[Richard Ingrams, The Observer, 13th July 2003]
I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it.
Too few people in this modern world are prepared to declare an interest when it comes to this kind of thing. It would be enormously helpful, for example, if those clerics and journalists who have been defending Canon Jeffrey John, the so-called gay bishop, were to tell us whether they themselves are gay. Some do, but more don't.
The issue arises partly because, in both cases, these people are often accusing the other side of being prejudiced and biased - we are either homophobes or anti-Semites.
The other day, for example, the Canadian journalist Barbara Amiel wrote a long denunciation of the BBC in the Daily Telegraph, accusing the Corporation of being anti-Israel in its Middle East coverage.
Many readers of the Daily Telegraph may have been impressed by her arguments, assuming her to be just another journalist or even, as she was recently described in another newspaper, an 'international-affairs commentator'.
They might have been less impressed if the paper had told them that Barbara Amiel is not only Jewish but that her husband's company, in which she has an interest, owns not only the Daily Telegraph but the Jerusalem Post .
In other words, when it comes to accusing people of bias on the Middle East, she is not ideally qualified for the role.
[Response on the Totally Jewish website]
by Jeremy Last - Jul 18
Communal leaders have demanded an apology from a national newspaper after it printed a column by a journalist who stated he refuses to read pro-Israel letters if the writer “has a Jewish name”.
Writing in last Sunday’s edition of the Observer, Richard Ingrams argued that Jewish people should declare “an interest” when writing to national newspapers in support of Israel.
He said: “I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it.”
Ingram’s comments drew stark criticism from communal leaders.
Flo Kaufmann, vice- president of the Board of Deputies said: “We are concerned that a journalist at the Observer chooses to discriminate against a letter writer because of a Jewish sounding name.
“A Jewish person’s support of Israel is just as valid as the support of someone with a non-Jewish sounding name. Does Richard Ingram discriminate against supporters of the Palestinians with Arabic sounding names? All forms of discrimination are unacceptable. We very much hope that no such discrimination appears on the pages of the Observer in the future.”
And Eric Moonman, president of the Zionist Federation said: “I think it is both frightening and offensive that a columnist in the Observer should give such a message to Jewish readers. I understand that a lively feature writer may set a debate going but it does not mean that such prejudice should be written and more importantly that the editor should publish it.
“I have asked for some form of retraction and unless we get an apology we will not hesitate to demonstrate outside the Observer offices.”
Defending the paper’s right to publish the column Observer editor Roger Alton told TJ: “Richard is a rumbustuous and controversial columnist who has well known views on the State of Israel. It is what columnists do – write things so people disagree with them. If I reacted every time Richard went a little bit too far I don’t think I would get any work done. I don’t want to go around upsetting people but within conventional boundaries people should have freedom of speech.”