I don't use the internet. I've never sent an e-mail in my life. But I've got
to admit a new political fact. The internet is changing the American view of
the Middle East. For the first time in decades, the monopoly of
pro-American, pro-Israeli news in The New York Times, The Washington Post,
the Los Angeles Times and the big US TV networks is being challenged by the
websites of dozens of European papers whose reporting on the tragedy in the
Middle East is far less skewed towards the Israeli-US State Department point
And the Israeli lobby groups in the States don't know how to react. Several
papers, including The Independent, have been bombarded by hundreds of
letters and e-mails from supposedly outraged American "readers" most of
them from parts of the United States where The Independent, for example, is
not on sale and many of them written in vitriolic, even violent language. A
number have been written in answer to an appeal from an outfit called
"honestreporting.com", which carries a series of misleading and, in some
cases, untruthful statements about my own articles.
They are balanced, however, by large numbers of letters and e-mails asking
why the American press doesn't give the full coverage of events found in The
Independent and other European newspapers.
Among my recent mailbag has been a letter that wishes my swift departure for
Hell and eternal punishment ("Dear Mr Shit Fisk," it begins), and another
from an American law student at Oxford who addressed me as "You evil,
fucking man". The student, who said he was Jewish, added his phone number to
the letter and apologised for his language after I threatened to take his
letter to the police.
Of course, it was ever thus. The Bahraini press has cartooned me as a rabid
dog for revealing details of Arab secret-police torture. Since rabid dogs
have to be exterminated, this was a threat, not a joke and the Egyptian
press has called me a "black crow" for condemning Egypt's fraudulent
elections. An Arab student in the American Midwest is e-mailing friends with
the information that I'm a member of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence
service, apparently because a Jewish family invited me to speak at a local
But honestreporting.com's supporters, whose letters often reveal that
they've never actually read anything I've written, are in a class of their
own. Only last month, I wrote a comment-page article in The Independent
describing the way in which any serious journalist who criticised Israeli
policy - the operation of death squads, for example, or the building of
illegal Jewish settlements on stolen Arab land was reviled as
"anti-Semitic". This, the most disgraceful of the accusations made against
Western journalists, permeates many of the letters provoked by
There's no doubt what prompted this revealing deluge of purple prose.
Honestreporting.com urges its supporters to read The Independent's website.
It would like, somehow, to close down The Independent's Middle East coverage
and, to be fair, The Guardian's as well and return Americans to the bland,
generally pro-American (and thus pro-Israeli) reports of the US press. Much
of my ordinary mailbag - I'm not counting the lobby boys - now comes from
the US. University departments are asking me and other European journalists
lecture in the States, where our discussions tend to be a lot more
straight-talking than that of our American colleagues.
But honestreporting.com's methods are themselves revealing. In one
"communiqué", it manages to quote my 1982 description of a Palestinian
woman's face as that of a Madonna and a Lebanese friend's (described by the
outfit as a Palestinian) weeping at the departure of the PLO from Beirut.
What they don't mention is that they were weeping because they feared that
in the absence of Palestinian fighters, they would be massacred by Israel's
brutal Lebanese allies - which is exactly what happened a few days later.
Then it quotes from my article of 17 April this year, in which I remarked
that some Israeli leaders had been "bestializing" [sic] Arabs, referring to
my account of how Palestinian taxi drivers are humiliated as they approach
Israeli checkpoints on Arab land. But honestreporting.com - and the "honest"
bit is a joke in itself - didn't mention that the quotes come from two
different articles. The "bestialisation" story referred to Israeli leaders
who had at various times called Palestinians "serpents", "two-legged
beasts", "cockroaches in a glass jar", and "crocodiles". Of course,
honestreporting.com erased all mention of that in its "communiqué".
So, long live the internet. It certainly seems to be frightening the guys
who want to prevent Americans from hearing our voice on