393065.html

[11] http://lists.indymedia.org/pipermail/imc-uk-features/2008-March/0304-cv.html

[12] http://indymediawatch.blogspot.com/2006/06/why-is-it-called-nazimedia_12.html

[13] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/05/398746.html

[14] All the site statistics and figures above were gathered by IMC UK techies on 20 May, 2008, for the purpose of this article.