Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Talking to Poland on aid, disaster capitalism and giving with purpose

I was recently interviewed by Poland’s biggest media organisation about my work around disaster capitalism (both the book and film). The conversation covered Afghanistan, Haiti, aid, US foreign policy, Trump and what journalism should be (hint: challenging those in power).

It was great to engage with an audience that in the West is increasingly viewed as conservative and intolerant. The Polish journalist told me that this view is inaccurate and public opinion is far more diverse on matters of immigration and refugees.

Here’s the story (readers will have to use Google Translate): polishinterviewdisastercapitalism

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Strong review of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism

My film Disaster Capitalism, with director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, has screened around the world this year (with more to come including an invitation to a major human rights film festival in the US in early 2019). 

After one of the recent screenings in Sydney, this review by Jim Mcllroy appeared in Green Left Weekly:

Disaster Capitalism is a groundbreaking documentary film about Bougainville, Haiti and Afghanistan, revealing the dark underbelly of the global aid and investment industry. The film offers important insights into a secret multi-billion dollar world by investigating how aid money is actually spent — or misspent.

Prominent journalist and author Antony Loewenstein joins award-winning filmmaker Thor Neureiter on a four-year journey through the world of shady mining companies, corrupt and failing governments and resilient local communities.

Narrated by Loewenstein, the film takes us to war-torn Afghanistan to interview leading community figures struggling to defend local village residents against the depredations of overseas mining companies. He reveals the startling fact that the US has spent more on so-called “development aid” in Afghanistan over the past 15 years than it did on the entire post-World War II Marshall Plan to reconstruct a devastated Europe.

Despite this huge sum, Afghanistan remains a failed, corrupt state, riven by an endless war with the reactionary Taliban. The great majority of its people live in dire poverty and insecurity.

Speaking at a showing of the film at the Edmund Rice Centre on November 14, refugee rights activist Phil Glendenning noted the Afghan government still spends half of its national budget on defence and security. Yet the ongoing violence still leaves people desperate for peace.

In Haiti, the film shows the terrible aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and the failure of UN and other foreign aid to significantly improve the conditions for the poor majority. Thousands died because of dysentery introduced to the country by UN personnel.

Instead of using aid to re-develop destroyed public infrastructure, the US and other rich countries focused on setting up free-trade zones to further exploit local workers with encouragement from corrupt Haitian politicians.

Loewenstein also visits Bougainville, currently a province of Papua New Guinea, which was ravaged by a long civil war in which a reported 20,000 people were killed. The war was launched by the PNG government, with the full backing of Australia, when local people rose up against the destruction of their island by mining giant Rio Tinto in the 1980s.

We hear the voices of independence leaders and local women villagers, who express a desire to control their own affairs as a precondition to any new resource projects being initiated.

The film is partly based on Loewenstein’s 2015 book Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. For the book, Loewenstein travels across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the US, Britain, Greece and Australia to witness the reality of rampant capitalism. He discovers how companies cash in on organised misery in the hidden world of privatised detention centres, militarised private security, aid profiteering and destructive mining.

Loewenstein concludes the film by stating: “In the end, the solution lies with the people and communities.”

Disaster Capitalism starkly exposes the reality of big business and its agents in utilising natural and human-made calamities for greed and profit. It ends on a hopeful note that communities which suffer this exploitation are beginning to rise up and demand their right to democracy and real development in the future.

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Interview on US radio station Loud and Clear on climate change

I was interviewed late last week by the US radio program, Loud and Clear, from Washington DC:

In today’s episode of Loud & Clear, Brian Becker and John Kiriakou are joined by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist and author of “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.”

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, the White House did everything it could to bury its own report on climate change, which Donald Trump says he doesn’t believe. But the science is in andclimate change is here and is already affecting our health, with extreme heat having an effect on productivity, the food supply, and disease transmission. And the last four years have been the hottest in recorded history.

My segment starts at 16:30:

Listen to “Climate Change: The Fight of Our Lives” on Spreaker.

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TRT World interview on Erik Prince aiming to exploit Afghan minerals

Interview on TRT World’s The Newsmakers program, the global news network’s flagship current affairs show on a channel that reaches 260 million people in 190 countries, about my recent investigation into Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his attempts to exploit Afghan resources:

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Exclusive investigation on Blackwater founder Erik Prince wanting to exploit Afghan resources

My year-long investigation in TRT World, the global news network that reaches 260 million people in 190 countries, about Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his attempts to exploit Afghan minerals (plus here’s background to the making of this story that continues to reverberate around the world):

The founder of the notorious, and now defunct, Blackwater, has been making headlines for trying to privatise the Afghan war. What has gone unreported are his plans as “Trump’s advisor” to extract the country’s immensely rich mineral wealth.

Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, now known as Academi, has trained his sights on mining natural resources in war-torn Afghanistan, according to multiple sources and Afghan officials.

Details from Afghan officials and conversations with two sources knowledgeable about Prince’s movements in Kabul say he is looking into opportunities to mine Afghan minerals and visited the country in early 2018 and September to explore these possibilities.

Prince, who is the chairman of logistics firm Frontier Services Group, had pitched a plan to privatise the Afghan war and mine the country’s minerals to the White House last year.

His proposal included finding rare earth minerals in some of Afghanistan’s most volatile regions, allowing the United States to source valuable lithium for batteries, along with other deposits, and provide jobs to Afghans.

Prince and his associates met key figures in the Afghan mining ministry in January 2018, an Afghan government official with knowledge of Prince’s schedule told TRT World.

Team4RMC—an Afghan security company that was assisting Prince—requested a meeting for him with Afghan Mining Minister Nargis Nehan to discuss his plans to invest in the country, and described him as a “current advisor” to President Trump.

Prince and his associates, including Frontier Services Group head in Afghanistan, Shahin Mayan, met officials at the Afghan Ministry of Mines on 13 January.

Mining Minister Nargis Nehan was out of the country, so they met a deputy minister and other officials.

Team4RMC claimed Prince was also meeting President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other high-level officials.

In late 2017, according to a Kabul-based source and Afghan mining expert, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of safety and losing his jobofficials from the Department of Commerce and United States Geological Survey working with the United States embassy in Kabul, visited the country to investigate ways in which minerals could be found and mined.

The Afghan mining expert tells TRT World that the Trump administration officials sought access to the resources map archive, researched by Soviet geologists in the late 1970s and 1980s and by American geologists after 2001, to determine the quality of the minerals and see samples of them.

The Soviet mineral data charts are far more extensive than the US efforts, according to an Afghan mining expert who has been researching the issue for over a decade and has documented the various local and foreign attempts to exploit the country’s resources.

This, the expert says, could be because the Soviets progressed further with their mining plans; they extracted uranium samples from Khwaja Rawash mountain in Kabul, exploited oil and gas from the country’s north in Amu Darya and coal in Baghlan province.

Building trust 

There’s no evidence that Prince met Ghani or Abdullah, but if he did it would be significant: the New York Times reported in March that Ghani was angry with Prince for meeting his rival Atta Mohammad Nur in Dubai in December 2017.

When I contacted Prince in June, his spokesman said that he “currently had no mining interest in Afghanistan” and denied having any company presence in Kabul.

However, the Kabul-based mining expert—with direct knowledge of the company’s operations— confirms that Frontier Services Group had established an office in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, with Mayan leading the company in Afghanistan.

According to TRT World’s source in Kabul, Prince has so far adopted a three-pronged strategy to build trust with Afghans and convince them to work with him.

First, he is attempting to work with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and his political party.

Second, he is trying to collaborate and gain the trust of tribal elders and political leaders including Atta Mohammad Nur, and make connections with ethnic groups and influential Pashtun leaders, as well as supporting political candidates in the 2019 presidential election.

Finally, he wants to introduce himself to the Afghan people through the Afghan media including a major TV interview with Kabul-based, Tolo News, in September.

Hot water

Prince’s private security record shows that he thrives financially in places of insecurity.

In Afghanistan, his ability to extract resources will depend on paying off the right warlords and government officials as well as building the most brutal militias to wrestle control of minerals from insurgent groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic State (Daesh) which make huge amounts of money from illicit mining.

The US State Department, when asked for a statement on Prince’s involvement in Afghanistan, declined to comment directly about it, saying that, “Afghan mineral rights are an Afghan issue,” and suggested I speak to the Afghan Ministry of Mines with any questions.

An Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum spokesperson, Abdul Qadeer Mutfi, tells TRT World, “We are currently in the process of amending our minerals law and will be open to receiving proposals that meet our needs and fit the legal framework.” He also says the Afghan government is committed to keeping an “open and accountable extractives sector”.

Another spokesperson, Bhavana Mahajan, told me that the Afghan government hadn’t yet “received anything official” from Prince about his mining plans though the Ghani government was “open to doing business and exploring partnerships.”

The Pentagon has expressed opposition to Prince’s plan to privatise the Afghan war but has made no official comment about his desire to exploit its resources.

