Racist Alliance: Behind the scenes of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and Pluto Press

Richard Millett’s recent post on the subject of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s (RToP) book launch held at Amnesty International’s London premises (where else?) provides a good opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of such an event and to examine the connections of some of the various players and the manner in which some anti-Israel activists attempt to co-opt legitimacy to their campaign by intellectualising it.

The book in question is entitled ‘Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation’ and is based upon the ‘evidence’ presented at the RToP session in London last year. Its editors are Asa Winstanley and Frank Barat and it is published by Pluto Press.

Asa Winstanley is heavily involved with the International Solidarity Movement and spent time in the PA controlled territories working on its behalf.

“The ISM training was yesterday and today. We had about eight new recruits, so it was a pretty good weekend session. At the end of today, we were planning how to spread ourselves around the regions that ISM covers and it was a really good vibe. We have some good activists here now and I am feeling more confident about the state of ISM. The majority of us here now are British, I think.”

Winstanley’s ISM links appear to have continued after his return to the UK and he has been involved in recruiting volunteers and fundraising for the organisation.  He apparently considers his stint with the ISM to have turned him into a Middle East expert, and writes for a variety of outlets including ‘Electronic Intifada’ and ‘Ceasefire’. Winstanley’s level of ‘expertise’ on Israel can be appreciated in the following passage.

“When I lived in Palestine, on the few times I had to travel to Tel Aviv from the West Bank (via Jerusalem,) walking around the public bus stations I was struck by the sheer number of armed, uniformed soldiers who used the public bus system. Anyone who has used buses in Israel for any length of time will tell you they often have more soldiers than civilians on them.

The phenomenon is so widespread that it can only be a deliberate policy. Does some $3 billion a year in military aid from the US government not provide it with enough funding for its own troop transportation? So Israel not only uses Palestinians as human shields, but it even “hides” its soldiers amongst its own civilian population – exactly what Israeli spokespeople accuses Hamas of. Talk about projection.”

Recently Winstanley has invested much in defending the case of Northern Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah who was arrested earlier this year in the UK. (The Tribunal decision is here.)  Here he is being interviewed on the subject by Dr Hanan Chehata (also press officer for Daoud Abdullah’s MEMO) on the Muslim Brotherhood-linked ‘Al Hiwar’ TV channel which was established in 2006 by Azzam Tamimi.


With lies and distortions in practically every sentence, not to mention the liberal sprinklings of ‘Israel lobby’ conspiracy theory and false accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ against the CST and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, it is easy to appreciate why Winstanley is such a hit in anti-Israel circles. Particularly interesting is his declaration that the new book he co-edited is designed to be a ‘handbook’ for those engaging in BDS.

The book’s other editor is the currently UK domiciled French activist Frank Barat who is also the co-ordinator for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Barat is also a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the UK branch of ICHAD.

In January 2010 Barat spoke as RToP representative at one of the Palestine Memorial Week events which the RToP now organizes annually together with the Palestinian Return Centre, the Palestinian Forum in the UK, the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, the Islamic Forum of Europe, FOSIS, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, among others.

The majority of these organisations have direct links to Hamas – a proscribed terror organization in the UK – and the Muslim Brotherhood.  The events are endorsed by the PSC, Friends of Al Aqsa, the ISM, the Free Palestine Movement (organizer of flotillas) and Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.

Barat is also busy on the lecture circuit: here he is for example appearing alongside a Guardian reporter at a Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association event, and here, alongside Ghada Karmi and Jody McIntyre, explaining why he is an ‘activist’.


Barat also appears to have links to the ISM and in addition writes for a number of outlets including Al Jazeera, ‘Electronic Intifada’, the Palestine Chronicle and others. Here is his report for Ma’an from the recent RToP session in South Africa, written together with Al Shabaka’s Victor Kattan who was reporting from the event on Twitter.

Barat also runs his own blog where he links to, among other extremists, Gilad Atzmon, whose antisemitic resume includes leveling the explicit charge, on his blog, that Jews are indeed trying to take over the world.

Barat is also the editor of a book by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe.  

Here is Barat’s distinctly incomplete account of the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma.

“Jawaher probably chanted “la la el jidar” (no, no, to the wall) and walked, side by side with others, towards the Apartheid Wall and the line of soldiers, waiting on top of the hill. She then probably run away when the first tear gas were fired, regrouped, and walked back towards the wall again.

……Or maybe she did not. Not this time.

She inhaled a huge quantity of this most poisonous substance and was taken to a Ramallah hospital. She never recovered. She died. The Holy Land is not the land of miracles.”

Both Winstanley and Barat are obviously wedded more to the ‘narrative’ which promotes their careers as ‘activists’ than to the kind of objectivity and adherence to fact one would expect from the editors of books or serious publications.  One must therefore ask why a publishing house would select them for that role and the answer to that question is probably best found in an understanding of the ideologies adhered to by founder and publisher of Pluto Press, Roger van Zwanberg.

