- "The abuse being directed at anyone who dares to
criticise Israel is reaching McCarthyite proportions."
- In the Middle East jungle, a journalist has to expect
a few sticks and stones. A Bahrain newspaper cartoonist once depicted me
as a rabid dog (fit, of course, for extermination), and Cairo's most lickspittle
columnist called me "a crow pecking at the corpse of Egypt."
But the degree of abuse and outright threats now being directed at anyone
- academic, analyst, reporter - who dares to criticise Israel (or dares
to tell the truth about the Palestinian uprising) is fast reaching McCarthyite
- Take Edward Said, the brilliant Palestinian academic
who is a professor at Columbia University. He has been facing unprecedented
abuse from the Zionist Organisation of America, which last year demanded
that he be fired from the Modern Language Association and which now demands
on an almost daily basis his dismissal from his professorship at Columbia
- solely because he points out, with clinical ferocity and painful accuracy,
the historical tragedy of Palestinian dispossession, the brutality of Israel's
continued occupation and the bankruptcy of the Oslo "peace" agreement.
Columbia University has issued an unprecedented public defence of Said
and "the fundamental values of a great university", quoting John
Stuart Mill and adding that to give way to the Jewish lobby's demand would
be "a threat to us all and to academic freedom". Too true.
- Noam Chomsky - himself Jewish - is one of the most profound
philosophers of our age, but his scathing reviews of the Israeli occupation
and America's blind, unquestioning support for Israel now earn him ever
more ruthless abuse. In the United States, he wrote recently, a whole population
is kept in ignorance of the facts because "the economic and and military
programmes (of Israel) rely crucially on US support, which is domestically
unpopular and would be far more so if its purposes were known."
- Ignorance of the Middle East is now so firmly adhered
to in the US that only a few tiny newspapers report anything other than
Israel's point of view. You won't find Chomsky in The New York Times. It
was put very well by Charlie Reese in a recent issue of the Orlando Sentinel
- note the boondocks location - when he wrote that "Palestinians won't
get their independence until Americans get theirs". But the attempt
to force the media to obey Israel's rules is now international. We must
say that Israel is under siege by Palestinians (rather than occupying Palestinian
land), that Palestinians are responsible for the violence (even though
Palestinians are the principal victims), that Arafat turned down a good
deal at Camp David (though he was offered just over 60 per cent of his
land, not 94 per cent), and that Palestinians indulge in child sacrifice
(rather than question why the Israeli troops have shot so many Palestinian
- Israeli ambassadors and Israel's lobbyists have never
been such frequent visitors to European newspaper offices, to complain
about reports or reporters, sometimes in a quite disgraceful manner. The
Johannesburg Star - a sister paper of The Independent which carries my
own Middle East reports - was confronted by one pro-Israeli group this
year which claimed that I was in some way assisting the right-wing historian
David Irving - someone I have never met and never wish to meet. They subsequently
withdrew their allegation.
- Then an odd thing happened in Ireland - at a prize-giving
ceremony in memory of a Belfast journalist. Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador
in Dublin, had been invited to talk about reporting in conflict zones to
journalism students under the auspices of Co-operation Ireland, a charitable
movement dedicated to North-South relations. But at one point he chose
to use the opportunity to attack my own reporting of the Middle East, to
suggest that it should not be read or believed. Mr Sofer is, of course,
entitled to his views - but not to air his prejudices in a charitable forum
without allowing a right of reply. The charity has since announced that
it "totally dissociates itself" from the ambassador's remarks.
So it should.
- And yet it goes on. In South Africa, in Europe, in Australia
- I still treasure the five pages of abuse in an Australian lobby group's
magazine headlined "The Ignoble Scribe" and accusing me of a
"stupor of self-deception". Oddly, you can now learn more from
the Israeli press than the American media. The brutality of Israeli soldiers
is fully-covered in Ha'aretz, which also reports on the large number of
US negotiators who are Jewish.
- Four years ago, a former Israeli soldier described in
an Israeli newspaper how his men had looted a village in southern Lebanon;
when the piece was reprinted in The New York Times, the looting episode
was censored out of the text. So here's just one final question: If Arab
ambassadors and lobbyists behaved like their Israeli opposite numbers,
would we listen to them? Would we respect them? Would we run for cover
and print only one side of the story? Would we hell.
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