A United States Geological Survey study in 2010 estimated that untapped Afghan minerals—including copper, iron ore, rare earth elements, aluminium, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium—are worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. Prince’s priorities according to mining experts are lithium, gas and gold.

It is a tantalising but dangerous prospect that could ease Afghanistan’s over-reliance on foreign aid provided Afghans get to reap the benefits.

In February 2018, USAID hosted 80 private business interests in Kabul to explore Afghan resources but USAID refused to disclose who attended the event despite my repeated requests.

President Donald Trump had expressed interest in exploiting Afghanistan’s vast, largely untapped mineral wealth to offset the expenses of the long war, the longest in US history, which has cost the United States over one trillion dollars.

Trump’s interest in Afghan mining and potential economic gains increased after separate meetings last year with Ghani and Michael Silver, the CEO of American Elements, an advanced metals and chemicals production company.

Trump and Ghani agreed in September 2017 to allow US companies access to Afghanistan’s rare earth minerals. Three senior aides of Trump met Stephen A. Feinberg, the billionaire owner of the mega military contractor DynCorp International, last July to explore mining options, the New York Times reported.

Trump is now pushing for direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government while encouraging US-backed, Afghan troops to withdraw from vast parts of the country.

Afghans are suspicious of any foreign companies aiming to exploit theirresources. The arrival of Prince on the scene could further raise tempers in Afghanistan.

Prince is infamous in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world because of Blackwater’s atrocious record in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. His contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007 and Prince has been involved in building a mercenary army for the UAE.

Strong networks, weak alliances

Trump’s White House reportedly considered in 2017 establishing a global network of privatised spies organised by Prince and the Blackwater founder is working with the Chinese government to secure its resources in African and Asian nations.

Prince and his family have a long connection to the Republican Party, they’ve been big donors for years, and he considered a US Senate run in 2017, while his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s Education Secretary.

Prince is under scrutiny for meeting a senior Russian fund manager allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Seychelles in January 2016 and is accused of lying to Congress about it.

President Trump rejected Prince’s plan to privatise the Afghan war, but he has continued advocating this year for the privatisation of the Afghan conflict.

The Taliban announced that they also opposed Prince’s plans, as has the Ghani government.

The New York Times recently reported that Prince visited Kabul in September to discuss his plans to privatise the war and exploit the nation’s minerals. The story stated that Ghani had repeatedly refused to meet Prince despite repeated requests to do so. Prince was said to be building political alliances with Ghani’s opponents to secure access in Afghanistan.

Prince has urged Washington to appoint an American “viceroy” to run the war and argued that “until those plans are enacted there will not be any economic improvements for the people of Afghanistan.”

Will Afghans benefit?

The Afghan mining industry has remained relatively small for decades due to ongoing violence, insecurity and corruption. The Taliban earns large amounts of money from illicit mining, along with the drug trade, but it benefits very few civilians.

The Kabul mining source says that the mining industry is currently valued at $1 billion annually with 25-30 commodities being extracted. Countless more commodities are in the country but exploration and extraction are minimal.

Prince and his associates are attempting to enter the Afghan resources market at a time of intense insecurity in the country. The Afghan Ministry of Mines is a notoriously corrupt government body where there is no transparency around its decisions to appoint contracts to favoured bidders.

Prince’s company is unwilling to reveal its plans publicly because mining resources in a war zone is controversial, always occurs without community consent, and inevitably worsens violence in the areas targeted for exploitation.

The Ghani government recently signed large contracts with Afghan and foreign companies in a veil of secrecy to exploit resources in some areas controlled by insurgents.

Opponents of privatising Afghanistan’s resources, such as Integrity Watch Afghanistan and international NGO Global Witness, have expressed concern that without major governance changes these contracts will only worsen violence and entrench the power of warlords.

In a joint opinion piece by the two groups in January, they wrote that the Trump administration and Ghani government risked echoing a colonial past.

“For Afghans, whose ancestors fought against imperialism just as Americans did, that is a recipe for outrage,” they said.

During my two trips to the country to investigate the resources industry, in 2012 and 2015, it was nearly impossible to find any civilians in Kabul or in the countryside who supported its growth. They all feared worsening violence if anything was extracted because of corruption, looting and the formation of militias around the mines. Ordinary Afghans are rarely consulted about mining plans in their areas and mining contracts are never transparent.

An hour from Kabul, the people living near the Aynak mine – one of the largest copper deposits in the world, which has been leased to a Chinese company – have poor education and little access to water.

During a 2015 visit, the residents of Davo village near the mine told me that they had been promised primary and high schools, new roads, electricity, and a large mosque.

