‘Radical’ Irish commentator Eamonn McCann and false Zionist quotes

Eamonn McCann is a “socialist activist” and Irish political commentator who often regales readers with anti-Zionist agitprop so hyperbolic that it could have originated from Soviet Department for Agitation and Propaganda.

McCann has expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah, hurled a version of the ‘Zionism equals racism’ charge, evoked the ‘chosen people’ canard, suggested that Jews falsely cry antisemitism to stifle debate on Israel and ruminated over whether “rich Zionists” control US foreign policy.

In his latest intellectually unserious attack on Israel, published at the Belfast Telegraph (Silence deafening over Netanyahu’s disgusting racism, Feb. 24), McCann complains that there’s a dearth of critical scrutiny over the racist sins of the Jewish state.  As you’ll see, what McCann refers to as Israel’s “compendium of bigotry” involves a few alleged quotes by Israeli prime ministers, all either taken out of context, distorted or otherwise misrepresented.

Palestinians are “wild beasts”.

The first example McCann cites is Netanyahu’s alleged reference “to Palestinians” as “wild beasts”, a ‘racist’ charge, he complains, that didn’t elicit even a “mild condemnation in the mainstream media”.  

McCann is wrong on two counts.

First, the Hebrew word Netanyahu used in the speech is more accurately translated to “predators”, rather than “wild beasts”. More importantly, Netanyahu was speaking in the context of a fence the state is building around the country to protect against terror attacks, and was clearly referring narrowly to jihadists and other terrorists as “predators”, not most or all Palestinians.

Then, McCann provides his other “examples” of official Israeli racism in an attempt to contextualize Netanyahu’s remarks by citing a supposed history of Israeli prime ministers engaging in racist and dehumanizing rhetoric about Palestinians.:

Netanyahu and a long line of predecessors feel no need for such restraint. The Palestinians are crocodiles, beasts on two legs, grasshoppers to be crushed “and their heads smashed against boulders” previous Israeli Prime Ministers have variously suggested.

There are several “quotes” embedded here – so let’s take them one at a time:

Palestinians are “Grasshoppers to be crushed”

McCann suggests that an Israeli prime minister said that Palestinians are “grasshoppers to be crushed”, a quote which actually goes back to Yitzhak Shamir in 1988. However, columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time, “Shamir did not say that Palestinians will be crushed like grasshoppers”, as some claimed.

In addressing those Palestinians who would launch attacks, Shamir did say, wrote Krauthammer, that “those who would destroy what we are building . . . they are in our sight like grasshoppers” – inversely evoking the Biblical story of the spies sent to the promise land, in which the inhabitants were described as “giants” who would crush the Israelites like “grasshoppers”.

Krauthammer claimed that the word “crushed” in the alleged quote was a media invention.  

Moreover, JTA’s Ron Kampeas and our own Richard Millett have both addressed the charge and agreed with Krauthammer’s other observation that Shamir, in the quote in question, was clearly only referring to those who would launch attacks – not all or most Palestinian.

Palestinians are “beasts on two legs”.

McCann’s quote stems from allegations that former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin called Palestinians ‘beasts’ on two legs – or some version of that.  However, back in 2004, CAMERA refuted this very allegation (which had been promoted by the Indy’s Robert Fisk and radical French-Israeli journalist, Amnon Kapeliouk).

CAMERA showed that Begin was talking, not about “the Palestinians” but about terrorists who target Israel children.  Specifically, on June 8, 1982, Begin addressed the Knesset and talked about defending the children of Israel:

The children of Israel will happily go to school and joyfully return home, just like the children in Washington, in Moscow, and in Peking, in Paris and in Rome, in Oslo, in Stockholm and in Copenhagen. The fate of… Jewish children has been different from all the children of the world throughout the generations. No more. We will defend our children. If the hand of any two-footed animal is raised against them, that hand will be cut off, and our children will grow up in joy in the homes of their parents.

Again, McCann’s allegation that an Israeli prime minister referred to all or most Palestinians as “two-legged beasts” is simply not true.

Palestinians are “crocodiles”

Again, CAMERA investigated this allegation, and came to the following conclusion:

Whoever made this reference — and it is far from clear that it was [Ehud] Barak — seemed to be talking about the Palestinian government negotiators who were demanding more control over Jerusalem. According to the AFP news agency, a close aide to Barak was reported to have said: “In a few weeks we will know if the Palestinians want peace and are prepared to look at the compromise proposals on Jerusalem put forward by (US) President Bill Clinton at Camp David or if they are like crocodiles, which the more they eat the hungrier they are.” Israeli Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi later accused Barak of being that “close aide,” but this was never confirmed.

Clearly, McCann’s supposed examples of Israeli racism are compromised by distorted quotes and a mischaracterization of the context to falsely suggest the prime ministers in question were describing most or all Palestinians rather than merely terrorists.

To paraphrase Benny Morris’s searing criticism of a widely maligned book on the “Israel lobby”, if Eamonn McCann’s op-ed was an actual person, we would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body.

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