Biological Weapons & Experimentation on Humans (Frank Olson): still a relevant film for current troubled times

Egmont R Koch and Michael Wech, “Biological Weapons & Experimentation on Humans (Frank Olson)” (2002)

Recent news of the death of Chinese physicist Zhang Shoucheng, supposedly through suicide by falling from a building, on 1 December 2018, the same day Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecommunications / electronics company Huawei,  was arrested by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the bequest of the United States on vague charges – before the two were due to attend a dinner at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina – jogged my memory of having read about the death of a CIA scientist in similar circumstances more than a century ago. I had forgotten the name of the scientist but remembered he had been drugged with LSD by fellow CIA researchers without his consent some time before his death. Armed with those details, I did a search on DuckDuckGo and Google and very quickly found what I wanted: information on the death of Frank Olson in November, 1953, in circumstances eerily similar to those in which Zhang died: in Olson’s case, falling through a window on the 13th floor of a hotel and onto the pavement below.

More than 20 years later, in 1975 the Rockefeller Commission released some of the details of the CIA’s notorious MKUltra project, a series of experiments aimed at mental manipulation of human subjects to weaken their resistance to questioning, and the US government admitted that Frank Olson had been doped with LSD. The Olson family pushed to sue the CIA; instead the US government offered them $750,000 and the then President Gerald Ford and the CIA apologised to them. In 1993, Frank Olson’s body was exhumed and an autopsy (the second after his death; the first had been done soon after his death) determined that, in contrast to the results of the first autopsy, no cuts were present but instead Olson’s head and chest had suffered blunt-force trauma severe enough to have killed him before his body was tipped through the window. In 1997, the CIA inadvertently declassified the 1953 edition of its notorious assassination manual which among other things, suggested that … The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface …In chase cases it will usually be necessary to stun or drug the subject before dropping him …, itself eerily close to the way in which Olson died. With this information, the Olson family sued the CIA in 2012, without success.

This documentary investigates the circumstances in which Dr Olson was drugged and killed, and traces his career as a biological researcher at the US Army Biological Warfare Laboratories and then with the CIA. This work took him through some very murky activities with both employers: Olson worked on the US bio-weapons program, experimenting with anthrax, and later was drawn into the CIA’s Project Artichoke program (which investigated interrogation methods that could force people to confess and which included the use of LSD, forced morphine addiction and withdrawal, and hypnosis) and Project MKUltra. Olson became troubled by the direction the research was going into – the research includes drugging people and subjecting them to painful physical and psychological torture – and wanted out. His superiors realised he had become a security risk. The film then starts to jump back and forth between 1953 and 1993, comparing the results of the second autopsy with those of the first, and discrepancies between them being observed. The film details Olson’s last overseas trip to Berlin where he appears to have done some private research on past CIA activities in Germany during World War II and Soviet methods of interrogation. This trip took place against the background of the Korean War, during which the CIA tortured POWs by injecting or threatening to inject anthrax – the very bacterium Olson had experimented on years before – into them. From this point on, the documentary follows the way in which the US government continued (and still continues) to lie about Olson’s death and avoid admitting responsibility and paying proper compensation to his family.

If one compares the circumstances surround Zhang Shoucheng’s death – like Olson’s death, also recorded as a suicide caused in large part by depression – one finds they are also quite suspicious. A tenured physics professor at Stanford University, Zhang was noted for his work in quantum physics (with applications for the global semiconductor industry) and was predicted by some to be a future Nobel Physics Prize laureate. He was also a founder of Danhua Capital aka Digital Horizon Capital, a venture capital fund investing in early-stage and growth-stage technology start-ups in Silicon Valley. Danhua Capital itself is funded by Zhangguancun Development Group, an entity owned by the Chinese government which invests in technology innovations. This background and connection to the Chinese government might have been enough to put Zhang on the radar of a US government agency suspicious of any secret and underhanded Chinese attempts, real and imaginary, to steal American cyber-knowledge and codes and transfer these to China through Chinese nationals like Zhang working and teaching in the US.

At the same time, the US government is irked that Huawei, being based in China rather than the US, is less amenable to communications ranging from suggestions to requests to threats that it allow US intel and military agencies to gain access into the software in the IT equipment it sells to gather information that could be later used to blackmail people or generate disinformation. To this end, the Americans have persuaded its Five Eyes partners Australia and New Zealand, and Japan as well, to ban Huawei from supplying equipment for their 5G mobile networks. With Canada now having arrested Meng on vague charges and sure to extradite her to the US soon, one expects that she will be used as a hostage in China-US trade talks by the US to pressure China to force Huawei into accepting back-doors into its equipment. This behaviour is the kind of sordid horse-trading expected of head-chopping takfiris terrorising civilians in parts of the Middle East.

Incidentally on the same day that Meng was arrested and Zhang died, a factory owned by Dutch tech company ASML, specialising in extreme ultraviolet lithography technology (used in the production of the next generation of semiconductors by Chinese, US and South Korean tech manufacturers), caught fire. This led to ASML advising of delays in supplying this technology to its customers in early 2019.