“Our expectations went up, but in the end, nothing was delivered,” Mullah Mirjan, a community leader told me at the time. 

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How to fight the toxic culture wars and win

My book review appears in the Weekend Australian newspaper with the great headline: “What did you do in the culture wars, daddy-o?:

As soon as Donald Trump unexpectedly won the White House in 2016, commentators and instant experts claimed it was because of economic anxiety. White, working-class Americans voted for the Republican candidate in greater numbers than Hillary Clinton, and the narrative was set: ignorant and insecure voters reportedly had backed the reality TV star because they feared losing their jobs and being discarded by globalisation and free trade. This thesis was only partly true.

In April, Stanford University political scientist Diana Mutz published a study that debunked the myth. “In this election,” she concluded, “education represented group status threat rather than being left behind economically. Those who felt that the hierarchy was being upended — with whites discriminated against more than blacks, Christians discriminated against more than Muslims, and men discriminated against more than women — were most likely to support Trump.”

Australian writer Jeff Sparrow succinctly explains in Trigger Warnings how Trump cleverly skewered his political enemies by appealing to their anger at the elite political and media classes (despite being a member of the elite himself). By damning political correctness without ever describing what it meant, Sparrow explains, Trump convinced his opponents “into calling for decorum, at a time when his supporters wanted to scream their rage”. Trump and his advisers read the mood of the country well and rode it to victory.

Trigger Warnings is a rare book that takes a necessary scalpel to the leftist political persuasion of its author as much as, if not more than, the right-wing agenda he opposes. Near the beginning, Sparrow outlines the bald facts of 21st-century life. With the “world’s eight richest billionaires controlling as much as the poorest half of the planet’s population … a historian of the future might assume that the Left was ascendant: that the injustice under which the planet groaned would be fuelling radical ideas and egalitarian alternatives to the status quo. Such a historian would be wrong.”

What follows is a potted history of how phrases such as “political correctness” and “culture wars” originated and how they have been weaponised today by the Right in ways that largely have trapped the Left, unsure how to respond. Sparrow writes that although right-wingers “portray PC as an Orwellian scheme to end freedom of speech, a deliberate strategy to impose a progressive orthodoxy”, the Left used the term from the 1960s as a gag to mock colleagues who believed in censorship. By the 90s, however, its usage had morphed and the Right claimed that being anti-PC meant “a minority using bureaucratic measures to enforce progressive ideas”.

In a post-Cold War world, where the designated enemy was no longer clear, right-wing politicians and their media cheerleaders correctly believed that by launching multiple culture wars over sexuality, gender, patriotism and morality, the Left would be consumed with these debates instead of challenging neoliberal “reforms” that enriched big business at the expense of ordinary people. It worked in many nations, including Australia, Britain and the US, but there are signs its effectiveness is breaking down.

For example, the electoral appeal of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in Britain is linked to the fact that years of Conservative Party-pushed austerity has led to one-fifth of the population living in poverty. Recent attempts by Theresa May’s government and many in the corporate media to falsely accuse Corbyn and his team of rampant anti-Semitism, a classic “culture war” tactic, has done little to affect his public standing. Whether his popularity leads to assuming power as prime minister remains to be seen.

The strongest sections of Sparrow’s book are his demolition of “smug politics” that have been employed by the Left in the past decades.

For comedians Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah of The Daily Show, any number of performers who populate Netflix and HBO and “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, the stupidity of vast swathes of the populace was a given. After all, how else could so many vote for George W. Bush or Trump and watch Fox News?

The political ramifications for showing contempt of the electorate are obvious.

“If progressives couldn’t influence society,” Sparrow argues, “that was the fault of society — or more exactly, the people who were too stupid and too venal to appreciate the objective correctness of progressive ideas.” Left ideas will never thrive in such an environment.

The solution to this malaise is (too briefly) outlined by Sparrow but he argues only radical solutions to present-day problems will work. How else to address the climate change crisis without imagining a zero-emissions future solely with renewable energy sources?

Symbolic gestures pushed by celebrities to switch off the lights just won’t cut it; the Left needs to build mass movements for change, an all-too-uncommon occurrence today.

Likewise with addressing the apartheid-level rates of indigenous Australian incarceration. “If we’re not talking about the need for structural change, we’re simply not acknow­ledging reality,” Sparrow concludes. How to achieve this is easier written than done.

Sparrow doesn’t underestimate the challenges and calls for “liberation”, a word that is almost invisible in the modern age. There are successful examples from which to take inspiration, from the struggles for same-sex equality to supporting the legalisation of marijuana across the US.

