Last week, in interview with a More 4 journalist, Mark Regev, one of Ehud Olmert’s spokespeople, admitted that Israel knew and had officially recorded the fact that Hamas had not broken the ceasefire between the two regions and, further, that the Israelis were also aware that Hamas had made attempts to prevent other, small groups from firing rockets. Given that the accusation that Hamas had resumed hostilities was the basis for this war, why then do we continue to read and hear in the media that Israel launched its attack in self defence?
MediaBite recently interviewed Raymond Deane – former Chairperson of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign – about media coverage of the Palestinian situation. Since the interview was originally conducted in early November – the day after Israel broke the ceasefire – Israel has launched its latest assault on the Palestinians, this time in Gaza, with devastating consequences for the besieged Palestinian community there and who have no means of escape from the continuing carnage.
The willingness of most of the Western and world media to frame its reporting entirely within the context set for it by Israel has, arguably, been more pronounced than ever before. John Pilger in a recent article in The New Statesman observed:
“They [the media] know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, “Israel’s right to exist”. They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine’s right to exist was cancelled 61 years ago and that the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel. They know, for example, that the infamous “Plan D” of 1947-48 resulted in the murderous depopulation of 369 Palestinian towns and villages by the Haganah (Israeli army) and that massacre upon massacre of Palestinian civilians in such places as Deir Yassin, al-Dawayima, Eilaboun, Jish, Ramle and Lydda are referred to in official records as “ethnic cleansing”. Arriving at a scene of this carnage, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was asked by a general, Yigal Allon: “What shall we do with the Arabs?” Ben-Gurion, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris, “made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, ‘Expel them'”.”
Typically, Irish media coverage has conformed religiously to the Israeli narrative – the one which emphasizes the right of return of the Jews to Palestine and their claimed right to seemingly unlimited military aggression in ‘defence’ of the state they created out of the land whose native people they had expelled.
2008 was the 60th anniversary of the Naqba – the name which the Palestinians give to the events which saw them expelled from their homeland by the Israelis in 1948. We thought it appropriate in that significant year, and given the increasing belligerence of Israel towards the Palestinians, to ask Raymond Deane for his views of Irish media coverage of the anniversary and of the situation in general.
(RD – Raymond Deane, MC – Miriam Cotton, MediaBite)
RD: I should say at the outset that I’m speaking for myself. I’m not enunciating official IPSC policy in this interview though of course much of what I say will be in conformity with IPSC positions.
MC: Outside of the internet there seems to be little critical analysis in the mainstream media of the notion of the right of return to Israel of Jewish people by virtue of their religious status alone. What do you think gets left out of the account in this respect? The idea is reminiscent of Edward Carson declaring Ulster ‘a protestant state for a protestant people’ – perhaps that’s often been cited as a comparison?
RD: Oddly enough it’s not quoted as much as it should be. I quote it, because it’s taken for granted in this country that it’s an abomination – that you can’t say things like that. But certainly, in the case of Israel ‘a Jewish state for a Jewish people’ is supposed to be entirely acceptable. The Holocaust is the defence for that; people feel they are somehow absolving themselves by saying “we must make an exception for the Jewish people” – in effect they scapegoat the Palestinians so that Europeans can be absolved of the guilt they quite rightly feel about the Jews. That applies particularly to Germany – I’ve spent quite some time in Germany and the nonsense that is spoken there about Israel is quite unreal – But it applies right across the board.
MC: So far as the status of Jews as automatic Israeli citizens is mentioned at all in the media, the claimed ‘right’ seems to go completely unquestioned? Are there any exceptions you can think of?
RD: No. There are no exceptions I can think of. It’s a bit of a taboo question among Europeans generally speaking. You can’t really speak about the right of return for Jews if you can’t speak about the right of return for Palestinians – and that is also a kind of taboo. The official discourse doesn’t question these two assumptions – the right of return of Jews is perfectly acceptable but that of Palestinians is unacceptable. It’s the official line and the media play along with it.
MC: The internet is a good source of information?
RD: The internet is the only source of information but you have to know your way around and that takes a while. It’s very difficult even for somebody like myself to know what to rely on – I know a fair bit about the issue, but would hesitate to call myself an “expert” – nobody is an expert on Palestine unless they actually live there. For example, there’s the MAAN news agency – I used to get a lot of stuff from them but I find that they are being more or less dismissed by Palestinians themselves as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority. For me that was news. So the whole thing is a minefield.
MC: Coming forward to 2008 and coverage of the Naqba, Bush’s speech in the Israeli Knesset on the 60th anniversary seemed calculated to provoke in so far as there didn’t appear to be one word of consideration for the Palestinians in it. What did you think of media coverage of the Naqba in general?
