Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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The Anguish of Watching Media Coverage of this Unfolding Disaster
Last uploaded : Thursday 18th Apr 2002 at 02:27
Contributed by : The Editor


(To read another article that deals with these issues please go to the website of 'The Jerusalem Post' (see our Links page) and read the 19 April 2002 feature by Bret Stephens.)
Reading GAMLA’s heartbreaking potted biographies of the Israelis killed in terror attacks since September 2000 (lest the world forget that the ‘new Intifadah’ started not with Sharon's walk on the Temple Mount but with the unprovoked killing of an Israeli soldier by a Palestinian border guard) provides a focus for one’s anguish of the past few weeks.

One victim of the Netanya Passover Seder Massacre suicide bombing was wearing a locket containing a picture of the son she lost in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. How can one convey to the world’s media, overwhelmingly populated by non-Jews, the deep pain every Jew feels when one of our brethren is cut down by violence? On these pages we have welcomed the views of a variety of contributors: Rabbi John Rayner has today, in our pages, admonished the internationally eminent music critic Norman Lebrecht for generating the ‘we are victims’ scenario that Rabbi Rayner feels Jews are prone to perpetuate.

In the past fortnight, I have read countless reams of newsprint by non-Jewish reporters and watched, well into the wee hours, daily coverage by non-Jewish anchors and correspondents, all focussing on the situation in Israel. Despicable, Goebbels-like pieces by the likes of Tom McGurk in the Business Post of Ireland (he asserts that Jews have no right to claim the Holocaust as an excuse to defend themselves in Israel) have taken prominence alongside the usual diatribes by the British novelist AN Wilson, who simply loathes Israel and ought to just ‘out himself’ as a tried and true Jew-hater. It occurred to me lastnight, after hearing the words ‘here in the place of Christ’s birth’ for the thousandth time how the reporting would be if Israel forbade anyone but Jews from reporting its wars.

How many Jews are reporting from Iraq, Iran, Libya or Syria? The one Jewish reporter who ventured into Jew-free Pakistan, Daniel Pearl, was hideously executed and beheaded, after being made to chant, ‘I am a Jew.’

In tonight’s ‘Evening Standard’ newspaper Philip Knightley writes an indignant piece about the rising number of complaints about the biased reporting of the BBC’s Orla Guerin and the oft-crazed Sam Kiley of the Standard. He defends their integrity.

What none of these non-Jewish journalists understand is that the collective Jewish experience, so recently observed by Jews worldwide in the 3,000-year-old tradition of the Passover Seder, is impossible for them to comprehend when they stomp into what they like to call ‘the Holy Land.’ This is not my feeling of ‘Jewish victimhood’ coming to the fore. Dr Margaret Brearley, the eminent British historian, recently gave a lecture in which she stressed that it is impossible for a Christian to begin to comprehend ethnic suffering because they simply do not require this knowledge to get through life. A Christian child will enjoy birthdays, outings, family celebrations and rites of passage with no stories of pogroms, genocides, torture, expulsions and Nazi ovens. As Dr Brearley pointed out, Christian children are not taught their own history; when she began to learn, in adulthood, about the crimes of Christianity – including the brutal, blood-curdling Crusades against Muslim and Jew – she was horrified enough to make it the focus of her life’s work.

As I have mentioned in other columns and in countless letters to the vitriolic editors of British newspapers and the BBC, Jewish children start hearing about unspeakable horrors perpetrated against their people as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the spoken word. I was transfixed by the stories of hideous pogroms described by my elderly aunt, who had survived these atrocities in the ‘old country’ to become a talented accounts executive in the New World. (How can the AN Wilsons or Orla Guerins of this world understand the collective soul of a people whose millions suffered such abject misery in the Russian Pale of Settlement, let alone in the Spanish Inquisition, the York and Norwich Massacres and the Hell of the Shoah?)

