From email@example.com Mon Mar 19 10:14:34 2001
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 23:49:52 -0600 (CST)
Organization: South Movement
From: Dave Muller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [southnews] Bullied into silence on Israel
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,
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
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
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
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.