RD: The coverage was practically non-existent. I was in Germany for that and Bush’s speech was nothing in comparison to that of Angela Merkel – that was an obscenity – a real obscenity. I published an article at the time about it in Electronic Intifada, where I write a lot of stuff nowadays. It was translated into German and reprinted in a number of German sources. It said in effect that the Germans, having scapegoated the Jews in the 1930s, are now happily scapegoating the Palestinians because of what they, the Germans, did to the Jews. There is no self-consciousness about this whatsoever among politicians, but there is an immense amount among ordinary people. Many Germans are remarkably well-informed about the Middle East, although their media are worse than ours when it comes to reporting what happens in Palestine.
MC: Charles Krauthammer in one of his syndicated columns in the Irish Times laid the blame for Palestinian suffering on an ‘errant refusal to conciliate’. What do you think of that accusation and of the Irish Times having used Krauthammer’s columns for so long?
RD: As for the supposed ‘refusal to conciliate’, I use the analogy of rape – it’s like saying the rapist’s victim wasn’t very conciliatory – that’s the attitude. How is the victim meant to be conciliatory to the person who is victimizing them – or the group that is victimizing them? The whole unspoken assumption behind that being that the Jews are the victims – and by the Jews is meant the Israelis – and no matter how powerful they are as a state with an army, they are still always the victims by definition, regardless of the actual present situation. Ultimately that kind of exceptionalism isn’t so far from the kind of racism we call anti-Semitism – which is another kind of exceptionalism. In each case it is to put the Jews, in one sense, outside the pale of humanity – in one case you are saying that they are demons and in the other you are saying that they are exempt from the norms that apply to the rest of us by dint of having been victims previously.
Anyway, I don’t understand the Krauthammer phenomenon. Obviously before Krauthammer you had that lunatic Mark Steyn. The Irish Times people feel they have to have some extreme right-wing nutter to balance what they perceive as the “reasonable” views of their other writers, but to be consistent they should then also have an extreme left-wing nutter! I don’t read Krauthammer unless I absolutely can’t avoid it; I don’t read Kevin Myers – reading these people does my head in.
MC: Do you think it is true to say that Palestine was the sacrificial lamb of the Obama presidency? Could he have won the presidency otherwise? With Rahm Emanuel, for example, now sitting firmly on Obama’s shoulder he has no room for manoeuvre?
RD: You are right that it was the sacrificial lamb, but he didn’t need to sacrifice it quite so readily. The speech he made to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) seemed to have been written by some Zionist – he went further than Bush had ever done and said Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel. He didn’t need to say that – that is really gilding the lily – and other things since – dragging in Denis Ross and this whole coterie of old Clinton people – all of them Zionists, all of them intent on pushing Israeli interests before any others. Every single one of those things is a slap in the face for the Palestinians. And this is a man who when he was running for the Senate in Illinois courted the Arab community. The Arabs thought that here was a man who was really on their side, and they voted for him en masse. As soon as he became a presidential candidate he turned his back on them and slapped them in the face. The team that he has put together to deal with the Middle East is a nightmare – it’s monstrous. To my mind nothing tarnishes his reputation more than this. It doesn’t inspire any hope.
MC: It seems as though he couldn’t have been elected unless he had capitulated to the Israeli lobby’s demands?
RD: He wouldn’t have been elected without going through the motions – but he did more than go through the motions. He embraced and was embraced by the lobby to a spectacular extent and if he continues in this vein then there is absolutely no hope for peace in the Middle East – or anywhere else. Anyone who thinks that Obama is for peace is kidding themselves – or that somehow or other he can be influenced to shake off the lobby.
MC: We earlier raised the question with Fintan O’Toole about the problem created by journalists when they arbitrarily pick starting points to stories they are reporting. The example we put to him at the time was this: when Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006 it was widely reported that the Lebanese had provoked the attack by kidnapping Israeli soldiers whereas in fact the Lebanese action was a response to Israel having first of all kidnapped Lebanese and Palestinian citizens. O’Toole thought that this sort of discrepancy might sometimes be explained by the parachuting in of superstar reporters when something big is happening and who are not familiar with the situation in the same way as a journalist who has been living in the country for a while. O’ Toole didn’t claim that this was the explanation in this case but to what extent do you think media coverage of Palestine might be affected by this phenomenon – and is it really significant? If you and I were fully aware at the time of what was actually happening, how much more difficult can it really be for a professional journalist whose job it is to know these things?
RD: I think it is just the official line – it makes no difference. This concept of an official line – where does it come from? Are these people instructed? Or do they just find out for themselves what the official line is and because they are all courtiers at heart anyway they just follow the official line for careerist reasons?