The very strange occurrence of three seemingly unrelated incidents, their connections only becoming clear once the background context to them becomes known, on the same day, and one of these incidents bearing an uncanny resemblance to a death whose causes are still unsolved 65 years after it occurred, is sure to spark off conspiracy theories speculating on who or what may be responsible for them. It is likely that just as Frank Olson’s death continues to be the subject of controversy and his family continues to struggle for justice and closure, so too Zhang Shoucheng’s death will be shrouded in speculation and disinformation. The consequences of what transpired on 1 December 2018 are likely to be very far-reaching as well, not least because Meng’s arrest and the harassment of Huawei raise issues of sovereignty for the Five Eyes Anglocentric nations and their independence.

How a new empire of global finance was created in “The Corbett Report (Episode 349: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Three: A New World Order)”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 349: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Three: A New World Order)” (November 2018)

This third and last episode examines how World War I was used by British and American elites to reshape global politics and society, including the global economy, in their favour; and in the process destroy empires and an entire generation of young men across Europe, North America and other parts of the world, and bring about new polities, political ideologies and movements with consequences that still survive to this day. Among other outcomes, World War I destroyed the empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks, either replacing them with weak, unstable states that would later adopt extreme nationalist, even fascist governance, or subjugating their territories to British and French rule that divided them with artificial borders or introduced or encouraged new foreign settlement that itself would result in new conflicts of unrelenting brutality and violence and ongoing instability. The key message of this episode is that not only is war a tool of elites to steal other people’s wealth and territories but is also a tool to reshape society and beliefs and to rewrite histories and traditions to benefit themselves (the elites, that is). Among other things, World War I enabled governments to assert greater control over manufacturing and industry, to mould and direct public opinion by censoring the media and controlling literary, artistic and film output, and (in some countries) to introduce new taxes such as income tax on the general public.

Again with James Corbett’s clear and distinct voice-over narration, easy to follow and to understand, and with archived film footage as a backdrop to his narration, the documentary traces the way in which the Great War fulfilled, for the most part, the goals and ambitions of a Deep State within the British government (and which spread into the US government) in which the United States would be brought back into the British empire as the first step towards ultimate British domination of the world. By installing Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States, American financiers gained financial control of the US economy and of European powers at war by acquiring (through the Federal Reserve) the power to print money, by imposing income taxation and lending huge sums of money to European imperial governments. After 1913, American financiers profited from war financing and gaining ownership and control of major corporations and industries, setting production quotas, standardising products and product lines, fixing prices and developing psychological warfare techniques that would later become useful in mass advertising and public relations.

After 1918, the supposedly victorious European powers Britain and France found themselves so much in hock to Wall Street that in order to pay off their loans, they forced a defeated Germany and its weak new government to submit to paying heavy reparations under the Treaty of Versailles, setting that nation up for political and economic instability and the rise of extremist fascist politics that would dominate Germany. The new post-war financial arrangements also made Europe and Germany in particular vulnerable to the unstable business cycles that dominated the American economy under bankster rule; thus when the Great Depression hit the US in 1929, its effects spread to Europe as well.

The documentary digresses into a brief discussion of how the British and the German governments apparently encouraged Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in their plans to install a socialist government in Russia and even gave them assistance: the German government allowed Lenin and other revolutionaries to travel by train through German territory to Petrograd (formerly Saint Petersburg, later Leningrad); and Trotsky was briefly detained in Halifax, Canada, by the British while travelling from New York back to Russia in early 1917 after Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and the Russian monarchy was abolished. The documentary insinuates that Trotsky may have been used (perhaps willingly, perhaps not) as a pawn by the British though the Wikipedia entry on Trotsky states that the British government released him from imprisonment in Canada after protests by the socialist Menshevik government in Russia. After the Bolsheviks overthrew the Mensheviks in November 1917, Trotsky published “The Secret Treaties and Understandings” that the Russian imperial government had signed with Britain and France to divide up the territories of the defeated Axis powers among themselves. These agreements included the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement which parcelled much of the Middle East between Britain and France, creating new colonies with artificial borders that divided the Arab peoples from one another, and which enabled the British to carve out territory in Palestine for a future Jewish state under the Balfour Declaration, itself initiated by Lord Walter Rothschild who had been a financial backer of Cecil Rhodes, one of the originators of the project to drive the West to war to isolate and destroy Germany and bring the US back under British imperial rule. Thus was the Middle East set on a road leading to repressive and brutal dictatorships, the corruption of Islam by a fundamentalist sect, constant political instability caused by foreign interference and the ongoing brutal genocide of the Palestinians by Israel after its founding by Zionist Jewish settlers in 1948 through acts of terrorism against the British.

