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From davemull@alphalink.com.au Mon Mar 19 10:14:34 2001
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 23:49:52 -0600 (CST)
Organization: South Movement
From: Dave Muller <davemull@alphalink.com.au>
Subject: [southnews] Bullied into silence on Israel
Article: 116976
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Bullied into silence on Israel: There is no freedom of speech for Conrad Black's commentators

By William Dalrymple, The Guardian, (London),
Friday 16 March 2002

There are few more uncomfortable places for a foreign correspondent to be posted than Israel. Opinions are so polarised that it is almost impossible to write a line on the conflict without outraging someone.

Since the second intifada exploded last October, as criticism of Israel has escalated and casualties mounted towards the 400 mark, this fact has been brought home especially to those who deal sympathetically with the plight of the Palestinians. All have found themselves deluged with complaints, which not infrequently include innuendoes - or outright accusations - of anti-semitism.

No one has been more ready to use this weapon than Conrad Black. Black is the proprietor of the Hollinger Group, whose British publications include the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs and the Spectator, and who also owns the Jerusalem Post. The different papers all reflect Black's notably rightwing brand of Zionism which tends to regard the Palestinians, like their leader Yasser Arafat (to quote from an article he wrote in the Post in 1993,) as vile and primitive.

As a result, uniquely among British papers, the foreign pages of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs have contained a notable absence of clear, critical reporting of Israel's deadly methods of suppressing Palestinian dissent. Their comment pages have been even more extreme.

Recent highlights have included Edward Luttwack, a former Israeli tank commander and friend of Black, writing to celebrate the election of Sharon whom he praised as a master of outwitting his opponents, and a raging bull who is really a matador - as if he were some sort of jolly sporting hero rather than the man who failed to stop the single most gruesome massacre in the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. Then there are the regular appearances of Black's wife, Barbara Amiel, who recently concluded a two-page spread in the Telegraph by comparing the Palestinians to animals.

It was against this background that a major row erupted three weeks ago when the Spectator columnist Taki (familiar to Guardian readers from his frequent appearances as a runaway waiter in Matthew Norman's diary) broke the unspoken ban on criticising Israel in a Black paper by writing a piece which Black described, in an emotional 3,000-word retort, as almost worthy of Goebbels.

Since then the Spectator letters page has been like a war zone, with Black flinging increasingly hysterical accusations at anyone who dissents from his views. Lord Gilmour, who had written to defend Taki, was accused of seeming like a common or garden Jew baiter. In a second letter in the same letters page, more than half of which was filled by Black himself, Piers Paul Read, AN Wilson, Charles Glass and I - all Spectator writers who had written to protest at the skewed coverage of Israel-Palestine in Black's papers - were denounced by Black as representative of the depths of the problem of anti-semitism in the British media.

In fact, while anti-Jewish writing is today more or less confined to a few neo-Nazi hate rags, straightforwardly racist depictions of the Arabs are still widespread and relatively acceptable: in the past few months we have had Congressional candidates calling the Palestinians lower than pond scum and a senior Israeli rabbi denouncing them as snakes and scorpions, quite apart from the epithets Black and his wife have thrown at them.

Yet for all its elements of farce, the tussle in the Spectator letters page has highlighted a serious issue. A press baron is an immensely powerful figure. With that power, however, comes responsibilities, and those responsibilities are abused when he makes it clear that certain areas are off-limits to legitimate enquiry, and that careers will suffer if those limits are crossed.

Black's propensity for bullying was starkly demonstrated when nearly half the journalists on the Jerusalem Post were sacked when they showed what he judged to be an unhealthy enthusiasm for Palestinian rights. Now, after Black has made the strength of his prejudices clear, is it really likely that any Telegraph journalist will ever again put his neck and career on the line and write frankly of the sufferings of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation? Or that his editors will have the courage to publish such articles?

By insinuating that those who criticise Israel are actually closet neo-Nazis, Black is effectively trying to suppress and muzzle justified criticism of a thoroughly brutal occupation, and to bully into submission any of his writers who disagree with him. In doing so he makes himself complicit in the continued enslavement of the Palestinian people, the on-going seizure of their land, and the systematic abuse of their human rights. To put himself in this position, while appearing to be speaking up against racism, seem to me to be beneath contempt.