“Symbolic redress” won’t suffice to help ordinary people facing serious problems, Sparrow says, and the current path leads only to decades more of circular arguments that will embolden the status quo.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

Trigger Warnings: Political Correctness and the Rise of the Right

By Jeff Sparrow

Scribe, 320pp, $29.99

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Censored Al-Jazeera film on Israel lobby reveals important truths

My following essay appears in the Israel/Palestine news outlet +972 magazine

There’s a moment near the end of the four-part, Al Jazeera documentary on the U.S. Israel lobby — censored by its own network due to pressure from the U.S. government and incensed U.S.-based, pro-Israel lobbyists — where the show’s undercover reporter, “Tony,” films a key Israel advocate in Washington. Eric Gallagher was a senior manager at The Israel Project and admits that the dominant pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, faces an existential crisis.

“People at AIPAC know that something has changed,” Gallagher says. “They know something is wrong. They are not as effective as they used to be.” He worries that the day is coming soon when AIPAC wouldn’t be able to deeply influence the Israel lobby crafted in the U.S. Congress, as it does today, and that the pro-Israel lobby will have to operate without AIPAC’s power. “There’s this big bowling ball that’s being hurled towards them [AIPAC] and the response is to run faster,” Gallagher continues. “They need to get on the bowling ball and start dancing.”

Gallagher doesn’t explain why so many Americans are turning against Israel in public opinion polls. The latest figures from The Economist and YouGov, an online data analytics firm, find that U.S. liberals, millennials, and women have turned against the Jewish state in large numbers. The 50-plus year occupation of Palestinians and their lands, constant killings of civilians in Gaza, and the Trump administration’s obsessive embrace of Israel’s hard-right are all factors.

Republicans and conservatives still back Israel in large numbers, as do many in the evangelical Christian community (though younger members are more skeptical). For the foreseeable future, however, Israel will likely receive unprecedented financial, military, and diplomatic support from the United States.

Tony films Gallagher in a Washington D.C. café explaining that “the foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting. There used to be widespread public support for Israel in the United States…I don’t think that AIPAC is the tip of the spear anymore, which is worrisome, because who is?”

It’s a telling admission in a documentary that’s full of them. Following Al Jazeera’s 2017 examination of Britain’s Israel lobby — a film that uncovered extensive Israeli government interference in the British political system, along with Labour Party operatives who aimed to silence critics of Israel with false charges of anti-Semitism — expectations were high for the U.S. version. They planted a convincing young, British, Jewish man, James Anthony Kleinfeld, within the American Zionist establishment, who filmed undercover for months to reveal pro-Israel lobbyists and Israeli government affiliates talking tactics and spewing racism against Muslims and Palestinians. Al Jazeera even admitted to planting an undercover reporter inside U.S. pro-Israel lobby groups in 2017, but the channel never broadcast the final product.

Director and founder of Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, Clayton Swisher, has detailed the political reasons for this decision: a combination of Qatari government capitulation, pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington threatening to convince Congress to register the network as “foreign agents,” and false accusations of anti-Semitism against the producers of the documentary. A source told me that U.S. President Donald Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had even lobbied the Qataris not to screen the film. Whatever exactly Israeli, American, and pro-Zionist lobbyists did, it worked, though clips of the film started leaking in the last months. The full film can’t be far behind [it leaked a few days after this piece was published].

The leaks prove that the Israeli embassy, often working with pro-Israel groups, spies on pro-Palestinian students and attempts to disrupt the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement across the U.S. Other Zionist lobbyists want students who support Palestinian rights to be criminally prosecuted. Fake Facebook accounts are created by Israel lobby groups that only occasionally mention Israel, because the Israel brand has become so toxic. The notorious Canary Mission website, used by the Israel government to target pro-Palestinian supporters on arrival in its country, is exposed as being funded by major pro-Israel donors in the U.S.

These are all important revelations, and an international audience deserves to see them. There’s nothing remotely anti-Semitic in the film. It’s a sober and detailed exposé of a lobby that functions despite the demographic gravity pushing against it. It’s not just young Americans losing support for Israel, but American Jews who increasingly can’t abide by a foreign country that advocateschauvinism, occupation, and racism. The horrific Pittsburgh synagogue massacre has only deepened this divide between Israel and its vast Jewish Diaspora.

Banning the film shows the weakness of the Zionist lobby, not its strength, because it acknowledges that any criticism that shatters the illusion of how the lobby operates secretly cannot survive sunlight or public scrutiny. Nonetheless, it’s worrying that Al Jazeera continues to stonewall about the real reasons it has not scheduled the film.