Perhaps the saddest and most tragic part of this episode – and indeed of the entire series – comes at the very end when war ceases abruptly in November 1918 and an entire generation of young men, knowing only war and nothing else, suddenly discovers that its life purpose has ended and from then on, its continued existence has no meaning.

This series dovetails with other documentaries and articles I have seen which posit that the British empire has never really ended but has instead mutated into an abstracted global financial empire that continues to brainwash people through dangerous political, economic and social ideologies that keep them divided and weak, and which continually attempts to penetrate those countries such as China, Iran and Russia for their lands and resources by demonising them in attempts to convince people around the world that these nations pose a threat and their governments should be overthrown, by force if necessary. Much recent American politics (at least since 1945) and foreign policy becomes understandable if one assumes that the US has been acting as an extension of the British global financial empire, and moreover is used by that empire to abuse Britain and Europe alike through the European Union. The continuous march towards war against Russia (a nation Britain has hated since the 1700s) and its allies in Iran and Syria who have defied Western regime-change attempts, and the accompanying global propaganda project involving most countries’ news media and cultural industries, should be seen in this context as well.

Apart from the insinuation that the Bolsheviks were tools of the Wall Street elite – it’s more likely that Lenin at least and his followers were happy to use whatever help they could get, wherever it came from, to advance their own aims and agenda, and the idea of using capitalists’ money against their sources would have appealed to the Russians – this documentary series seems fair to me.

 

The rise of Wall Street and the American Deep State in “The Corbett Report (Episode 348: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Two: The American Front)”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 348: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Two: The American Front)” (November 2018)

Having established in Part 1 that a Deep State within the British government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with connections to the monarchy and the civil service, connived to isolate Germany through propaganda and by forming alliances with nations on either side of that country, this three-part series continues with all the major European powers now at war after mid-1914, Germany having to fight enemies on two fronts on its western and eastern borders, and all opposing sides bogged down either in trench warfare in the west or ineffective leadership and strategies leading to constant back-and-forth exchanges of territory in the east. In the west, with both the British, French and German forces locked in stalemate, and all losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers in trench warfare, the British government connived with American financiers to get the American people involved in fighting the war against Germany. Part 2 examines how the groundwork was laid to push the US into allying with Britain and France to fight Germany in World War I well before the war even began.

The work begins with wealthy American banker John Pierpont Morgan and his allies in the US finance industry supporting obscure Princeton university professor Woodrow Wilson as Presidential candidate in the 1912 elections and ensuring that he wins by using former President Theodore Roosevelt as a third party candidate to split the Republican vote. Once in, in 1913 Wilson approves the passage of the income tax act and the Federal Reserve Act which creates the Federal Reserve as a central bank with Morgan and several of his friends as shareholders. From then on, these bankers would be in charge of printing money and would charge the government interest on any money it borrowed from the Federal Reserve. Several of these men were members of the Milner Group, that secret organisation formed by William T Stead, Reginald Brett and Cecil Rhodes, which had worked to influence the British government to make Germany an enemy and to turn the British people against Germany, and the American and British members of the Group plotted to turn the American people against Germany through extensive news propaganda – even though most Americans at the time, being of Irish or Germany descent, were opposed to Britain – and to create a pretext to bring the United States into fighting a European war.

The pretext comes with Britain’s war against Germany on the high seas in the North Atlantic, with Britain enforcing a trade blockade against Germany that eventually leads to widespread starvation in that country. Because of this blockade and other trade sanctions against it, Germany resorts to submarine warfare against British merchant shipping. In May 1915, Germany torpedoes the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,200 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. The incident helped to turn American public opinion against Germany. In 1916, Wilson was re-elected President, riding high on propaganda that he had kept the US out of war. In April 1917, after continued German submarine warfare on merchant shipping in the North Atlantic (including US merchant ships), the Germans having become desperate due to the prolonged blockade, Wilson declares war on Germany and the US governt begins conscripting and training men to fight in the battlefields of northern France.

Again the documentary does a good job presenting its case that Wall Street financiers and banks created a situation in which they were able to select their own preferred Presidential candidate and install him as President by weakening his opposition, and then connived with their British partners to put a cruise ship and its passengers and crew in harm’s way to pressure Washington DC into agreeing to join the war in Europe. Archival film footage and photographic stills including cut-outs of significant personalities flesh out the voice-over narration and the whole film proceeds at a leisurely pace. Interviews with historians go into considerable detail on how the US government ignored the British blockade of Germany – clearly a war crime – and ignored British interference with American merchant shipping but castigate the Germans for blowing up British merchant ships carrying munitions if American citizens happen to be on board.

In this documentary, the way in which a secret cabal not only gains power behind the British government but also gains power behind the American government, and moreover uses that power to control America’s money supply and money creation functions, to potentially hold the American government and the American people to ransom by demanding interest payments on loans to the government, and (later) to influence post-war European politics and German reconstruction, resulting in the spread of the Great Depression and paving the way for Adolf Hitler to gain power in Germany, is made very clear.