MC: Have you tried to engage with Irish journalists about what they have said about Palestine?
RD: Of course. Myself and another ISPC founder member, Conor McCarthy, had an interview with Madam [Geraldine Kennedy, Editor of the Irish Times] a few years ago, and it was like talking to the wall. We made all the obvious points and we complained that the paper had David Horovitz – the Anglo-Israeli Zionist, not the US neocon of the same name – as its principal correspondent on Palestine. He subsequently stopped writing for the Irish Times and became editor of the Jerusalem Post, which happens to be just about the most right-wing paper in the English language with few exceptions. Prior to this, everybody knew where he stood on issues because occasionally he would publish an op-ed which was extremely right-wing and you could tell by his language that he was presenting everything from the Israeli perspective. Well, we complained about him, and later I heard through the grapevine that the Irish Times really resented complaints about Horovitz – they were very proud of him. The same goes for Peter Hirschberg, who still writes for them occasionally, and who became the editor of Ha’aretz English edition. There he became known for censoring articles translated from Hebrew into English – the more controversial bits wouldn’t necessarily be translated. Another Irish Times reporter is called Mark Weiss, whom you will also hear on RTE where he has been broadcasting for years. He’s another Anglo-Israeli who writes for the Jerusalem Post, another right-wing Zionist. I believe – although I can’t prove it – that he lives or has lived on an illegal settlement. So you’ve got people reporting on the settlements who are themselves illegal settlers. Clearly they are not going to use language like ‘illegal settlers’. They refer to ‘illegal outposts’ – that means the beginnings of several little settlements which under Israeli law are illegal. But all settlements without exception are illegal under international law. By referring to ‘illegal outposts’ you are implying that the other settlements are legal.
So, we said these kinds of things to Madam and she sort of nodded and at the end she said ‘by the way, something will be happening very soon that I think you will like’. That announcement turned out to be that Nuala Haughey was going to be writing articles on Israel. Nuala Haughey subsequently lived for a couple of years in West Jerusalem, and wrote quite good articles – but they were very cagey – they never really expressed a point of view. I know that she knew what was going on and she had her sympathies but nothing was challenged. So you know, we were forever banging on at the Irish Times about this, that and the other but never got any satisfaction. On one occasion, when I had just read an article by Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz late at night – it shattered me. It was a description of some atrocity which I thought had to be made available to Irish readers. I emailed it to somebody in an editorial position at the Irish Times saying ‘look, I’m in communication with Gideon Levy and I’m sure he would be delighted if you would reprint this article’. I had a reply saying that it was indeed a very powerful article but they couldn’t publish it because “the Irish Times is not a Palestine Solidarity Campaign.” I replied: “Levy is a legendary Israeli Jewish reporter, one of the very few reporting from within the occupied territories, and was describing what he had seen, and you say that you can’t publish it because you are ‘not a Palestine Solidarity campaign’? “They replied “‘yes, he is describing what he has seen but he is using very emotive language”. Now if you are writing an article about suicide bombing where Israeli children are blown to pieces, emotive language will be considered perfectly acceptable on Page 1 with pictures of weeping Israelis. That’s OK, but apparently it is not appropriate for this Jewish journalist to write an article using comparably emotive language about an appalling atrocity perpetrated against Palestinian civilians because the language is said to be too emotive. I believe there is actually a degree of racism implicit in this position.
On the other hand you have to acknowledge the work of Michael Jansen for whom I have a lot of admiration, and of Lara Marlowe on the occasions when she does write about Palestine although it’s not really her brief. It’s ironic that the only two reliable reporters that the Irish Times have about Palestine are both American women.
MC: An insidious aspect of news reporting affecting the Palestinian issue is the difference in the language and terminology when talking about Israel and Israeli violence compared to that used about Palestinian violence. There are countless examples but to stay with the situation we talked about earlier, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 when Israel first kidnapped the civilians they were almost universally said merely to have ‘detained’ them. In contrast the Palestinians were shrilly accused of ‘kidnap’ and concern for the welfare of the Israeli soldiers almost drowned out similar concerns for the Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners seized by Israel from within the other territory. Could you talk a little about the caricaturing of the Palestinian cause in the media? A lot of it is quite subtle.
