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March 23, 2001

By Lord Gilmour


Independent Journalism from London
Dear NileMedia Readers: Like our good friend Ali Abunimah (www.abunimah.org), we need to alert our readers to the courage of English language journalists on the other side of the pond. The Independent (London) does not shy away from taking the heat from THE LOBBY or its pals in the mass media. We ecourage our readers to keep up on world events by following the excellent coverage of journalists like Robert Fisk, a writer who brings honor to his craft. The Independent just printed an incredibly enlightening article by Lord Gilmour. Like many articles that appear in this Great British paper, it would not see the light of day in most American mass circulation dailies. Please pass it on to your pals. It is time for Americans to realize that the English language and good honest journalism still mix well in the cradle of the English language.

First, an important message from Ali Abunimah
Conrad Black, the pro-Israeli newspaper proprietor who is the subject of this article is also the owner of a number of newspapers in North America, including the Chicago Sun-Times a large circulation tabloid. The Sun-Times coverage of the Intifada has certainly been the most rabidly pro-Israeli in Chicago, to such an extent that some people have launched a campaign to get the mostly Palestinian-owned small grocery stores where the paper is sold, to boycott it.

Ali Abunimah

The Independent (London)
March 20, 2001, Tuesday


BYLINE: Lord Gilmour

OVER THE last hundred years, Britain has not been lucky in its newspaper proprietors. They have mostly been megalomaniac, mischievous, interfering, and often well to the right of even right-wing Conservatives. There have, of course, been some exceptions. The Canadian Lord Thomson of Fleet was certainly one; the Canadian Conrad Black is certainly not another.

A few months ago, The Independent's Robert Fisk, this country's leading Middle East journalist, complained of being vilified for telling the truth about the Palestinians. But at least he was not vilified by The Independent's owner for doing so. Conrad Black, however, who owns The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator in Britain, and hundreds of papers in Canada, the United States, Israel and other places, has taken to vilifying his staff for daring to criticise Israel's lethal and wholly disproportionate violence in Palestine.

A few weeks ago, Taki, one of The Spectator's columnists, wrote a wholly innocuous column in which, referring to Israel, he talked about "those nice guys who attack rock- throwing youths with armour-piercing missiles". There was, in fact, nothing to complain about in the article, but if Mr Black did not like it, he could have picked up the telephone and conveyed his displeasure or he could have sent Taki a note. Unfortunately, Black fancies himself as a writer - mistakenly, as his writing is ponderous and bombastic - and decided to write an article in The Spectator fatuously accusing Taki of being anti-Semitic, and alleging that what he had written was "almost worthy of Goebbels". Black also claimed that "most of the relevant sections of the BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel".

From all this it can be gathered that Mr Black is not a very good judge of these matters. Both he and his wife are almost fanatical, if under- informed, Zionists, whose credo is "My Israel right or wrong", and who regard any criticism of that country as a demonstration of fierce anti- Israeli bias.

A decade ago, Black, to the great detriment of Israel, bought The Jerusalem Post and turned what had been a fine liberal Zionist paper into what a distinguished member of the British Jewish community called "one of the most rabid Jewish publications in the English language".

I wrote a letter to The Spectator defending Taki and reminding its readers of what Black had done to The Jerusalem Post. This so enraged Mr Black that he was even more grotesquely abusive and defamatory to me than he had previously been to Taki. For all his editors, and many other people employed by his Group, the sight of Black making such an exhibition of himself must be deeply embarrassing, but there is little they can do about it.

Black's defective grasp of proper proprietorial behaviour was further revealed in his treatment of a letter to The Spectator from three distinguished writers - William Dalrymple, Piers Paul Read and A N Wilson - who pointed out that "under Black's proprietorship, serious, critical reporting of Israel is no longer tolerated in the Telegraph Group". That is certainly true, and it is not the fault of the journalists on the spot or in London.

That letter was eloquent and cogent, but it contained one error. Well before publication, the authors recognised the error and telephoned The Spectator to correct it. They were told that Conrad Black had already written an answer underneath their letter, so it could not be corrected or withdrawn. That was a shameful decision, since Black should not have written anything underneath their letter; he should have sent a letter to the editor the following week. And, much more importantly, for a proprietor to insist on an error appearing in his paper because, proud of having detected it, he wants to point it out, is bizarre, childish and unethical.

Black's behaviour in this controversy clearly has wider implications. As Robert Fisk pointed out in his article in December, no newspaper in America, except for some very small ones, now dares to put the Palestinian side of the case. They are all in thrall to Israel, and the chief reason why they are in such an ignominious position is that the Israeli lobby has succeeded in equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. That, of course, is pernicious nonsense, as well as being what Robert Fisk has called "McCarthyism".

Many decent Israelis are severely critical of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Indeed, there is more enlightened comment on the Palestinians' plight in the Israeli press than there is in the American. Even so, although the pretence that critics of Israel are anti-Semites is a transparent fraud, it has proved an enormously successful blackmailing tool. Americans are so frightened of being labelled anti-Semitic that they keep quiet and allow the Israeli lobby a free run.

The most sinister feature of Black's recent activity is that he is seeking to reproduce that situation in this country. He is not only stamping out dissent in his own camp, he is also trying to stop the BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, and the Evening Standard telling the truth about Palestine, and hoping to force the Foreign and Commonwealth Office into weak compliance with Israeli wishes.

But, strong as it is, the Israeli lobby is much weaker over here than it is in America, and many people in Britain are far better informed about what is actually happening to the Palestinians than they are in the United States.

Fortunately, therefore, Conrad Black will fail. But the attempt does him no credit.

Lord Gilmour is a former editor and proprietor of The Spectator' and a former foreign office minister in Margaret Thatcher's government.