AN Wilson adds insult to injury by complaining this week that he ‘saw no Jews’ at the anti-Israel rally in London’s Trafalgar Square this past Saturday. Aside from the fact that
this poisonous man,. who passes as a cultured novelist and journalist, overlooks the fact that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, it is unlikely that even the most left-wing of Jews would wish to march with a 20,00-strong throng of angry Muslims and kefiyah-clad Christians. When this assemblage reached Nelson’s Column, they had a ceremonial shredding and burning of the Stars and Stripes and of the Israeli flag. They ran a Palestinian flag up the Column. It did not escape my observation that less than four days after the Queen mother’s dignified funeral and within the official week of Royal Mourning, the flag of the United States was defiled on the same streets along which the dowager sovereign’s cortege had passed. It disgusted me.

In today’s edition of Jewish World Review, Barbara Amiel writes a truly remarkable feature in which she suggests that the cards are stacked so hopelessly against Israel that the Jewish State may have to commit a Masada-style collective suicide that takes many of its neighbours with her to Paradise.

It may just be that in the past few days I have been feeling deep concern about the policies of the Sharon government. The signal that the erosion of my right-wing beliefs is justified has come from my friends in Israel, who until last week were staunchly behind their leader. They are now voicing shame and despair; one of my die-hard Likud acquaintances has said that even the Passover Massacre did not justify the actions in Jenin or the detention of Arafat. However, as a Jew I feel I have the right to criticise the Jewish State, created in the wake of the most obscene atrocity ever perpetrated by man. What the AN Wilsons and Orla Guerins do not have the right to do is take the side of the Palestinians without one iota of sympathy for the Jewish dead in this conflict, or to gush about a situation they simply do not have the ‘sechel’ to understand. The siege in Bethlehem is another dark spot in this war, but the constant, truly relentless patter in the Christian press about the Israeli ‘siege of the little town of Bethlehem’ sends chills down the spines of every Jew. Since the birth of Christianity we have suffered grievous violence around Easter, and the mural unveiled this month in Edinburgh depicting Israeli soldiers victimising a prostrate Christ is a frightening perpetuation of the ‘Christ-killer Jew’ libel.

Readers will note that mention has not been made in this article of Suzanne Goldenberg, Amira Hass, Alexei Sayle, Rabbi David J Goldberg and Gerald Kaufman MP, all of whom write about Israel and some of whom express fiercely censorious views of the Sharon regime. As letter writers to ‘The Evening Standard’ have vociferously stated this week – the volume of letters to that paper has been enormous in the aftermath of the emotive features by Sam Kiley, Norman Lebrecht, AN Wilson and Christopher Hudson – it is not what the journalists write, but the hysterical tone they take.

Unfortunately, this, in our estimation, can be reflected in Sam Kiley’s reports. He is not a commentator of the stature of Rabbi Goldberg, but a reporter. He devotes reams to the plight of ‘grandmothers’ in Jenin. He did not do this in Netanya. In what is supposed to be a mere report from the ground, he refers to ‘the brutality of Israel’s Zionism’ and observes that ‘for 54 years the massacre of Deir Yassin has sustained Palestinian fear and loathing.’ He refers to the United States as ‘reviled by much of the Arab world over its support for Israel’ and alleges that Israel is working to ‘keep the truth from the world. ‘ (Aren’t you there, Sam, because the Israeli Government Press Office has issued you with credentials and isn’t your flak jacket and helmet provided with Israeli and American funds?)

Kiley quotes a UN official as saying ‘I’ve never heard of a battle on this scale with so many dead casualties.’ The Israeli couple killed last month in a suicide bombing, who had just emerged from the pre-natal clinic having learned they were expecting twins had no chance to even fight a ‘battle’ – they and their two unborn children were blown to smithereens. Their story was never reported in Britain, and we have seven daily national newspapers.

It is never reported in the British press, in the context of the present crisis, that President Assad Senior massacred nearly 200,000 souls in Syria in one conflict, nor that most Muslim nations are now Judenrein, (Pakistan is now free of Jews) they having made life so miserable for their Jews that they had nowhere to go but Eretz Israel. Are these Jewish refugees, whose families could trace their histories back centuries in Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya, and Syria, to be offered their homes back any time soon?