Swisher’s documentary is a positive development, however, from the myopic discussions around the U.S. Israel lobby that greeted the 2007 book on the subject by academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (who appears in the film). The authors were accused of anti-Semitism and scapegoating Jews. U.S. journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, now editor of The Atlantic, who is notorious for policingsupposedly acceptable boundaries of debate around Israel/Palestine, called Walt, without evidence, a “grubby Jew-baiter.”

Yes, Swisher and his team have been accused of anti-Semitism, more than a decade after the Mearsheimer-Walt book. But the label no longer sticks effectively, apart from the rigid ideologues who won’t tolerate any criticism of Israeli actions. When real anti-Semitism is surging globally, it’s a damning indictment on those who abuse the term for shabby political ends. The Israel lobby does this around the world.

A key theme throughout the film is the perceived need by Israel and its advocates to secretly and publicly smear supporters of Palestinian rights. That’s what being strongly pro-Israel means for the litany of Zionist lobby groups featured in the documentary, from The Israel Project to the Brandeis Center. It looks and feels grubby and desperate. BDS is framed as an existential threat to the continuation of the Jewish state, a severe exaggeration in the current moment, but it has undeniably achieved great psychological damage to the Israeli narrative and justification for indefinitely occupying millions of Palestinians.

One of the early reviews of the film, written by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz, argues that the U.S. Israel lobby and Israeli government are “begging a bunch of amateurs for intel [on BDS supporters].” Although he later admits that the film shows a “self-harming campaign” that costs the Israeli government millions of dollars every year, he ignores the wider implications for the many targeted liberal Jews, pro-Palestinian activists and Muslims whose lives and records are smeared by the lobby for daring to defend Palestinian rights. Free speech around Israel/Palestine is now under attack in the U.S. and across the globe. The FBI is using Canary Mission as a reference point to harass pro-Palestinian activists.

This Al Jazeera documentary deserves a wide audience because it exposes the motivations and methods of individuals and groups that will spend the next 50 or 100 years defending Israeli control of Palestinian lives.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist, film-maker, author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and is currently writing a book on the global “war on drugs”, out in 2019. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine since 2003.

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US network The Real News interview on US/Israeli mercenaries in Yemen

I was interviewed this week on US network The Real News:

The US-based mercenary company Spear Group, headed by an Israeli and hired by a Palestinian on behalf of the UAE, conducts extra-judicial killings in Yemen. Antony Loewenstein discusses the details:

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What does disaster capitalism really look like in the 21st century?

In the last 7+ years, I’ve been investigating and reporting on disaster capitalism around the world. This culminated in my book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and the documentary, Disaster Capitalism.

There’s a great, long essay in the US magazine Public Books about disaster capitalism in the modern age, written by US academic Tom Winterbottom, and he assesses the various ways that three writers view the issue: Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and me. Below are some extracts from the essay:

That there are many cases of disaster capitalism is a point made by journalist Antony Loewenstein in his book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe (2015), and in the 2018 documentary Disaster Capitalism. In these comprehensive and unsettling works, he covers war (in Afghanistan), aid (in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake), and environmental exploitation (in Papua New Guinea). He also cites many other examples of exploitative economic practices—those that aim to make money for corporations or purposefully impoverish citizens—in Greece, the UK, the US, and Australia.

Early on in the book, Loewenstein makes an important terminological point: “Whether we call this disaster capitalism,” he writes, “or just a product of the unavoidable excesses and inequalities of capitalism itself, the end result is still a world ruled by unaccountable markets.” Although Loewenstein neglects to flesh this out, it is a crucial observation: what he sees in disparate locations and contexts is not necessarily produced or predicated by a disaster or extraordinary event. The crisis that Loewenstein documents pervades capitalist societies and lies in actors systematically embracing exploitative and damaging practices in the unfolding of the neoliberal story.

Be it detention centers in the US, relief aid in Haiti, military contractors in Afghanistan, economic sanctions on Greece, complicit corporate-sponsored NGOs in the developing world, or prison systems across much of the Western world, “predatory behavior” does vary “from country to country, but the strategy is the same: exaggerate a threat, man-made or natural, and let loose unaccountable private-sector contractors to exploit it.” Loewenstein frequently uses the term “disaster” seemingly interchangeably with terms like “exploitative,” “crisis,” and “predatory” as descriptors of capitalism. That he settles on no single word is not a weakness, but rather an intriguing diagnosis: capitalism in its current expression and at its worst is all of those things and more.

