Lunacy by Robert Fisk: Indy journalist blames Israel for US abuses in Iraq

Robert Fisk’s latest exploration into the Israeli heart of darkness for The Independent (An obsessive’s documenting of Israeli war crimes in Lebanon can show us how the West lost respect for international law, Dec. 8) begins thus:

Odd [Norwegian journalist] Karsten Tveit was always a very obsessional chap. Every story he covered, he always wanted to dig deeper, study further, hear one more tale of horror, one more joke, one more historical fact.  We all covered the story of Israel’s wars in Lebanon, in 1978, in 1982, in 1996, in 2006. Over the years, I covered the story of Israel’s torturers in Khiam jail in southern Lebanon, the massive Ansar prison camp in 1982, the frightful interrogation of Lebanese and Palestinian inmates.

However, while the extent of Israeli involvement with the Khiam prison during the Lebanese Civil War is debatable, it’s clear that Khiam was run by the South Lebanese Army, and that the torturers were almost certainly Lebanese.

Nevertheless, such misleading suggestions of Israeli guilt are not the worst part of his story.  The most egregious examples of Fisk’s tortured logic can be seen in the following passages:

And I wondered, reading this shameful narrative [of Israeli brutality], why we were so surprised when we found that the American military were torturing and killing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Karsten says at one point that Israeli soldiers in the occupation zone in southern Lebanon – the Israelis called it a ‘security zone’, a description that many newspapers gutlessly repeated – were joint Israeli-American nationals. Did any of them also serve in the American army in Iraq?

The mass prison camp at Ansar sounds like a hot version of Guantanamo. And when the US repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s treatment of Lebanese civilians, I wonder whether somehow that’s when American governments lost their respect for international law – as they showed in their treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan (or the Iraqi invasion itself).

No word other than lunacy can fairly characterize such a conclusion.  Fisk is claiming that the alleged Israeli brutality in Lebanon arguably influenced US abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo – as well as the country’s loss of “respect for international law” more broadly!

His sole piece of evidence? The possibility that a few American-Israelis (“joint Israeli-American nationals”) who served in southern Lebanon in the early 80s may have returned to the US and then served in the US Army in Iraq (20 years later!) in the early 2000s, infecting US troops with their ‘odious’ Israeli values. 

If serious questions arise from the fact that Fisk’s rant was published as a ‘serious analysis’, it relates to the following spirited defense by Indy editors to charges leveled by Alex Brummer. Here’s part of what they wrote in an Oct. 4 editorial titled ‘Neither Israel nor the broader Jewish community is demonised by this newspaper’.

In a throwaway remark on Radio 4’s Today yesterday, Alex Brummer, City Editor of the Daily Mail, said: “In comparison with The Guardian and The Independent, which frequently demonises Israel, and in so doing demonises the broader Jewish community, [the Daily Mail] is right behind them.” The Guardian can speak for itself. In relation to The Independent, Mr Brummer’s claim is false, myopic, wilfully ignorant, an offence against the integrity of our staff, and an insult to you, our readers.

It is true that, since its founding in 1986, The Independent has championed Enlightenment values; and there have been times when the actions of the Israeli government have not  been driven by enlightened thinking.

Our coverage of Israel is led by our multiple award-winning Middle East Correspondent, Robert Fisk. Mr Fisk, in three decades reporting on that region, understands it better than most of those who slander him, and has been at pains to distinguish between opposition to Israeli policy and anti-Semitism. For 13 of his years at The Independent, he was edited by Simon Kelner, a man of Jewish provenance who has done a very great deal to support Britain’s Jewish diaspora.

Leaving aside the evidently exculpatory evidence pertaining to the “Jewish provenance” of Fisk’s editor, it’s unclear how any serious (“enlightened”) paper can publish such a fantastical account – one suggesting that torture by Arab soldiers at the Khiam jail in Lebanon in the 70s and the mistreatment by military police of the US Army in Iraq (presumably at Abu Ghraib) in 2003 has a Zionist root cause.

Though we of course have no idea if Fisk’s well-documented Israel obsession is influenced by antisemitism, we can certainly conclude that much of his work at the Indy doesn’t even resemble the professional journalism of a serious Middle East correspondent.

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