RD: It is – there is a whole list of words that are used, for example, ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’. What is a ‘moderate’? Journalists often refer to ‘moderate Arab states’. These are Jordan and Egypt essentially but even Saudi Arabia is included. I think these are abominable dictatorships – they are appalling states. So in what way are they moderate? They are moderate because they are playing by the rules laid down by Israel and the United States in return for which they get colossal sums of money and shipments of arms – so that use of the term ‘moderate’ is appalling. The use of ‘extremist’ is the opposite. ‘Extremists’ are people who don’t agree with the paradigm established by the oppressor and the oppressor’s backers. In this case Hamas is automatically described as extremist without there being any discussion of what Hamas actually stands for. There are three demands being put to Hamas before it can be recognized. Firstly, that it should recognize Israel. Now that’s never analysed – what does it mean? Is the oppressor supposed to be recognized by the oppressed? That just means kissing the jack-boot. Secondly, which Israel is to be recognized? It still hasn’t negotiated its borders. Then Hamas are to give up violence in the face of Israeli violence. Israel is never asked to give it up. They used occasionally to be asked to be more careful or some such but not anymore – they are now given carte blanche to do whatever they damn well like. But the others have to endure Israeli violence without resisting. The third condition is that Hamas must abide by agreements signed since the start of the Oslo process. But Israel doesn’t abide by any of these – not one of the agreements that Israel has signed has it abided by – and yet that is never raised. So there is that whole double standard and again it’s appalling. There are many other terms like ‘Islamists’ and ‘fundamentalists’. ‘The disputed territories’ – where the occupied territories are referred to as ‘disputed’ rather than ‘occupied’. And what is the ‘Israeli peace movement’? Usually when the media use this term they mean people like ‘Peace Now’, people like the novelists Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman – the three of them are always lumped together. But those people are simply Zionists who believe that the Zionist project should be completed but in a gentler fashion. Peace Now are all for withdrawing the settlers because Ashkenazis don’t like these beardy people anyway for what are really class reasons; but beyond that they think the whole Zionist project is alright and don’t think there is any question of going back to pre-1948 and the foundation of the state which is questionable in its entirety. This is all taboo in the media.
MC: You have defended the controversial musician and writer Gilad Atzmon’s right to express his allegedly controversial point of view. Isn’t Atzmon is trying to crash through exactly this sort of taboo – namely the untouchability of the Israeli state as a Jewish entity and the whole mess of thinking that equates justifiable criticism with racism? Atzmon has written an article titled ‘The Wandering Who?’ – which is a review of a book by Professor Sand that tracks the movement of various Jewish groups around Europe over the last 2,000 years. Sand has proved that there is no evidence for an awful lot of what is claimed by the Zionists – there is no information, paperwork or history to support the story. Basically a lot of what is taken to be understood turns out not to be true.
RD: It’s remarkable that these myths – which incidentally have been understood as such by many academics for a long time but without much comment – nevertheless continue to be peddled by the military establishment and their mouthpieces within and outside Israel. Without them they are really nothing.
MC: In correspondence with Noam Chomsky he said by way of comment on Atzmon’s article:
“It’s when Atzmon turns to the present that more serious questions arise. Take his reference to me, and my insistence “upon dismantling the eloquent criticism of AIPAC, Jewish lobbying and Jewish power posed by Mearsheimer and Walt.” My “insistence” consists of a few sentences that he’s probably never seen, in response to queries, pointing out errors and criticizing the mysticism of “national interest” on which their work relies. I’ve never written a thing about them, and don’t even mention them except in response to queries.
“In fact, their work is riddled with serious errors, many of which Norman Finkelstein points out in his detailed inquiries. M-W are quite right that the lobby is influential on matters that US power doesn’t care much about, like crushing of Palestinians. But whenever the lobby runs into conflict with US power interests, it quickly slinks away. There is case after case, including one interesting current one. AIPAC lobbied very hard to have Congress pass legislation (H.R. 362) that in effect called for a blockade of Iran, an act of war. They were defeated in Congress by lobbying by anti-war groups — hardly a powerful force. The background reason is that Washington doesn’t want to be dragged into war by a group of American Jews. There is, in fact, a very detailed point-by-point refutation of M-W’s claims about American politics by Stephen Zunes. M-W’s effort to deal with it in their book is very disappointing. They refer to it in a footnote, in a sentence, falsifying what he said, and omitting any reference to the detailed refutation.
“Sand’s work however is quite important, though as Sands points out (and Atzmon accurately cites), the general observations are mostly not new. The “Canaanites” within the Zionist movement (including many leading intellectuals, also Ben-Gurion for a time) recognized that the Palestinians may be the “original Jews” but as secular humanists, put aside absurdities about genetic origin, as Sands does. I grew up in a Zionist household, and from early childhood was reading Ahad Ha-am (in Hebrew) with my father, for whom he was the major figure of modern Zionism (cultural Zionism – a Jewish cultural center in Palestine). It’s a childhood memory, so don’t know how much to rely on it, but if it is correct, Ahad Ha-am had an essay on the two Moses’s, the historical one who may not even exist, and the cultural Moses contrived by the community of those who called themselves Jews over time – and for Ahad Ha-am, was the important one for cultural revival, but without fantasies about genetic/historical origins.”