Normandy Nude: a light-hearted if flat comedy with a message about exploiting people and land for profit

Philippe le Guay, “Normandy Nude / Normandy Nue” (2018)

One of a distinctly French genre of comedy films – Cedric Klapisch’s “Back to Burgundy” is another – in which particular regions of France are highlighted for their rural landscapes, their industries and the cultures and histories associated with them, “Normandy Nude” is a light-hearted comedy that rolls out smoothly and comfortably if a wee bit too slickly. The particular social issues connected to these regions may be highlighted as well, even if in a fairly superficial way. In this film, set in rural Normandy, a village dependent on the dairying and beef production industries is struggling to survive: banks have foreclosed on farmers’ properties, some farmers have committed suicide and the train service to Paris has been cut. The village folk and the farming community have been blockading roads in the hope of gaining local and national media attention but the news media briefly flits over their plight. And then something unexpected happens.

Dairy farmer and long-term mayor Georges Balbuzard, nicknamed Balbu (Francois Cluzet), is approached by a famous American photographer-artist, Newman (Toby Jones) – a character clearly based on US photographer Spencer Tunick, famous for his large-scale photographs of crowds posing naked – and his assistant Bradley (Vincent Regan) who propose to use a local field, Chollet Field, as the backdrop to his next project. Newman wants 200 villagers to feature in the photo: the catch is, they all have to pose nude. Balbu sees Newman’s offer as an ingenious way to gain national publicity for his village so he spends much of the rest of the film trying to persuade the more conservative villagers to participate in the project.

The film is padded out by various sub-plots involving individual villagers and farmers and their various conflicts and secrets that come out into the open by Newman’s proposal: local butcher Roger, married to the curvaceous former Miss Calvados winner Gisele, frets that if his wife participates in the proposal, she will become the cynosure of all lustful men’s eyes and tries to stop her participation; two farmers with claims to Chollet Field nearly end up derailing Newman’s project; a young man returns to the village to close down his father’s photography studio and camera shop and ends up falling in love with local lass Charlotte; a family of Parisian city-slickers who have moved to the area struggle to come to terms with the isolation, the social and religious conservatism, and the allergies caused by local pollen. The local pharmacist disapproves of Newman’s project and complains to regional bureaucrats. With these and other sub-plots, the wonder is that the villagers come to life at all, and indeed most characters remain flat stereotypes. Cluzet at least holds his own as the mostly jovial mayor who bounces from one part of his realm trying to get support for Newman and at least hold back simmering frustrations and enmities enough for the project to succeed.

The film addresses too many topical political and social issues at once in a series of vignettes and skits to be convincing, and its general presentation of these topics, ranging from the destruction of France’s rural industries by a remote European Union bureaucracy and regulations to climate change and the presence of carcinogenic chemical preservatives in beef, is so superficial as to verge on cheap exploitation for laughs. It attempts satire in the treatment of the Parisians who try to ape country traditions. Probably the only issue the film succeeds in delineating to any great extent is whether French assets – the land, the people who populate it, their own bodies even, not to mention their culture and history – can and should be exploited as commodities for profit, and forced to compete with one another for money in the form of government subsidies. The film’s continued treatment of Newman’s project, the village’s response to it and how the villagers deal with their underlying conflicts that the project inadvertently exposes, tells where director Philippe le Guay’s opinion falls. While the film’s conclusion is left open and might dissatisfy most viewers, the message is clear that the villagers have resolved to deal with their most pressing problems in an open-minded way that invites compromise, reconciliation and creativity.

Perfidious Albion’s road of deception and underhand scheming to global war in “The WWI Conspiracy – Part One: To Start A War”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 347: The WWI Conspiracy – Part One: To Start A War)” (November 2018)

At this time of writing, a century has passed since World War I ended, and swept with it into history beliefs in never-ending scientific and technological advancement and empires in Europe (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia). An entire generation of young men was brutally destroyed with grave repercussions for societies across the world that would last for decades to come (and which may still do, in the form of politically conservative societies and cultures with mediocre political cultures and leaders). Yet the ultimate causes of that war remain as puzzling and controversial as they did one hundred years ago.

The conventional narrative of what led to World War I – the various alliances formed by the major European powers that eventually fell into two opposed sides, each jealous of their own political, economic and military power; the competition among these powers for more resources and hence more territory; the nationalism of various ethnic groups in central and southeast Europe, governed by a weak Ottoman empire, which could be exploited by its enemies; the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo in 1914 – is well known but does not explain why an incident in a small provincial town should have been the tinderbox event that set off a series of chain-reaction events resulting in all-out war. This documentary, the first of a three-episode series made by The Corbett Report, looks at the background of historical events and trends beginning in the early 1890s, when in 1891, three men – the diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, newspaper editor William T Stead and aristocrat Lord Esher (Reginald Brett), a confidant to Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII and George V, met to discuss and form a plan to extend British rule throughout the world and reclaim the United States as an integral part of the British empire.