Once you pry open the terminology a little bit, as Loewenstein implies, one finds that the leverage of “disaster capitalism” now stretches far beyond that which Klein identified. In Loewenstein’s reckoning, there are still the more “traditional” disasters and economic shock therapy “solutions,” and perhaps it is those more obvious shocks that generate the conditions that allow for a particularly nefarious and obvious expression of largely harmful neoliberal capitalism, as is beginning to unfold in Puerto Rico.

In the background, however, a more unsettling picture also emerges, in which those exploitative machinations continue to take hold, progressively and aggressively, even without a disaster or shock. Indeed, after reading Loewenstein’s book, one is left wondering what isn’t impacted by the nefarious tendrils of “disaster” capitalism—education, the aid system, non-profit organizations, the democratic electoral system, privacy, healthcare, big tech, big data, underemployment. Nothing is safe from the imperial reach of a commodified system of capital. Disaster or not, it now seems that capitalism seeks to get into unexplored cracks and expand whether or not we like or even recognize it. A disaster often serves to foreground these ever-present traits. As such, “disaster” may no longer refer to specific shocks or changes in the economic system but rather to the system itself. “Disaster” can serve as a modifier concerning the very nature of capitalism and its development within a broad framework of neoliberalism. That is, it is inherently disastrous and in crisis, not exceptionally.

Klein, Monbiot, and Loewenstein chime with the positive possibility of resolution and change, often by citing cases in which the greedy reach of capitalism has been at least limited: the ongoing fight for Puerto Rico is testament to that. The three authors also ultimately demand—somewhat hopefully, or perhaps hopelessly—a need for modern societies “to view humans as more than just consumers.” Monbiot goes further, pushing for a “regime change,” in which the system is replaced rather than reformed.5 As such, their objective seems not to be “benevolent capitalism” or “sustainable capitalism” but rather “not capitalism.”

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From New Orleans to Puerto Rico, vulture companies run rampant

Too often after natural disasters, corporations are looking to make a profit.

I was interviewed by the US magazine Ark Republic about this issue in a story written by Jesse Shramenko. Extracts below:

Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist, writer and documentarian made the film, Disaster Capitalism, to address the direction of development in Haiti, Afghanistan and Papau New Guinea. For him, similar predatory choices in New Orleans after Katrina materialized in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

“After the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017, there were moves to privatise the water, land and school system,” Loewenstein said. “The country was already financially on its knee, long troubled by a colonial relationship with Washington, but the natural disaster worsened these trends.”

Continues Loewenstein. “Charter schools are now being pushed on the nation without public consultation, akin to how authorities reacted after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In the US, the worst-off children were not helped by this policy.”

The Center for Research On Education Outcomes, revealed data in 2013 showing disparities between traditional public schools and charter schools New Orleans.

Out of 658,720 students, only 37,043 were enrolled in charter schools, 81% of whom were living in poverty. Across the board, Black charter school student and other Black charters had a total of 428 less days to learn math than Black students of traditional public schools who had 156 less days to learn math.

Charter schools, like other businesses that pop up after natural and social catastrophes bank on the misfortune of others, to simply make money, hence the term disaster capitalism. While private enterprise profits from natural disasters, the public ultimately suffers. In other words, death and destruction are big business.

Whereas privatizing government housing after Katrina was implemented, privatizing electricity is the agenda in Puerto Rico.

“Policy makers have clear choices when addressing the aftermath of a natural disaster; rebuild public services back better and more resilient to future disasters or abandon public works and solely engage the private sector. The effect of the latter is clear, making many services inaccessible for residents who can’t afford it,” Loewenstein said.

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US network The Real News interview on UAE using mercenaries in Yemen

My interview on US network The Real News about the United Arab Emirates using private, military contractors in the horrific war in Yemen and the involvement of Australia and the US:

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New Zealand outlet positively reviews Disaster Capitalism film

My film Disaster Capitalism with director Thor Neureiter continues to spread around the world. Thor was recently in Melbourne for the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and the film is screening soon in Australia, the UK and elsewhere.

New Zealand outlet Foreign Control Watchdog has published a review of the film written by Jeremy Agar:

Afghanistan

The years roll by but the news from Afghanistan scarcely changes. From the dry hills in landlocked Asia we glimpse mad mullahs shooting their rifles into the air. We see Humvees straining up a mountain pass and wait for the ambush. Underneath the banner news rolls through: a suicide truck has blown up a dozen pedestrians in Kabul.  

Few of the many disasters that our information screens send our way are as wearying as the scenes from this war, the one that 30 years ago was dubbed “the forgotten war” because sometimes, back then, it wasn’t getting much air time. These days we’re all too likely to hear the inevitable soothing words that follow from the President, but whoever he is this time, no-one is listening.