There is a lot to consider there but before we talk about it what do you think of the suggestion made by some that there is essentially no difference to the Jewish right of return and the way that Christianity was deployed as justification for the slaughter of the Native Americans and the seizing of their lands and resources?
RD: Well, I think that is a reasonable point. Where I take issue is the relevance. What we are talking about here is something unique. We are talking about state-building – a process of seizing sovereignty using a particular type of identity. Now, you may say that to some degree that is what happened in early American history – but it’s a very loose analogy, because we are talking here about a modern nation state set up after the founding of the United Nations, after the Second World War, at a point where structures were supposedly put together that would prevent that kind of thing from happening again. Yet suddenly, it IS happening again. That’s where the difference is. It was a very carefully constructed political and military process of seizing sovereignty and manipulating mythology.
But to respond to Chomsky’s comments, all this stuff about Mearsheimer and Walt – I haven’t read their book and I can’t be bothered to read it either because the question about whether AIPAC pushed the United States into the Iraq war seems undecidable right now. As it happens, I think there is a lot of evidence saying that AIPAC was indeed one of the factors that pushed the US into war. The fact that there are undoubtedly issues on which the United States government does not allow itself to be pushed by AIPAC doesn’t diminish the fact that AIPAC has huge influence. Certainly AIPAC wants the US to go into Iran and it’s quite possible that this will happen, although I’m not convinced that it will. That doesn’t diminish the importance of AIPAC or its powerful influence on a number of issues. And under Obama, it will still have a powerful influence. As for Atzmon himself, while I sympathise with what he is trying to do I don’t sympathise with the way he does it.
MC: Can you think of a particular example?
RD: I can’t think of a specific example at the moment, but you only have to look at his website! In a way I think he is playing games with the words he uses and for that reason, while I may agree with him a lot of the time, I don’t think that it’s useful or helpful to engage in the kinds of provocations that he does. This is just ammunition for people who are lying in waiting precisely to pounce on such ammunition. There are groups of people who call themselves ‘Jews for’ or ‘Jews Against’ or Jewish this, that and the other. He is against that – and many left-wing Jews are against it too because they think it is tribal, and it is. But there are other left-wing Jews who say: ‘I don’t like it, it is tribal, but I think it is also tactically useful’ – and that’s a debate that goes on all the time. As a chess player I’m inclined to the tactical side of things – that in choosing the language you use and the language you avoid you have to consider tactics as well as general principles. Standing on principle is a wonderful thing and a good thing but not if you are going to lose your argument.
Tradition is not the same thing as identity. It’s not entirely meaningless to suggest that there’s a secular Jewish intellectual tradition that takes its radical and emancipatory characteristics from the historical exclusion of Jews, the scapegoating of Jews. I’m thinking of Marx, Freud, Hanna Arendt, Isaac Isaac Deutscher (who coined the phrase ‘non-Jewish Jew’), Walter Benjamin and more recent figures like Jacques Derrida or Daniel Bensaid. To say that this radicalism might in some way be linked to the fact that these people are Jews is not the same thing as saying that this is their identity. I personally refuse to take up cudgels against people who call themselves Jews or Catholics or anything they want to call themselves.
To take another case, Zionists are saying that it is anti-Semitic to oppose the state of Israel and that Jews everywhere must support Israel – then you who just happen to be a Jew get together with other people who just happen to be Jews and say well ‘we are Jews and we don’t agree with you – we oppose the state of Israel, we do not believe that people necessarily who oppose the state of Israel are anti-Semites – which in most cases they are not.’ They have made a tactical decision which is that while they are not defined by Judaism, they nonetheless happen to be Jews, and the discourse with which Zionists try to define their identity for them in relation to Israel isn’t one that they share. Again I am talking about tactics – and a lot of these groups – ‘Jews for Justice in Palestine’ and so on – these are people who are Jewish and who feel that by specifying that they are Jewish, whether or not it means anything to them, is tactically useful in that it prevents people of a Zionist mindset from enlisting all Jews regardless of what they may or may not think.
MC: What do you think about the Irish media coverage of the Palestinian issue – what or who are offering either the best or the worst of it and would you see Indymedia as a good source – it’s undeniably a great phenomenon – vital for putting facts and information in the public domain which otherwise might not see the light of day?