AN Wilson goes into his usual ‘Irgun hanging British soldiers’ routine, about which he writes at least once a month. He uses this to suggest that our cousins, grandparents, sisters and other meshpuchah in Israel are all terrorists born of a nation that invented terror. (His assessment, not mine.) Fortunately his words inspired several letters from infuriated readers, but the legend of ‘Jews killing British servicemen’ is an emotive subject that sustains large sections of British society to this day and contributes, I believe, to the UK support for the anti-Israel lobby.

Amongst the most appalling of British vitriol has come this week from the Irish poet and Oxford University lecturer Tom Paulin, who in Al Ahram called for all Jewish settlers from the USA to be ‘shot dead’ and declaring his long-time belief that the State of Israel should never have been created. For years those of us who live in the UK have had to put up with his hatred of Israel, which is always manifested on his TV appearances with a terrifying venom, his eyes blazing even in the days when Israel was making peace. If this otherwsie gentle and thoughtful scholar wants Jews shot dead, how far are we from a new Shoah?

We learn from Norman Lebrecht that a group of British academics has organised a boycott of Israeli lecturers and visiting scholars. Rabbi Rayner has criticised Lebrecht for ringing the alarm bells of a creeping anti-Jewish putsch modelled after that of the universities in Nazi Germany. I applaud Norman Lebrecht. Is anyone banning scholars from Zimbabwe or did they stage loud, hate-filled demonstrations when not long ago Zimbabwe played England at Lord's whilst white farmers were being lynched?

Thankfully Christopher Hudson in ‘The Evening Standard’ emerges as a rare, lone voice in the non-Jewish press by denouncing Paulin and reminding the world that in some countries the poet would already be locked up. Or worse. Hudson observes that the apprehensions amongst Jews that anti-Semitism is on the rise ‘..are being more freely disseminated than at any time that I can remember.’ He is alarmed that a ‘stridency’ has entered the traditionally phlegmatic British debating fora, and fears that anti-Semites are using Sharon’s actions as an excuse to victimise Jews. (I have argued in another column that black churches around the globe are not being attacked, or black people being demonised in emotive reports by Orla Guerin because of the actions of Robert Mugabe.)

On tonight’s ‘CBS Evening News’ Dan Rather interviewed the sheikh who is chief of Hezbollah in Lebanon. This cleric declared that even if the Saudi peace plan is implemented and Israel finds peace amongst its Arab neighbours, Hezbollah will not accept the ‘Zionist entity’ unless all olim ‘go back to where they came from.’

The woman mentioned at the beginning of this article was one of those olim. Her son died when the Arabs violated the Jews’most sacred day, Yom Kippur and she died when a Palestinian violated the Seder.

I do not believe I am suffering ‘victim complex’ in this narrative. What the Christian reporters, be they the irritating, dead-ringer-for-a Storm-Trooper Michael Holmes of CNN or the petulant Jeremy Bowen of the BBC could never comprehend is the cumulative pain their fellow non-Jews have inflicted on the People of the Book over 2,000 years. Finally, after 2,000 years we have a tiny homeland where we cannot be penalised annual leave entitlement for taking the day off on Yom Kippur, or blasted by our neighbours for not attending a Residents’ Meeting called on a Saturday. These reporters, and columnists like AN Wilson (he declared in ‘The Evening Standard’ long before this conflict heated up that Israel has no right to exist) have no feeling for the Jewish dream nor do they care about our destiny.

If this eighteen months has taught me something salutary, it is that non-Jews have an instinctive abhorrence of Jews nurtured in an almost genetic fashion over 2,000 years. If this crisis ends and there is peace, I will not soon forget the hatred shown by the vast majority of non-Jewish journalists . If I ever find myself in Israel manning the Press Credentials Desk, many a familiar face will be at the receiving end of my not-so-charitable discretion.

To read Barbara Amiel's column go to:

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