The plan which also involves the formation of a secret society, complete with an inner circle privy to esoteric knowledge and an outer circle of helpers who will be allowed to know only what is necessary for them to be of value, sounds completely outlandish but as the documentary outlines, it is carried out very cleverly and progressively, spanning two decades, co-opting Russia and France as allies against Germany, Britain’s main political, military and economic rival, and with the collusion of the British press. Firstly, the funding of the plan is secured by the British waging war against the Boers in southern Africa that results in the separate colonies and republics in that region becoming one unit (South Africa) under British control, and the gold wealth of that unit coming under the control of the British South Africa Company. The Boer War was incredibly brutal, with over 66,000 civilian casualties of whom 26,000 were Boer women and children who died in concentration camps along with another 20,000+ black Africans out of some 115,000 also interred in concentration camps. Secondly, British news propaganda increasingly paints Germany as a hostile and malevolent enemy seeking to stir up trouble in different parts of the world, even in areas where the British are the actual trouble-makers. Third, the British assist Japan against Russia when war breaks out between those two powers in 1905 by denying the use of the Suez Canal to the Russian naval fleet and forcing it to travel around Africa and through the Indian Ocean up towards Japan; Japan was able to crush an exhausted Russian fleet. In this way, Japan becomes a valuable ally to the British in the Far East.

The documentary presents its case well, that a Deep State formed within the British political establishment in the later 19th century and schemed to create conflicts, even wars, to achieve its goal of isolating Germany and targeting that nation for war. The voice-over narrative is delivered at a fairly leisurely pace and interviews with historians back up the documentary’s premise. Archival film footage, photographs and maps of the period help to delineate the world in which European imperial powers dominated all continents.

I would add only that the British desire to put the United States into its proper place as a colony within its empire preceded the machinations of Cecil Rhodes and his fellow conspirators; the British are known to have assisted the Confederate States of America during the US Civil War (1861 – 1865) to ensure the break-up of the US into two weak states that could easily be dominated by a foreign power.

Though the events covered by the documentary occurred over 100 years ago, they are worth viewing as the strategy used by the British to demonise Germany is much the same as the current British-American strategy to demonise and isolate Russia. Again, the English-language news media is being used to suppress truth and to incite public hostility against Russia and its allies in Asia and the Middle East.

Why ‘Wonder Woman’ is Banned in Lebanon: taking a stand against propaganda that denies history and exalts violence and brutality

Nora Barrows-Friedman, “Why ‘Wonder Woman’ is Banned in Lebanon” (Electronic Intifada, 8 June 2017)

With every passing year, the commercial movie industry in the United States, popularly known as Hollywood, reveals itself more and more as the propaganda arm of US foreign policy, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the spate of superhero movies, based on characters in comics published by DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The Batman / Dark Knight trilogy of films directed by Christopher Nolan insinuates that in order for good to triumph over evil, good must stoop to the level of evil (including the killing of innocents as “collateral damage”) and promotes the cynical notion that societies can only function if their citizens are persuaded to believe lies – because knowing the truth would inevitably lead to chaos. These and other superhero films fetishise technology and violence, in the process disdaining character development and sticking to stereotyped plots and narratives that reject diplomacy, compromise and co-operation between opposed forces, preferring instead to solve problems with overwhelming force.

In this context, the casting of a former Israeli soldier, who participated in Israel’s war against Lebanon in 2006, and who supported and praised the Israeli Defense Forces in their pounding of Gaza in mid-2014, as the superhero Wonder Woman in a film of the same name in 2017 takes Hollywood and the superhero movie genre to a new low. Hollywood’s use of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman represents a tacit acceptance of Israel’s ongoing war against the Palestinians and Lebanon. No wonder that Lebanon – admittedly after much prompting from its own activists – banned the screening of the Wonder Woman movie in its cinemas, in line with a law banning transactions that involve Israeli partners which “normalise” or implies acceptance of past Israeli actions or policies that oppress Palestinians and people living in territories neighbouring Israel.

In this interview hosted by Electronic Intifada, reporter Nora Barrows-Friedman speaks with academic and activist Rania Masri who explains why the ban on “Wonder Woman” is a boycott and not an example of censorship. Masri calls attention to the settler movement in Israel which continually encroaches on Palestinian lands and forcibly ejects Palestinians from them with approval and support from the Israeli government. She also reminds listeners that Israel also threatens people in the Shebaa Farms region in southern Lebanon bordering Israel, and people in Syria’s Golan Heights region. Masri then turns her fiery ire onto the English-language press which has deliberately misrepresented the Lebanese ban on “Wonder Woman” as censorship and left out the context surrounding the Lebanese decision.

