A guest post by ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Charlie Skelton, replying to CiF Watch criticism

A guest post by Charlie Skelton

[Editor’s Note: We were contacted by Charlie Skelton, shortly after I published a critique of his ‘Comment is Free’ essay, asking for the right to reply. In the spirit of free comment, I agreed. – A.L.]

On July 12, CiFWatch published a piece: “A Guardian-Baathist Alliance? Syrian gov’t uses CiF essay for pro-regime propaganda“. The subject of the piece: an article I’d recently written for the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website.

My article talked, quite longwindedly, about the relationships between certain senior Syrian opposition spokespeople and various Washington and London policy bodies and advocates of western intervention.

My article set alarm bells ringing at CiFWatch HQ:

“Who are these shadowy forces pulling the strings of Syrian opposition? Do we really even need to ask?” 

This is about where I started blinking in disbelief at the CiFWatch piece, which continues:

“So, who are those evil neocons? Skelton names one in particular, with a predictable ethnic background.” 

Step forward, Michael Weiss, whom I described as “the American journalist and Daily Telegraph blogger”. I only discovered his “predictable ethnic background” while reading the CiFWatch critique.

These words from my article are quoted:

Michael Weiss echoes Ambassador Ross when he says: “Military intervention in Syria isn’t so much a matter of preference as an inevitability.” 

And underneath, CiF Watch commented:

Two Jews? Go figure. 

Go figure? 

Go figure what exactly? Is Ambassador Ross Jewish? I suppose he must be. Gun to my head, I’d have guessed Scottish roots. But what an unpleasant insinuation – that I’m somehow picking out Jews for special scorn. This is so bizarrely off the mark, and such a serious accusation, that I have to spell out in detail what I was actually doing.

Ambassador Dennis Ross had been an ethnically undefined blip on my radar after I found his name on a press release for a 2008 meeting, in Washington, called ‘Syria In-Transition’. But the only reason I quoted from a USA Today op-ed by Ambassador Ross is the fact that it showed a relevant establishment insider making a point that followed on neatly from (non-Jew?) William Hague’s quote about the “legitimacy” of the Syrian National Council. Ross talked about creating the “aura of inevitability” around the transition of power to the SNC, and I noticed the same word – “inevitability” – in a piece by Michael Weiss. What they have in common isn’t Jewishness. It’s that they’re both talking about “inevitability”.

“Two Jews. Go figure.”

No. I will not “go figure” anything – I didn’t know either man is Jewish, but so what if I had been aware? I quote Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld all the time – is that ok? Two Jews. Go figure.

I spend a bit of time talking about Weiss, it’s true – but reasonably so: for one thing, he’s written a HJS briefing paper that turned up (in edited form) as a military strategy resource on the official SNC website. And he co-wrote another HJS Strategic Briefing with “pro-democracy activist” Hamza Fakher (Syrian, probably not Jewish). And he writes about the region for ‘NOW Lebanon’, which, as I say, was set up by Eli Khoury (Lebanese).

Let’s be clear, I’m no fan of Weiss; in my eyes, he’s a craven hawkish c-word who stands for plenty of things I despise. I dislike him and his work, but not for his Jewishness. Michael Weiss is a Jew that I grew to dislike without knowing that he’s a Jew. Does this make me a crypto-anti-semite? No, it just makes me a Weiss-disliker. Does his Jewishness (known or unknown) mean I can’t criticize his relentless war-drumming? Can I not call him ‘interventionist’ without implying something more than that?

CiFWatch then picks me up on my cherry-picked list of the Henry Jackson Society’s International Patrons (one short paragraph, practically an aside, in a 5,000 word article):

The Henry Jackson Society’s international patrons include: James “ex-CIA boss” Woolsey, Michael “homeland security” Chertoff, William “PNAC” Kristol, Robert “PNAC” Kagan’, Joshua “Bomb Iran” Muravchick, and Richard “Prince of Darkness” Perle. 

CiFWatch is outraged: “Oh my! There are more Jewish names in the mix.”

Are there…? Which ones? If I had to guess, I’d say Woosley isn’t. Kristol? Somewhere in my head he’s an old-money Waspish type. I think Kagan might well be Jewish. (I’ve come across Kagan before, saying stupid things about the Bilderberg conference. Which is me calling him stupid, not a stupid Jew). Muravchick? I’ll say Jewish, for twenty points. Richard Perle? No idea. He’s the Prince of Darkness – which means he’s a fallen angel, which I think puts him above such distinctions as ethnicity.

The point is: I went through the list of International Patrons of the HJS, picking out the most overtly hawkish (“Bomb Iran” etc.) and senior members of bodies I have no great love of (the CIA, PNAC, Homeland Security) – and Richard Perle because I knew him from Bilderberg. And Michael Chertoff because I thoroughly dislike him.

I really properly dislike Michael “bodyscanner” Chertoff. Is he Jewish? He might be. I wouldn’t dislike him any more or less if he is. You know what – I’m not even going to look it up. I’m going to go on resenting his nasty shark-eyed face in glorious ignorance of his ethnicity. Sharkish is what I see him as. Corrupt. Not Jewish, or non-Jewish. Just horrible.

But for heaven’s sake, Chertoff only gets a single name check in my piece. I go on for reams about Ausama Monajed (Syrian) who seems like a ghastly individual. The CiFWatch critique suggests, I think falsely, that the Jewish people I mention are central to the argument of my article. They really aren’t. Michael Weiss features at some length in the latter part, but he’s by no means the focus of the piece – but so what if he was? He’s constantly banging on about western intervention in Syria, I banged on about him for a few paragraphs. Seems only fair.

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