RD: In this country it’s easy to single out the worst: Independent Newspapers. Some people say that we in the IPSC are forever targeting the Irish Times and RTE, and ignoring the real mass media, and there’s some truth in this. My rationale, perhaps self-seeking because I simply don’t want to read the Irish Independent or the Sunday Independent, is that everybody knows that these are just populist right-wing rags, everybody knows that people like Eoghan Harris and Kevin Myers and Ruth Dudley Edwards are contrarian crackpots. These papers don’t claim to be newspapers of record whereas the Irish Times does make that claim, and it is the one that is generally cited if people outside Ireland are ever bothered to cite the Irish media. From that point of view, it is important therefore to deal in a separate way and in a concentrated way with the Irish Times.
The best paper in this country as far as Palestine is concerned – and on many other issues – is actually Phoenix. Recently it was Phoenix that broke the story about the Department of Foreign Affairs’ support for India’s nuclear trading – which is completely contrary to the non-proliferation treaty. Normally Fianna Fail boasts about the fact that Frank Aiken was supposedly involved in setting up the NPT. Now Phoenix exposed the fact that Ireland had backed India’s nuclear trading under pressure from the United States. I waited for this to appear in the other papers and it didn’t. I then copied out the article from Phoenix and posted it on Indymedia without asking a by-your-leave and immediately after that, and I don’t know whether it was linked, Michael D. Higgins raised it in the Dail, and immediately after that it appeared in The Irish Times. So the original source for that story was Phoenix. It is Phoenix who again and again put out things about Palestine and about Irish poets going to read in Jerusalem and so forth – stuff that other papers won’t touch – and sometimes some of these things go into the mainstream media. Phoenix is supposed to be a satirical magazine, it’s a small circulation magazine, and hence isn’t taken very seriously – regrettably.
The only supposedly ‘alternative’ non-satirical paper is Village, and it has been disastrous for Palestine. If you even look at that map of the world that they publish, Israel is there but Palestine is not and that symbolizes their whole coverage. They like to reprint articles from the New York Times – usually covering the spectrum you would call liberal Zionist. That is no way of providing independent coverage of the Middle East.
MC: Well, certain people at Village such as Harry Browne and Chekov Feeney would be sympathetic to the Palestinian situation.
RD: Yes, but they didn’t write it as a rule. The other paper of course was Daily Ireland which didn’t have a very long life-span. That took a position – it ignored the nonsense about ‘balance’ which is the great alibi that journalists like to use. But how can you have balance in a situation where there is an imbalance between the oppressor and the oppressed, the rapist and the rape victim? I suppose Daily Ireland had a republican agenda as well and the middle classes here in the Republic don’t like that, so it went by the board.
The Sunday Business Post, to be fair, sometimes takes a relatively independent stand on the issue. Tom McGurk doesn’t let himself be dictated to. RTE, on the other hand, is a complete and unmitigated disaster. The most spectacular example of that at present is its resolute non-coverage of the ships going to Gaza [at November 2008]. The first two ships went to Gaza in August – they were flying the Irish flag alongside the Canadian and Palestinian flags, there were a couple of Irish crew members. It wasn’t reported by RTE. The next group went out in October and included Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead McGuire. Caoimhe Butterly was on it and there were a couple of Irish crew members again – and again the Irish flag qas flying – but RTE didn’t report on it. Now one of our IPSC people contacted ‘Morning Ireland’ [RTE radio programme] and got onto Shane McElhatton, who said he ‘wasn’t aware of the story’, a terrible admission if true. My colleague gave McElhatton the contact details for Mairead McGuire and Caoimhe, and he said “we will probably have some report on this in the next few days” – but they never reported on it. And the third ship, The Dignity, still hasn’t been reported on either – so what is this all about? [There has since been widespread reporting of this ship outside Ireland as a consequence of it having been rammed deliberately by Israeli boats in international waters on its way to Gaza. At the time of going to press, so far as we are awar, RTE have still not covered the story.] The Irish Times certainly reported it – Jansen reported it. This story has everything – it has adventure on the high seas, it has derring-do and it has a massive Irish connection including an Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner – and RTE ignores it. So what is going on? Is it that they think Foreign Affairs wouldn’t really like them to make much out of this because it goes against the Irish government’s position, which is that they must participate in the EU embargo on Gaza even though it is illegal under international law? Does RTE have direct instructions from the Department of Foreign Affairs, or are they just terrified of the belt of the crozier, so-to-speak, from the Israeli Embassy? Because I know they are terrified of this – every single time that the Israeli Embassy hear something that they don’t like 100% – they come down like a ton of bricks. Naturally a courageous and responsible journalist would tell them where to get off.