Masri emphasises that the people now known as Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians were one before World War I and were separated when their lands were divided and claimed by Britain and France as colonies in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. It was as a result of this agreement that the Zionist movement in Palestine, enabled by the British who thought to use the Zionists as their sheriffs in the Middle East to keep watch over the Arab peoples, took deeper root especially after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, eventually giving rise to the founding of Israel in 1948 after the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by the Irgun terrorist gang in that year. How galling it would be for Lebanese audiences to watch a film in which the star is not only a former soldier and a proud patriot of a country that still seeks to destroy Lebanon, but is also a reminder of the forced separation of the Arabs in the Levant which deliberately weakened them and subjected them to a subservient role in their own lands.

Left out of Masri’s argument is other reasons why films like “Wonder Woman” are propaganda: they help promote the idea of the United States as an exceptional nation, as they espouse values and behaviours considered typically American, with the result that those who resist the US must want to destroy all that the US supposedly represents and defends; and they flatten history, especially recent history, and drain it of context so it has nothing to teach audiences or to encourage them to think about what they have seen. Masri could have included these reasons in her criticism but perhaps time did not permit and Barrows-Friedman had quite a list of questions to ask her.

Shoplifters: an intelligent low-key film that examines the nature of family and connection in a fragmented society

Hirokazu Kore-eda, “Shoplifters / Manbiki Kazoku” (2018)

In this slow realist drama about an impoverished family in Tokyo, surviving by its wits through a combination of low-paying jobs, living on an aged pensioner’s social security income and shoplifting, director Kore-eda explores a number of themes: the nature of family in modern Japanese society; the loss of connection between individuals and between individuals and community in an urban, technological society; and how people living on the margins of a society that spurns and ignores them come together to survive and find purpose and connection. Osamu Shibata (Franky Lily) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) live in a tiny shack in a Tokyo neighbourhood; Osamu is a labourer on construction sites and Nobuyo is a low-paid laundry employee. Grandma Hatsue Shibata (Kirin Kiki) lives with them too: she relies on her old age pension and a regular stipend from a couple, the husband of which is the son of her ex-husband and his second wife. Hatsue’s granddaughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), a peepshow parlour worker, and 10-year old Shota (Kairi Jo) make up the family unit. When we first meet the family, Osamu and Shota sneak groceries into Shota’s backpack without paying for them and are on their way home when they come across a tiny 4-year-old girl, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), shivering outside her family home … in the middle of winter. Father and son take Yuri home where the women feed her and discover evidence of physical abuse on her scarred arms. In spite of their strained finances, the family accept Yuri as one of their own.

Over the next twelve months, Osamu is injured at work and is laid off; the laundry that employs Nobuyo falls on hard times and she is retrenched. Finances are further strained when Grandma dies. While all this is happening, Shota becomes jealous of the attention Yuri, renamed Rin, receives from the women. At the same time he is teaching Rin to shoplift food items and while she is an eager and ready learner, he is beginning to feel guilty about teaching the child how to break the law. Caught in a dilemma, he finds a way to resolve it but his action leads to dire consequences for Osamu, Nobuyo, Yuri / Rin and himself.

During the course of the film, viewers discover that the Shibata family has been cobbled together in much the same way that Osamu and Shota found Yuri / Rin: Shota himself is a foundling and even Grandma was originally a foundling, albeit at the other end of the age range from those usually abandoned and found by others. The make-up of the Shibata family unit and the way in which it came together says something about the fragmentation of Japanese society in which elderly people end up being shunted into nursing homes or aged care places where they may face bullying and abuse. Yuri / Rin finds unconditional love and affection among supposed “kidnappers” but in her original birth family she receives only cold indifference and neglect. Nobuyo has a dark past that involves the murder of a previous husband.

The film’s minimal and understated style, suggestive of a documentary, combined with the laid-back pace and the actors’ naturalistic performances, especially those of the child actors who carry much of the film on their slim shoulders, reveals subtle nuances and social realist criticism in the story that gently unfolds. Through the Shibatas’ interactions, we come to see how cold, unyielding and bureaucratic Japanese society has become. Children are pulled away from people who love and care for them and parked in orphanages or returned to situations where their lives are put in danger – simply because in the eyes of society or the law, this is the “right” thing to do. Director Kore-eda questions the ethics and values upheld by Japanese society and exposes them as hollow shells through a family of morally dubious characters who may have sound reasons for doing what they do to survive.

The issues raised in “Shoplifters” are dealt with intelligently with a minimum of fuss and sentiment but leave a huge impression on viewers. This film is essential viewing.

The Lobby (Episode 4: The Takedown): exposing a brazen suggestion to get rid of a politician

Clayton Swisher, “The Lobby (Episode 4: The Takedown)” (Al Jazeera, 2017)

In the last episode of Qatar TV station Al Jazeera’s series on Israeli infiltration of British politics and in particular the British Labour Party, Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter Robin is being urged by Shai Masot, senior political officer with the Israeli embassy to form a new activist lobby group called the Young Labour Friends of Israel. Viewers can assume, from information in previous episodes, that Masot will assist Robin financially and direct him to people who will advise Robin on what to do and on details of the pro-Israeli agenda the YLFI will be adopting – as long as Robin and the rest of the organisation he will be chairing stay mum on any connections the YLFI will have with the Israeli embassy. Indeed, Masot goes to considerable length to explain to Robin that he (Masot) cannot be seen to be linked to the new organisation in any way – because such a connection violates British law.

