Those Who Dare to Criticize - 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 USA. She has
made a big mistake. She dared to criticize Israel. She
suggested - horror of horrors - that "the root cause of the
Arab-Israeli conflict is the occupation". Now whoa there a
moment, Mary! "Occupation"? Isn't that a little bit anti-
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
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-cat's whimper. You were "very hurt and
dismayed". It is, you told The Irish Times, "distressing
that allegations are being made that are completely
You should have threatened your accusers with legal action.
When I warn those who claim in their vicious postcards that
my mother was Eichmann's daughter that they will receive a
solicitor's letter-- Peggy Fisk was in the RAF in the Second
World War, but no matter-- they 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
Dismayed. Ah, Mary, you poor diddums.
I tried to check the spelling of "diddums" in Webster's,
America's inspiring, foremost dictionary. No luck. But then,
what's the point when Webster's 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 suggest--or, indeed, if poor wee
Mary suggests--that 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
Webster's 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 don't make judgment calls;
we're not political." Even more hysterically funny and
revolting, he says that the dictionary's editors tabulate
"citational evidence" about anti- Semitism published in
"carefully written prose-like books and magazines". Prepost-
erous 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 Israel's Middle
East policy off the air.
And I mean "off the air". I've 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 conflict"--in reality a film
about Israel's public relations outfits in America--has 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
community"-- otherwise, of course, unidentified-suggesting
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 ended--and here I urge you to learn the weasel
words of power-- that "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 I'm afraid we'll 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 Webster's? Or at
least in the Oxford?
Fear not, Ms Longhenry's boss overrode her pusillanimous
letter. For the moment, at least.
But where does this end? Last Sunday, I was invited to talk
on Irish television's TV3 lunchtime program on Iraq and
President Bush's support for Sharon's new wall on the West
Bank. Towards the end of the program, Tom Cooney, a law
lecturer at University College, Dublin, suddenly claimed
that I had called an Israeli army unit a "rabble" (absolutely
correct--they 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 immediately, and correctly
dissociated themselves from this libel. Again, I noted the
involvement of an eminent university-- UCD 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 TV3--in this slander. And of
course, I got the message. Shut up. Don't 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 massacre--9 April--on 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
Webster's dictionary would meretriciously brand its
supporters "anti- Semitic", and "many members of the Boston
community" would no doubt object. "Blood libel," UCD's
eminent law lecturer would scream. We must wait to hear
what UCD thinks. But let us not be "hurt" or "dismayed".
Let's just keep on telling it how it is. Isn't that what
American journalism school was meant to teach us?
Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent - 24 April 2004