A few years ago, in 2005, Pat Kenny had a fellow on the Late Late Show called Walid Shoebat – a supposed reformed Palestinian terrorist who has become a US Christian Zionist and who tours around the world saying that the Palestinians are a lot of murderers and Islam is basically a religion of murderers. Shoebat is a very sinister customer. On a previous visit to Ireland he was on Gerry Ryan’s RTE radio programme. The interview ended up on Shoebat’s website which comes with an endorsement from Frank Gaffney – an Irish-American who was one of the original neocons and whose politics are so right-wing they’re outside the spectrum. And there was Gerry Ryan giving this guy a complete free run about anything he liked. And then Shoebat turns up on the Late Late Show and comes out with a stream of appallingly Islamophobic stuff. At one point he couldn’t remember what he wanted to say next and Kenny prompted him by saying ‘ Isn’t it true that one and a half billion Muslims want to destroy western civilization?’ to which Shoebat replied ‘Yes, for sure, for sure – and you know when they go to heaven they are told they are allowed 300,000 virgins a day.’ And Kenny says ‘That’s an awful lot of virgins, ha ha ha’. When I tried to get some Muslims I know to protest about this guff, they said ‘we can’t do this’ because they are so cowed they keep their heads down and don’t open their mouths. So I and several other people complained to the Broadcasting Commission – they were all turned down on the most spurious grounds. Indeed I get the impression – and this is a whole new issue – that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission is merely an institution for whitewashing RTE. Apparently Kenny’s role is not to argue with his guests, but to allow them to say what they want to say and essentially to give them the space to say it. But my point was that Kenny had actually put words into this guy’s mouth and was seen to be agreeing with the things that he was saying which were appalling and were presented on this programme without any counter position. If it was a Palestinian sitting up there saying things like “Jews are all just murderers and they like to drink the blood of Christian children”, can you imagine the outcry? It just couldn’t happen in the first place.
Then you have people like Richard Crowley who is always touted as this great expert, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. OK, he was over there at a time when terrible things were happening, but again he was very, very careful to be ‘balanced’ and always to talk of ‘the suffering of both sides’, the standard rhetoric of those who put oppressor and oppressed on the same level. The same with the book that he published then (‘No Man’s Land: Dispatches from the Middle East”) about the occupation. Again there were some good things in it depending on who he was talking to, but it was milk and water in relation to the presentation of the context – it was very, very cautious. Here you had somebody who was obviously very concerned about his future career and about not compromising his future progress and therefore seemed to regard it as impossible to take a strong position – which is actually the truthful position. That’s why the truth simply won’t come out. It just can’t come out. For a journalist to express a strong pro-Palestinian opinion, or even to tell the full truth about what is happening in Palestine, would be professional suicide. This wasn’t the case in relation to South Africa, or East Timor, or Nicaragua, or wherever.
When did you ever see a programme about the Middle East broadcast on RTE – did you ever see John Pilger’s programme ‘Palestine is still the issue’ – did RTE take that? Not at all. RTE is as much a state-controlled TV station as are its equivalents in Egypt or North Korea.
MC: Pilger is more or less marginalized in the UK media now – the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent won’t really touch him anymore but he wouldn’t stand a chance of being included in Irish mainstream media, I think. [An interview with John Pilger was subsequently broadcast on RTE Radio One on New Years Day, 2009. It was Pilger’s first appearance in Irish mainstream media for a long time and, notably, courtesy of Tom McGurk, himself a relatively outspoken journalist. We still contend that Pilger, one of the world’s most experienced journalists – and one who is particularly well informed on the Palestinian issue – is unlikely to be interviewed by the Irish Times, RTE News, The Irish Independent or The Irish Examiner].
RD: Robert Fisk is held in some respect here.
MC: Yes but he only goes so far? He has some blind spots.
RD: He has a blind spot in relation to Lebanon where he lives, so he knows more about it than I do, but to me his near worship of the former Prime Minister Hariri completely blinds him to a lot of the reality of what is going on around there. The way he goes along with the view that Syria is behind everything terrible that happens is disappointing. He is also obsessed with “balance” so that if he has to say something terrible about Israel he will always also say something terrible about the Palestinians. I remember he wrote things about Arafat that I found quite extraordinary. I remember one article which was mainly about what an ugly-looking man he was and what a horrible beard he had. And then he wrote an article about Edward Said saying ‘why does Edward Said stick a ‘W’ in the middle of his name – he is just being pretentious and trying to be like these other American professors who call themselves R.P. Blackmur’ or whatever. The fact of the matter is that that is the Arab custom. The ‘W’ in Said’s name is the initial of his father’s first name – that’s the way Palestinian males write their name. What was this about? It was as if Fisk was saying ‘Look, I can be gratuitously nasty about Palestinians too, so you’ve got to believe me when I’m being nasty about Israelis.’