From here on, we hear no more of the YLFI or of Robin’s activities for or with that organisation but the episode picks up where Episode 3 left off in pursuing what happens to Jean Fitzpatrick after her unpleasant encounter with Joan Ryan who reports her to senior Labour Party officials for making “anti-Semitic” statements. Fitzpatrick is subjected to an investigation which eventually clears her name but not before causing her considerable distress.

The rest of Episode 4 focuses on Robin’s meetings with British public servant Maria Strizzolo and Shai Masot. Strizzolo, an aide to MP Robert Halfon, happily admits that the Israeli embassy tries to influence and direct British political culture by insinuating itself with party whips who keep order and discipline within their respective parties and alert MPs to attend parliamentary sessions when debating and voting on legislation is taking place. Robin also attends a meeting held by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israeli political lobby organisation in Washington DC, in London. AIPAC’s aim is to encourage and ensure that the UK’s policy on Israeli affairs matches that of the US. What is most alarming though is that at one of Robin’s meetings with Masot, Masot proposes setting up a front company to fight the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement and to “take down” British politicians known for supporting the rights of Palestinians. Masot mentions the name of one particular politician whom he would like to see gone.

That the Israeli embassy would employ people who not only seek to influence and direct British politics but also try to get rid of politicians and members of political parties is astonishingly brazen and makes Israel a major threat to British national security. When this episode aired in Britain, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn complained in an open letter to the Prime Minister and urged her to open an inquiry into the incident. The Israeli ambassador to the UK apologised for Masot’s remark. Masot himself resigned from the embassy and was recalled to Israel. Strizzolo also resigned from the UK civil service. That Theresa May’s government took no further action against Israeli embassy staff or Israel – yet is happy to throw out Russian embassy staff over a poisoning incident involving a Russian traitor spy and his innocent daughter for which it has no proof of Moscow’s culpability – demonstrates its stupidity and incompetence.

At this point, viewers learn nothing more about Robin or the group he was supposed to have set up. Being the final episode, “The Takedown” might reasonably be supposed to clear up most loose ends of what had been begun in earlier episodes. Googling for information on the Young Labour Friends of Israel, I found nothing so that particular abomination presumably stays stillborn.

The entire series has been informative, even if on a fairly superficial and somewhat confusing level. It does not claim to be the definitive summary of how Israel seeks to influence and mould British politics and political culture to its liking. Doubtless there may be other ways the Israeli government tries to inveigle its way into Westminster. At the very least, a scalp has been claimed – but this does not mean the Israelis will not be deterred from what they are doing.

The Lobby (Episode 3: An Anti-Semite Trope): how small-minded cult-like behaviour threatens democracy and citizens’ rights to free speech

Clayton Swisher, “The Lobby (Episode 3: An Anti-Semite Trope)” (Al Jazeera, 2017)

In this third episode of the four-part series focusing on the Israeli government’s infiltration of political parties and grassroots political movements in Britain, the emphasis shifts away from Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter Robin (who is posing as a pro-Israeli activist ingratiating himself with activists in the pro-Israeli lobby) and to UK Labour Party member Jean Fitzpatrick who is attending the UK Labour Party conference in Liverpool. She strikes up a conversation with people at a Labour Friends of Israel booth at the conference and asks two LFI representatives on how Israel will implement a two-state solution that will suit both Israel and the Palestinians. The representatives either avoid the question or spout tired old rubbish about how the security situation in Israel must improve before work can begin on the two-state solution or how Israel has the issue in hand and is proceeding slowly but steadily. No answer satisfies Fitzpatrick so she repeatedly presses the issue. At last one LFI booth representative (and British Labour Party politician) Joan Ryan cuts off Fitzpatrick and refuses to debate any more with her. Fitzpatrick drifts away and Ryan decides to report their exchange to LFI and other associated pro-Israeli flacks as “anti-Semitic”. One things leads to another and yet another, and it’s not long before Fitzpatrick discovers she is under investigation from her own party for supposedly “anti-Semitic” behaviour at an information stall at the Labour Party conference.

