Bad taste at the Guardian: Coleslaw with a pinch of Polonium

Under the memorable headline “Making Cole-slaw of history,” Martin Kramer documented some years ago just how hilarious it is that Juan Cole calls his blog “Informed Comment” (and for “Cole-slaw”-fans, there is in fact a rich archive of additional helpings).  However, it’s apparently no joke that Cole, who is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, encourages the readers of his blog to send him money because “Informed Comment is made possible by your support.”

 In any case, it’s arguably hardly surprising that editors at the Guardian are fans of Juan Cole, and when the professor recently vented his displeasure at Mitt Romney’s visit in Israel, the Guardian secured Cole’s “kind permission” to cross-post the piece on its Comment is Free (CiF) site.

The Guardian made a minor change to Cole’s original title – which read on CiF: “Ten reasons Mitt Romney’s Israel visit is in bad taste” – and added a sub-title: “The Republican presidential hopeful is holding a fundraiser and playing war enabler in Israel – it’s wrong on so many levels.”

The astonishing claim that Romney was “playing war enabler in Israel” is taken from Cole’s reason #7, which reads in part:

“Romney is promising his donors in Jerusalem a war on Iran. When George W Bush promised his pro-Israel supporters a war on Iraq, it cost the US at least $3 trillion, got hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, destabilised the Gulf for some time, cost over 4,000 American soldiers’ lives and damaged American power and credibility and the economy.”

Of course, Cole’s link to an AP report does not show Romney “promising his donors in Jerusalem a war on Iran” – indeed, why should this blood libel be different from all the other invented accusations against blood-thirsty Jews over the centuries?

What Cole is claiming here is plainly that Romney’s “donors in Jerusalem” want a war on Iran, just like the “pro-Israel supporters” of George W Bush wanted and got an incredibly costly and bloody war on Iraq. It’s really just another version of a paragraph from Article 22 of the Hamas Charter:

“They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. […] There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.”

The day after the Guardian featured Cole’s fantasies about Israel’s insatiable appetite for bloody wars and its mysterious ability to get the US to fight them, it was time for a Guardian-sponsored rehash of Al Jazeera’s pathetic attempts to revive rumors about Yasser Arafat’s death.

Some four weeks earlier, Al Jazeera had announced with great pomp and circumstance that it had conducted an “investigation” that pointed to poisoning with radioactive Polonium; however, conspiracy theories about Arafat’s death have been around ever since he died in November 2004, and even the specific claim that he was poisoned with Polonium is nothing new. While Al Jazeera’s new program succeeded in unleashing a veritable “orgy of conspiratorial theorizing” – with Israel as a favorite target – the people behind Al Jazeera’s “investigation” are apparently hoping to get yet more mileage out of this story, and the Guardian seems only too willing to provide a platform to the assorted conspiracy theorists.

There have been already countless reports and commentaries refuting the Al Jazeera “investigation,” but it’s perhaps worthwhile to add one particularly interesting testimony on Arafat’s death from a long and fascinating Atlantic report that was published in September 2005 under the title “In a Ruined Country: How Yasir Arafat destroyed Palestine.” One of the people interviewed for this report was the Palestinian billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri; here are the relevant parts of the report:

“Talk of Arafat’s last illness makes al-Masri sad again. “Every morning I used to go see him and give him the medicine because he would not take it from anybody else,” he remembers, looking moodily out over his lawn. “Yeah, and I never thought he would die.”

“How long did you know that he was sick?” I ask.

“For the last year. Last year in September he told me he doesn’t feel well. So, and he felt that something was not right, and it looks like he had the same symptoms again, but the last time he had enough immunity. Yeah, he knew.”

I am struck by al-Masri’s use of the word “immunity,” which is a word characteristically associated with aids. Rumors that Arafat died of “a shameful illness” spread quickly through the West Bank and Gaza. […] The Palestinian leadership denounced reports that Arafat was a homosexual as lies spread by Mossad, the Israeli foreign-intelligence agency. Accounts also circulated that a secret agreement had been reached between the Israelis and Arafat’s heirs, stipulating that the truth about Arafat’s fatal illness would not be released, the Palestinian leader would be buried in Ramallah and not in Jerusalem, and the wanted men who had accompanied him in his captivity would not be pursued by Israeli forces.

“He knew that it was the same disease that he had a year ago?” I ask. Al-Masri nods his head.

“Same symptoms,” he answers. “But look how strong he was. I mean, when Abu Mazen came,” he says, referring to Arafat’s longtime deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, “we brought him from one bed in his small room to a bigger room where we could sit. I sat on the bed. Abu Mazen sat in front of him and Abu Alaa sat in front of him. He said, ‘Ah, Mazen.’ His face was very red, and you know that he was very sick, but he wants to show that he was still in control of the details with Mazen, you know? He said, ‘I have this flu, ah, ah. I have this flu. Came and went to my stomach.'”

There is another very interesting part from the meeting with al-Masri in this report:

“The money he [Arafat] spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

But if you don’t have good intentions and don’t really want to reach a solution, you can always blame Israel – as is regularly done on Al Jazeera, the Guardian, and Juan Cole’s blog…

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