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    Fighting ‘anti-semitic’ smears


    by Sunny on 11th May, 2008 at 6:20 am    

    Johann Hari, to his immense credit, has come out fighting. A few weeks ago he wrote this piece for the Independent criticising Israel’s record of behaving towards Palestinians on its 60th anniversary. And why not? There has been plenty of positive stuff about Israel’s 60th anniversary recently - it cannot escape criticism over its human rights record. (And if anyone says the west doesn’t criticise China enough they need their head checked).

    In the article he said:

    [Israel] has provided the one lonely spot in the Middle East where gay people are not hounded and hanged, and where women can approach equality.

    But I can’t do it. Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.

    Unsurprisingly, the nutjobs who shriek anytime anything negative is written about Israel started screaming that Hari must be anti-semitic because he said Israel smelled like shit.

    Step forward Melanie Phillips and someone called Tom Gross, who also makes a habit of this apparently.

    On Thursday Hari came out fighting in this article:

    Ah, but wait. I have also reported from Gaza and the West Bank. Last week, I wrote an article that described how untreated sewage was being pumped from illegal Israeli settlements on to Palestinian land, contaminating their reservoirs. This isn’t controversial. It has been documented by Friends of the Earth, and I have seen it with my own eyes.

    The response? There was little attempt to dispute the facts I offered. Instead, some of the most high profile “pro-Israel” writers and media monitoring groups – including Honest Reporting and Camera – said I an anti-Jewish bigot akin to Joseph Goebbels and Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh, while Melanie Phillips even linked the stabbing of two Jewish people in North London to articles like mine. Vast numbers of e-mails came flooding in calling for me to be sacked.

    Any attempt to describe accurately the situation for Palestinians is met like this. If you recount the pumping of sewage onto Palestinian land, “Honest Reporting” claims you are reviving the anti-Semitic myth of Jews “poisoning the wells.” If you interview a woman whose baby died in 2002 because she was detained – in labour – by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint within the West Bank, “Honest Reporting” will say you didn’t explain “the real cause”: the election of Hamas in, um, 2006. And on, and on.

    All I can say is - well done to Hari for sticking to his guns.

    The sad fact is, organisations like HR, Camera and nutjobs like Melanie Phillips only end up polarising people when it comes to this debate and in effect making real anti-semitism even harder to highlight because the phrase loses its meaning.

    Its when people scream racism (or Islamophobia) at every opportunity that similarly puts people off. Its stupid and annoying. But I doubt Melanie Phillips will get it.



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    70 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. billericaydicky — on 11th May, 2008 at 12:44 pm  

      I agree that some of the Israeli lobby in the press can go over the top but there is a reason why they do so. Much of liberal opinion in this country, especially as it appears in print in the Guardian and the Independent, is stridently anti Israel to the extent that it is difficult to distinguish it from anti semitism.

      Phillips does overreact on occasions but the subject is one of the most emotive in the world today. There are self hating jews, many of them to be found in the ranks of the SWP and the other wilder shores of the left, who argue for the destruction of the Israeli state itself.

      I don’t think Hari is doing this and generally I enjoy his writing but the Israelists are in a permanent state of siege mentality. Given that the leadership of all of the Palestinian groups want to wipe the Jewish state of the map along with its inhabitants that is understandable.

    2. unitalian — on 11th May, 2008 at 1:24 pm  

      I rarely read Mel but I remember her “Hari-smear” because it was linked from HP or somesuch, and actually as a result I linked to her too, because her charge (somewhat “mad” though it may have been) seemed to stand up:

      While we’re on the subject of effluent, however, the Useful Idiot blog has noticed that, six days before Hari threw the waste products of the inhabitants of Gaza in Israel’s face, so to speak, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen did exactly the same thing with this story about a Gazan baby drowning when a sewage system burst. And guess who he said was to blame? Yup, you got it. It was all because of Israeli restrictions which completely stopped the import of raw materials for construction like cement and piping.

      Yet as the BBC itself reported more than a year ago after a number of Gazans were killed in a similar collapse, the UN was warning that more such flooding was inevitable unless a new waste treatment plant was constructed. Hamas said such sewage projects had been halted because of lack of foreign aid. But the UN had a different explanation:

      Stuart Shepherd, the UN’s humanitarian aid officer in Gaza, said the Umm al-Naser plant had not been affected by the aid boycott, noting there had long been warnings about the plant. Mr Shepherd said foreign investment had been secured to build the treatment plant, but construction had not gone ahead because of security risks in the area.

      In other words, nothing had been done because there was a war going on. And who was responsible for that war? Why, Hamas.

      http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/645986/the-war-against-the-jews-19.thtml

    3. fug — on 11th May, 2008 at 3:04 pm  

      keep blowing smoke up each other’s arses..

    4. Sunny — on 11th May, 2008 at 4:10 pm  

      Much of liberal opinion in this country, especially as it appears in print in the Guardian and the Independent, is stridently anti Israel to the extent that it is difficult to distinguish it from anti semitism.

      Erm, no its not. By the same measure, would you then accept that most right-wing opinion in this country is racist annd/or Islamophobic?

      Phillips does overreact on occasions but the subject is one of the most emotive in the world today.

      Sure, for the Palestinians too… for obvious reasons.

      but the Israelists are in a permanent state of siege mentality

      And Palestinians are actually in a permanent state of seige.