The way in which an argument (about whether the Israeli government is dragging its heels over developing a two-state solution that helps all parties involved in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians) is deliberately exaggerated and blown up into an insidious and ridiculous “anti-Semitic” rant would be deserving only of egg-throwing derision and scorn were it not real. The reactions of Ryan and her fellow pro-Israeli activists (including the Israeli embassy’s senior political officer Shai Masot) can only be described as stupid, deranged and cruel. Fitzpatrick had not expressed a personal opinion about Jewish people or individuals and her initial question had concerned only the Israeli government’s deliberate delay in carrying out the two-state solution. The fact that Ryan could exaggerate aspects of her exchange with Fitzpatrick, twist those aspects into a fairy-tale and then expect her fellow LFI members and others who support her to accept her lies uncritically and without demanding proof shows the depth of deranged idiocy and the narrow-minded and uninformed viewpoints of her intended audience. Ryan and her pals in LFI and other pro-Israel groups repeatedly turn over her exchange with Jean Fitzpatrick among themselves and in their own minds to the point where the reality and actual subject matter of that exchange disappear in their feverish imaginings, to be replaced by their own small-minded fantasies about how Jewish people are continually being harassed and hounded out of whichever communities they live in, in countries where by and large Jewish people and communities rarely suffer discrimination at present.

Robin attends and records other events at the conference but few have the fire of Fitzpatrick and Ryan’s debate. As usual the oily Shai Masot works his crowd by appearing to offer support or money, or bringing together people from different pro-Israeli organisations. In further interviews, Fitzpatrick expresses concern that her encounter with Ryan is endangering her party membership and her fear that other consequences that might threaten her personal affairs may also follow.

This episode demonstrates the real menace that Israeli penetration of political and grassroots activist organisations and movements poses to democracy (or whatever is left of it in Britain) and to ordinary Britons’ right to free speech. Distressingly, when Al Jazeera later asks Joan Ryan about her argument with Fitzpatrick, Ryan continues to assert that any form of “anti-Semitism”, which in her mind covers any criticism or opinion that suggests the Israeli government is less than squeaky-clean angelic in whatever it does, is unacceptable and she will continue to speak out against it at the risk of inviting other people’s judgements on her intelligence. Ryan’s behaviour and the way in which other pro-Israeli activists collude and encourage that behaviour, and exaggerate incidents, building them into something outrageous and entirely untrue, suggest a cult-like mind-set cut off from reality and reason.

An Act of Defiance: a hard-hitting, confrontational film about personal courage and the fight for justice

Jean van de Welde, “An Act of Defiance” (2017)

Quite a hard-hitting and confrontational film this historical drama on the incidents and trial that sent political activist Nelson Mandela to prison for nearly 30 years turns out to be, with a focus on the barrister who defended Mandela and his co-defendants in the trial and how his own life was turned upside-down as a result. In 1963, Mandela and his inner circle of black African and Jewish activists in the African National Congress are arrested at Lillesleaf Farm in Rivonia, in Johannesburg, on charges of conspiring to commit sabotage. Lawyer Bram Fischer (Peter Paul Muller) reluctantly agrees to defend Mandela and the other activists at their trial in spite of his own connections with the African National Congress through the outlawed South African Communist Party; indeed, some of the documents seized by police at Lillesleaf Farm are actually in his own handwriting. Mandela urges his co-defendants to plead not guilty to the charges of high treason, punishable by the death penalty, and appeals to them and their legal counsel to put the South African government on trial during their trial over the system of apartheid blanketing the country’s institutions that denies non-white people the same rights, privileges and freedoms as white people have.

As the trial progresses, Bram Fischer’s sympathies with the defendants are called into question, especially when the legal counsel for the prosecution reveals his link to Mandela’s inner circle, and Fischer and his family are subjected to harassment by the police. While his wife Molly and their children support Fischer and his desire to see justice done – incidentally only two of Fischer’s three children are portrayed in the film – the Rivonia trial has a huge impact on all their lives, even after cross-examination ends, the judge delivers the verdict and the sentence, and Mandela and his fellow co-defendants are forced to return to prison; over the next few years, strange incidents suggestive of continuing government and police harassment occur in the family’s lives which result in tragedy and Fischer’s own arrest, trial, sentencing and imprisonment.

The tone of the film is very sober yet matter-of-fact. Initially it is slow and little of note happens until the trial begins. Then the pace and the tension are relentless as the trial grinds away, wearing down Fischer and his legal team. Relief at the verdict when it comes, is but very short-lived as the film details the consequences of Fischer’s involvement in the Rivonia Trial on him, Molly and other members of his family. The acting is good and consistent if fairly minimal.

While highlighting the role that members of the South African Jewish community played in fighting apartheid alongside Mandela and other black Africans, the film does little to show the support non-white people might have demonstrated for Fischer and the hostility he and his family might have faced from their own Afrikaner community. Divisions among the whites in their attitudes toward the Rivonia Trial and its participants could also have been shown. Ironically, for all the emphasis the film places on how South African Jewish individuals worked with black people to fight apartheid, most black characters in the film are basically passive bystanders. Without the overall political context that was South Africa in the early 1960s, viewers outside the country who have little knowledge of its history before the 1990s will not be able to appreciate the depth of hatred and enmity against Bram Fischer for defending Mandela and the activists from the government and its institutions, the huge risks he took in doing so and the sacrifices he was forced to make later. The film highlights how the search for justice and the advancement of society demand considerable personal courage from individuals who, all too often, end up being persecuted and suffer great personal tragedy.