Newstalk 106 – which I haven’t listened to in years – I think it probably takes the issue more seriously than any other station in the country. Today FM I was on a couple of times. I was invited on Matt Cooper’s programme to debate with an Israeli Brigadier General who was talking on the phone from the United States. If the item was five minutes long, I reckon I was allowed to speak for about one minute and the Brigadier General was given four minutes.
So where does this all leave us? Are there any independent media at all in this country? We are really dependent on the internet. I’m very wary of Indymedia, although it’s probably essential, but there is Electronic Intifada, and there’s Countercurrents which is well worth looking at, as well as the better-known Counterpunch. I think Countercurrents comes from India. There is Al Ahram Weekly which has an English edition with some very good articles, even though it’s based in Egypt where censorship is rife. And of course there is Ha’aretz, the paper of liberal Zionism, which has to be read with great care.
So it’s pretty sad really, all in all, where the Irish media are concerned. The main things are this phoney concept of balance and the fact that the language used presents, in effect, an Israeli perspective – and the fact that there is so little coverage anyway, and that what there is, is completely devoid of historical and political context. These problems aren’t unique to Ireland, however. Even the Guardian – the only Anglophone paper I buy – is really going downhill – it has very little to say about Palestine – even during the US elections it was full of all this triumphalism about Obama – even Jonathan Steele who is usually quite good had an article saying that the three main dossiers Obama would have to deal with would be Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Sorry, is there not something missing there?
MC: This interview originally took place before the recent assault in Gaza. In the light of what is now happening, is there anything you would add to what we have discussed already?
RD: It’s interesting that, suddenly, Palestine is all over the media, although a couple of weeks ago you couldn’t get newspapers or television to touch it with a barge-pole. Clearly when something spectacular happens, when many, many people are being killed, the whole thing becomes ‘newsworthy’, a concept that seems more horrible the more you analyse it. This lurid, lustful sudden interest renders all the more obscene the usual lack of interest. Of course none of the observations above are invalidated by this coverage, because there is still no context provided worth speaking of, Israeli interpretations are still being presented without warning or precaution, and the kinds of horrific images that are being seen every hour of every day throughout the rest of the world – i.e., the ‘non-West’ – are still being withheld from us, as long as they are images of the Palestinian dead and maimed and not Israeli. Islamic opinion is not being sought, although we hear again and again that Hamas are ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and hence – with varying degrees of explicitness – beyond the pale. Furthermore, Israel, for all its pretensions to liberalism, is strictly barring journalists from the scene of the crime; we are seeing and reading report after report from journalists in Jerusalem, who all too rarely comment on the fact that they are being prevented – perhaps to their own relief – from doing their job properly. Robert Fisk has pointed out that at least this means that for once the Palestinian narrative is omnipresent, given that Palestinian journalists are the only ones on the ground in Gaza. However, he rather dubiously comments that this means there are no westerners on hand to question Hamas’s twisted version of events – surely the fact that Israel’s twisted version continues to dominate is equally relevant.
The Guardian appears to have come out fairly strongly against Israel, but the Irish Times is still hedging its bets and RTE is being RTE – on Saturday 3d December, one week after the slaughter started, RTE Radio 1’s World Report programme still managed not to feature a single item on Gaza. As I write, the Israeli Ambassador is peddling his falsehoods on ‘Morning Ireland’. So it’s business as usual, and no doubt when this atrocity has receded into the past, it’ll be silence as usual in all the media.
Deane’s last observation echoes another of John Pilger’s in the article referred to in the introduction to this interview:
“”When the truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” It may appear that the silence on Gaza is broken. The small cocoons of murdered children, wrapped in green, together with boxes containing their dismembered parents, and the cries of grief and rage of everyone in that death camp by the sea can be witnessed on al-Jazeera and YouTube, even glimpsed on the BBC. But Russia’s incorrigible poet was not referring to the ephemera we call news; he was asking why those who knew the why never spoke it, and so denied it. Among the Anglo-American intelligentsia, this is especially striking. It is they who hold the keys to the great storehouses of knowledge: the historiographies and archives that lead us to the why.”
Raymond Deane was brought up on Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. From 1974 to 1979, he studied composition with Gerald Bennet, Karlheinz Stockhausen and the late Isang Yun. Now based in Dublin, he works as a freelance composer, pianist and author.
This article was originally publishing in Media Bite.
1. Raymond Deane, biography
2. John Pilger, article in New Statesman
4. David Horovitz, former Irish Times Israel correspondent
5. Gilad Atzmon
7. Ahad Ha’m
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