The pro-Is­rael lobby? Mostly in Hari’s head

The In­de­pen­dent colum­nist says there is a con­certed cam­paign to smear pro-Pales­tinian ad­vo­cates

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS - ALEX BRUM­MER

ONE OF the great priv­i­leges of colum­nists is to ro­bustly ex­press your views. In­de­pen­dent writer Jo­hann Hari ex­er­cised this right in forth­right style in his ar­ti­cle mark­ing Is­rael’s 60th an­niver­sary. Among other things, he ac­cused West Bank set­tlers of dump­ing raw, un­treated sewage on Pales­tinian land and poi­son­ing the reser­voirs.

The lan­guage used by Hari was crude, even for a “right on” tyro writer, and pro­duced a sting­ing re­sponse from Is­rael’s de­fend­ers, in­clud­ing Me­lanie Phillips in her Spec­ta­tor blog.

Most colum­nists would have left the mat­ter there and moved on. But Hari, ev­i­dently, is not some­one who takes crit­i­cism lightly. In a sec­ond col­umn on May 8, he took aim at his chal­lengers. He charges that any­one who draws at­ten­tion to the plight of the Pales­tinian peo­ple is in­tim­i­dated in or­der to si­lence them. Among those cited are the me­dia mon­i­tor­ing groups Hon­est Re­port­ing and Cam­era, who he says re­gard him as “an anti-Jewish bigot”.

He goes on to bracket Pro­fes­sor Alan Der­showitz and Phillips as “the two most prom­i­nent fig­ures sent in to at­tack any­one who dis­agrees with the Is­raeli right”, as if th­ese two writ­ers — on op­po­site sides of the At­lantic — are act­ing in con­cert. Most bizarrely, per­haps, he ac­cuses the pro-Is­rael lobby of hound­ing the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Norman Finkel­stein from of­fice.

Hari makes no ref­er­ence to the fact that Finkel­stein has de­scribed Amer­i­can Jews as “par­a­sites” and calls Holo­caust sur­vivors “frauds and huck­sters” who have ex­ploited the Shoah for their own gains. Hari sug­gests Finkel­stein was re­moved from the fac­ulty at De Paul Univer­sity “sim­ply for speak­ing the truth”.

All of this proved too much for Hari’s fel­low In­de­pen­dent colum­nist, nov­el­ist Howard Ja­cob­son. In a ri­poste, he takes is­sue with the sug­ges­tion of a con­certed cam­paign to smear pro-Pales­tinian ad­vo­cates. He as­serts that writ­ers like Phillips and Der­showitz “do not hunt in packs”.

Ja­cob­son ar­gues that it is quite pos­si­ble for peo­ple to think the same way with­out be­ing part of an or­gan­ised group. In­deed, much of the pro-Is­rael email­ing which goes on is com­piled by in­di­vid­u­als with deeply held views. Th­ese are hon­estly held, much like Hari’s own on the Pales­tinian cause.

The main thrust of Ja­cob­son’s re­ply is that if Is­rael’s sup­port­ers in­tend to si­lence its crit­ics, they have not been very suc­cess­ful. As I noted last week, the re­vi­sion­ist his­tory of Is­rael’s ex­is­tence and the Nakba, the catas­tro­phe, has been given much cur­rency in the UK me­dia dur­ing the 60th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tions.

Ja­cob­son ar­gues: “What­ever the rights and the wrongs of the Is­raeli/ Pales­tinian con­flict, it can­not surely be ar­gued that the Pales­tinian cause is not heard.” He notes that Hari is demon­stra­bly not in­tim­i­dated. In much the same way as Hari finds the smear­ing of Is­rael’s crit­ics to be loath­some, so the Jewish state’s friends find the smear­ing of Is­rael ab­hor­rent.

Hari clearly feels very strongly about the so­cial and eco­nomic con­di­tion of the Pales­tini­ans, as read­ers of his body of work can tes­tify. What is harder to jus­tify is Hari’s use of dis­cred­ited fig­ures like the his­to­rian Ilan Pappe and the Holo­caust re­vi­sion­ist Norman Finkel­stein to jus­tify the po­si­tions he takes. Pappe, as Ja­cob­son notes, has been ques­tioned at ev­ery turn by fel­low his­to­ri­ans. Finkel­stein’s views have been tested in the High Court in Lon­don and found want­ing.

In this de­bate some credit must go to the In­de­pen­dent. It not only al­lowed Hari to em­bar­rass him­self in pub­lic, it also found the space for Ja­cob­son’s mus­cu­lar re­ply.

Alex Brum­mer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.