Many of the authors on Pluto’s authors list are household names to those familiar with the anti-Israel scene:  Alastair Crooke of Conflicts Forum, Sarah Irving, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Uri Gordon of ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’ and Ted Honderich – who published at letter at the Guardian morally justifying suicide bombing against Israeli civilians – to name but a few.  

Pluto Press’ radical agenda is, however, not entirely limited to the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 2005, for example, it published a book (preface can be read here) entitled ‘Conjuring Hitler; How Britain and America made the Third Reich’ which, according to reviews, leans on the works of Holocaust Denier David Irving among others.

The publishing house also has its own Youtube channel, organizes events at universities and other venues and dedicates a page on its site to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

Roger van Zwanenberg

In addition to his activities at Pluto Press, Roger van Zwanenberg was also a trustee of the apparently now defunct ‘Gateway Trust’  (also known as the ‘Van Zwanenberg Charitable  Trust’) which included Naomi Klein and former Guardian employee Victoria Brittain among its group of  ‘international advisors’ and which was supported financially by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, UNESCO and Pluto Press.

He has also been a member of the advisory board of ‘Just Media’ (founded by the Palestine Chronicle’s Ramzy Baroud – also a Pluto Press author) along with Ilan Pappe, Noam Chomsky and John Pilger.

Here is Pluto Press described in its founder’s own words:

“Our niche, our rationale and our advantage in the marketing place of the world, is that we tackle the great issues of our day… the grandeur of Imperialism, war and peace locally and globally, the tyranny of oppression, and the domination of one people by another…. the great issues as seen through socialist writers (sic) eyes.”

Van Zwanenberg describes himself as a Marxist born into “a Christian family with deep Jewish roots; all my first cousins were and are deeply Jewish.”  That fact is, apparently, sufficient grounds for pulling the ‘asaJew‘ card when deemed an advantage. Here  van Zwanenberg has signed a 2008 ‘Jewish opposition statement to attack on Iran’ organized by ‘Jews against Zionism’. He is also a member of ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’.

In a 2006 article entitled “Jewish people of Israel re-enact the horrors of their German oppressors” (written as a response to the IDF’s attempt to locate and rescue the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit), van Zwanenberg wrote the following:

Israel and its people are now behaving with impunity, just like the State of Germany did in prosecuting the final solution. We are schooled in the belief that we must say “never again!” to such barbarity. But Israel knows that all the surrounding states are too weak to intervene. As we watch with horror the invasion of Gaza, we all feel our helplessness. All the fine words, how the horrors of the Holocaust must always be remembered, are quickly forgotten by the world’s governments as the Jewish people of Israel re-enact the horrors of their German oppressors—the horrors that their mothers and fathers underwent 60 or more years ago.

Just as Nazi Germany could not survive for long, so too, a brutal Israel, brutalizing her own and all the surrounding people, cannot survive for long. As things stand, I cannot see how that demise will come about. But the acts of evil we are now witnessing cannot last without having deep and lasting effects on all of us.” [emphasis mine]

In 2008 van Zwanenberg lent his name to a campaign for the reinstatement of a German academic, Ludwig Watzal, removed from his tenure at an official periodical after making a series of anti-Semitic remarks. Coincidentally or not, Watzal had produced a glowing review of one of Pluto Press’ publications the previous year.

Van Zwanenberg appears to consider himself proficient in understanding what he terms “so-called Terrorism”, supports BDS and is an ardent promoter of ‘anti-Imperialism’:

“Western and Eastern interests are everywhere, shipping into and out of the Suez Canal; the struggle to own or control mineral resources; but above all, the fear of “Political Islam”. The Western powers fear of political Islam is a dominant force driving the US to war throughout the region. Some will argue, as I would, that this is thoroughly misunderstood. But the hatred of all things Islamic is a mantra which is everywhere in Western media. The ruling and political classes use this fear to drive their own “War against Terrorism”.”

In 2007, following the controversy over an American publisher’s distribution of the Pluto Press book “Overcoming Zionism”, van Zwanenberg said that:

“Many presses in the United States are frightened of the pressures that the lobby can place on them,” van Zwanenberg said. “We get authors from the United States, precisely because they can’t obtain adequate representation elsewhere, and we have a good reputation for scholarly work on the subject of Israel and Palestine, and we probably have the best collections of any university press in that area.”

“Van Zwanenberg added that the attempts by “the Israel lobby” to cut off Pluto’s American distribution channel were an attack on free expression. “The lobby is very powerful and very well-financed, and small presses like us could be destroyed by these people,” van Zwanenberg said. “They are a threat to our existence and to free speech.” “

Of course in reality no-one is threatening van Zwanenberg’s free speech or the existence of his business, but free speech is a two-way street.

Members of the public have the right (and perhaps the obligation) to be aware of the extremist ideologies which motivate the publication of the type of quasi-academic work produced by publishers such as Pluto Press, particularly when it comes as a result of collaboration with a ‘tribunal’ which misleadingly affords itself quasi-legal status  and faux ‘human rights’ activists such as Winstanley and Barat with links to terror-enabling organisations.

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