    5. Sid — on 11th May, 2008 at 4:44 pm  

      Much of liberal opinion in this country, especially as it appears in print in the Guardian and the Independent, is stridently anti Israel to the extent that it is difficult to distinguish it from anti semitism.

      Yes, I like to temper my seething anti-semitism that I like to validate by reading the Guardian and the Independent with my seething hatred of gypsies, black and muslim people by reading the Sun and the Daily Mail.

      What a stupid, brain-dead binary. What laughable ‘guilt by association’ bollocks we pass on to each other without impunity.

    6. bananabrain — on 11th May, 2008 at 5:22 pm  

      the thing about johann hari is that the only nice thing he has to say about israel at all is the fact that you don’t get murdered there for being gay, but there isn’t anything else he seems to find at all positive about the idea of a jewish state. the only israeli historian he seems prepared to read is the highly controversial (another description might be “so revisionist that only israel-bashers think he’s a historian at all”) ilan pappe.

      i read the article and found it unpleasant in the extreme, to the point where i thought it did his actual point no good at all precisely *because* the likes of tom gross were immediately able to assume it was a modern updating of the “jews poison the wells” mediaeval libel.

      in short, if people like johann hari ever expect to be taken seriously and be listened to by anyone pro-israeli they’re going to have to adopt a less hysterical tone. put it this way, the article might not have been “anti-semitic” per se, that was kind of where i ended up, but from where i sit i can’t see how much more unpleasant “anti-semitism” actually is. it certainly does nothing to lower the temperature and *everything* to contribute to the continued polarisation of debate.

      b’shalom

      bananabrain

    7. a very public sociologist — on 11th May, 2008 at 6:34 pm  

      This is ridiculous and absurd. Look, if any other country purporting to be a liberal democracy was occupying land illegally and kept the subject population under a permanent state of siege it would be quite right to be stridently critical. I don’t see why Israel should get the kid gloves treatment, as you appear to be pleading Bananabrain.

    8. unitalian — on 11th May, 2008 at 9:52 pm  

      Sociologist - I think you’re mixing up your accusations a bit? Israelis occupy land illegally, yes, and they have closed the border with Hamas-controlled Gaza, from which, incidentally, hundreds of missiles have been fired at Israeli territory, but they’re not keeping the population of the land they are occupying illegally under siege, are they? As that would mean their own settlers?! Forgive me for being pedantic, but I would expect a little more rigour from a very public sociologist.

      While we’re here I suppose it’s also worth pointing out that the UK and US, who purport to be liberal democracies, are in the process of concluding an illegal war which resulted in the murder (it being illegal) of at least 100,000 people, yet which now the conflict is drawing to a close appear to come in for considerably less stick than Israel which, for all its questionable acts, has a long way to go before killing 100,000 Palestinians.

      What would sociology say about this seeming paradox?

    9. Shuggy — on 11th May, 2008 at 11:22 pm  

      And if anyone says the west doesn’t criticise China enough they need their head checked

      This would really depend on what you mean by ‘the west’. You really have to strain to hear Western governments criticising China. You also tend not to get posturing pseudo-leftist academics calling for boycotts of China.

      More generally, there’s two problems with Hari and the sort of stuff he writes on this subject and just about everything else for that matter:

      1) He doesn’t deserve credit for ’sticking to his guns’ because he only ever does this if he thinks this’ll allow him to keep his soul unblemished, untainted from the stuff and filth of this world. If it doesn’t, as was the case regarding his support for the invasion of Iraq, he jumps ship. It’s a mixture of piety and show-business: it demands he strike a contrarian pose. It’s by no means the worst of human failings but it should be understood that this does make him intellectually unreliable.

      2) We see the piety in his complaint that he is being persecuted for telling the truth and he uses this to lend authority to his argument. But what he, and you, fail to see is that just because he’s being attacked by people who are incapable of offering a rational argument in this case, that doesn’t mean he isn’t talking shite.

    10. Sid — on 12th May, 2008 at 1:00 am  

      If it doesn’t, as was the case regarding his support for the invasion of Iraq, he jumps ship. It’s a mixture of piety and show-business

      Or maybe he just has more integrity and honesty about the facing up to real intentions for going to war than your average doctrinaire pro-war supporter who can’t face up to the fuck-up in Iraq so blaming the “Stopper” will keep them in their comfort zones. Unfortunately support for a failed war is the HP legacy whether they like it or not. The suggestion that it’s “piety” to admit the war was an abortion from start to finish, and equating this piety as a means of discrediting Johann Hari is laughable.

      The same paraphrased accusation (”It’s a mixture of piety and show-business”) is also made by many Muslims of ex-jihadis like Ed Husain, Shiraz Maher etc.

      They disavow themselves of the shit they believed in and suddenly, they’re labelled pious show-business people by their former fellow travellers.

    11. douglas clark — on 12th May, 2008 at 1:16 am  

      Shuggy,

      Is Johann Hari right or wrong about the shit on the fields of the Palestinians? Answer this, instead of disappearing up your own agenda.

      Specifically, can you refute what he said here:

      Any attempt to describe accurately the situation for Palestinians is met like this. If you recount the pumping of sewage onto Palestinian land, “Honest Reporting” claims you are reviving the anti-Semitic myth of Jews “poisoning the wells.” If you interview a woman whose baby died in 2002 because she was detained – in labour – by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint within the West Bank, “Honest Reporting” will say you didn’t explain “the real cause”: the election of Hamas in, um, 2006. And on, and on.

      If you can’t, then you really ought to take a look at yourself.

      C’mon, your evidence that Jo