- 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 criticise Israel. She suggested--horror
of horrors--that "the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the
occupation". Now whoah there a moment, Mary! "Occupation"?
Isn't 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 extrajudicial
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-cat's
whimper. You were "very hurt and dismayed". It is, you told The
Irish Times, "distressing that allegations are being made that are
- 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 go unpunished?
- 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
- "Our job," he responded, "is
to accurately reflect English as it is actually being used. We don't make
judgement 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". 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 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 cancelling 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 programme on
Iraq and President Bush's support for Sharon's new wall on the West Bank.
Towards the end of the programme, 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 criticise Israel.
- So let me end on a positive note. Just
as Bathsheba is a Jewish American, British Jews are also prominent in an
organisation 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 it merits.
- 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?
- Copyright: The Independent. UK.