A Warning to Those Who Dare to Criticize Israel in the Land of Free Speech
By Robert Fisk
Behold Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, would-be graduation commencement speaker at Emory University in the United States. She has made a big mistake. She dared to criticize Israel. She suggestedhorror of horrorsthat the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the occupation. Now, whoa there a moment, Mary! Occupation? Isnt that a little bit anti-Israeli?
Are you really suggesting that the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel, its use of extra-judicial executions against Palestinian gunmen, the Israeli gunning down of schoolboy stone-throwers, the wholesale theft of Arab land to build homes for Jews, is in some way wrong?
Maybe I misheard you. Sure I did. Because your response to these scurrilous libels, to these slurs upon your right to free speech, to these slanderous attacks on your integrity, was a pussy-cats whimper. You were very hurt and dismayed. It is, you told The Irish Times, distressing that allegations are being made that are completely unfounded.
You should have threatened your accusers with legal action. When I warn those who claim in their vicious postcards that my mother was Eichmanns daughter that they will receive a solicitors letterPeggy Fisk was in the RAF in the Second World War, but no matterthey fall silent at once.
But no, you are hurt. You are dismayed. And you allow Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory University to announce that he is troubled by the apparent absence of due diligence on the part of decision makers who invited her [Mary Robinson] to speak. I love the due diligence bit. But seriously, how can you allow this twisted version of your integrity to go unpunished?
Dismayed. Ah, Mary, you poor diddums.
I tried to check the spelling of diddums in Websters, Americas inspiring, foremost dictionary. No luck. But then, whats the point when Websters Third New International Dictionary defines anti-Semitism as opposition to Zionism: sympathy with opponents of the state of Israel.
Come again? If you or I suggestor, indeed, if poor wee Mary suggeststhat the Palestinians are getting a raw deal under Israeli occupation, then we are anti-Semitic. It is only fair, of course, to quote the pitiful response of the Websters official publicist, Mr. Arthur Bicknell, who was asked to account for this grotesque definition.
Our job, he responded, is to accurately reflect English as it is actually being used. We dont make judgment calls; were not political. Even more hysterically funny and revolting, he says that the dictionarys editors tabulate citational evidence about anti-Semitism published in carefully written prose-like books and magazines. Preposterous as it is, this Janus-like remark is worthy of the hollowest of laughs.
Even the Malaprops of American English are now on their knees to those who will censor critics of Israels Middle East policy off the air.
And I mean off the air. Ive just received a justifiably outraged note from Bathsheba Ratskoff, a producer and editor at the American Media Education Foundation (MEF), who says that their new documentary on the shutting-down of debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflictin reality a film about Israels public relations outfits in Americahas been targeted by the Jewish Action (sic) Task Force. The movie Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land was to be shown at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
So what happened? The JAT demanded an apology to the Jewish community and a pledge (for) greater sensitivity (sic) when tackling Israel and the Middle East conflict in the future. JAT members may want to consider threatening to cancel their memberships and to withhold contributions.
In due course, a certain Susan Longhenry of the Museum of Fine Arts wrote a creepy letter to Sut Jhally of the MEF, referring to the concerns of many members of the Boston communityotherwise, of course, unidentifiedsuggesting a rescheduled screening (because the original screening would have fallen on the Jewish Sabbath) and a discussion that would have allowed critics to condemn the film. The letter endedand here I urge you to learn the weasel words of powerthat we have gone to great lengths to avoid canceling altogether screenings of this film; however, if you are not able to support the revised approach, then Im afraid well have no choice but to do just that.
Does Ms. Longhenry want to be a mouse? Or does she want to have the verb to longhenry appear in Websters? Or at least in the Oxford? Fear not, Ms. Longhenrys boss overrode her pusillanimous letter. For the moment, at least.
But where does this end? Last Sunday [May 23], I was invited to talk on Irish televisions TV3 lunchtime program on Iraq and President Bushs support for Sharons new wall on the West Bank. Towards the end of the program, Tom Cooney, a law lecturer at University College, Dublin [UCD], suddenly claimed that I had called an Israeli army unit a rabble (absolutely correctthey are) and that I reported they had committed a massacre in Jenin in 2002.
I did not say they committed a massacre. But I should have. A subsequent investigation showed that Israeli troops had knowingly shot down innocent civilians, killed a female nurse and driven a vehicle over a paraplegic in a wheelchair. Blood libel! Cooney screamed. TV3 immediatelyand correctlydissociated themselves from this libel. Again, I noted the involvement of an eminent universityUCD is one of the finest academic institutions in Ireland and I can only hope that Cooney exercises a greater academic discipline with his young students than he did on TV3in this slander. And of course, I got the message. Shut up. Dont criticize Israel.
So let me end on a positive note. Just as Bathsheba is a Jewish American, British Jews are also prominent in an organization called Deir Yassin Remembered, which commemorates the massacre of Arab Palestinians by Jewish militiamen outside Jerusalem in 1948. This year, they remembered the Arab victims of that massacre9 Aprilon the same day that Christians commemorated Good Friday.
The day also marked the fourth day of the eight-day Jewish Passover. It also fell on the anniversary of the 1945 execution by the Nazis of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer at Flossenburg concentration camp. Jewish liberation 3,000 years ago, the death of a Palestinian Jew 2,000 years ago, the death of a German Christian 59 years ago and the massacre of more than 100 Palestinian men, women and children 56 years ago. Alas, Deir Yassin Remembered does not receive the publicity it merits. Websters dictionary would meretriciously brand its supporters anti-Semitic, and many members of the Boston community would no doubt object. Blood libel, UCDs eminent law lecturer would scream. We must wait to hear what UCD thinks. But let us not be hurt or dismayed. Lets just keep on telling it how it is. Isnt that what American journalism school was meant to teach us?
Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation.
CounterPunch, April 24/25, 2004