On comes an American general. Just a few more troops, he assures us, and all will be well. Just a few more years and we’ll deliver you a shiny new democracy. Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day.But despite the assurances of the nation builders, peace in Afghanistan hasn’t been built in centuries. The waste, the futility of it all has a cartoonish quality: the US Army as Homer Simpson; the jihadi as … Jihadi. Boring. We flick the channel to the newest cooking show.

It’s the lack of any of this tedium that makes Antony Loewenstein’s analysis so welcome. By steering clear from cliché we’re allowed to see Afghanistan as the sort of place – an open plain, not some dizzying crag – that is not all that different from some parts of Loewenstein’s native Australia, perhaps, or America. He gets driven just an hour from the capital and talks to some quite normal locals. They were promised decent jobs and social development from a mine. It becomes clear that the foreign corporation never intended to make good on the deal, and that the Government’s undertaking to hold the company to account was similarly fraudulent.

Back in Kabul Loewenstein seeks answers from the bureaucrats who oversee the mining industry, No, Mr X is unavailable; Mr Y is busy. Mr Z? No, it is not possible. Leave the building. In other words, standard obstruction, standard corruption. Afghanistan’s misery is not primarily religious or tribalist. It’s the lack of trust that spawns those reactions. Fanaticism and tribalism are the poisoned fruit that grow from the seed of betrayal.

Loewenstein is showing us that, far from being uniquely messed up, Afghanistan is a template for a more general failure. That the mining company happens to be Chinese is an additional advantage in that the offender is not wearing the usual black hat. Villainy is not the monopoly of swaggering Uncle Sam. Take unaccountable big money and a corrupt State and moral failure is universal.

A modernist Afghan is interviewed, putting the case for the US to remain. If the troops go, he suggests, the warlords will swarm into the vacuum and there will be chaos and killings for an indefinite period. But what’s the alternative? The Vietnam gambit was often “to destroy a village in order to save it” – that’s a quote from the 1960s, not a mischievous paraphrase – and killing in Afghanistan will beget only more killing. Maybe everyone else just needs to leave them to it.

Loewenstein tells us that the amount the US military has cost in Afghanistan is more than what it invested in Europe after World War 2. As his topic of disaster capitalism is to do with how the world’s bullies go about “making money from misery”, that might be a reason his treatment ignores all the fundamentalist mayhem.

The huge spend has been about resisting the Taliban and now ISIS – and before that, let’s not forget, the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, better known as the Soviet Union). As such, while the post-World War 2 Marshall Plan set the US up for global dominance and hastened Europe’s recovery, the misadventures in Afghanistan have been unproductive to a point that future observers might regard as inexplicable (even Establishment types are now saying that about the domino theories that launched the Vietnam follies).

Just as it’s more than a truism – more a platitude – that wars never turn out how the belligerents intended, so too are the conventional wisdoms that inform life at home a poor guide for how Johnny Foreigner will react to being invaded. He won’t like it. So, it is that while the wise men in Washington are accustomed to thinking in terms of spending money in order to achieve results, in Afghanistan the opposite occurs. More money and more soldiers equal more chances for cock-ups and corruption.

As a frequent US visitor puts it here: “The more I go, the less I see”. More money being poured into the sinkhole makes matters ever worse. As he notes, saving money takes too much time. We’re in a hole. Keep digging and we’ll find a way out. Duh (the joke is that sometimes you win even when you lose. Vietnam now is much as US warmongers would have hoped it would have turned out to be had they won the war).

Haiti & Bougainville

Loewenstein’s other visits were to Haiti and Bougainville. In the former, US cash was meant to aid recovery from a devastating 2010 earthquake. This was very much a Clintonian intervention. We see Bill and Hillary in all their smarmy complacency rabbiting on about an investment zone where their corporate mates provide factory work for locals at five dollars a day. But the enterprises are not where the quakes struck. There, nothing has changed.

The final stop is closer to Loewenstein’s Aussie home, where another mining giant, Rio Tinto, has left a ruined landscape and a shattered society. Villagers faced a basic dilemma, one that confronts all such ravaged places: Do they want the mine to reopen so that they have a job, or do they want it to remain closed so that they can somehow, sometime, recover a stolen identity? It’s a fitting place to end this skillfully constructed doco.There is one final deft detail, tying the themes. Just as we’re given Afghanistan minus the hackneyed images, we see the usually ubiquitous Donald Trump only to conclude matters. He has spent one trillion dollars on mining ventures.

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