Indy’s Robert Fisk crosses the line to antisemitism

If populism, in both right-wing and left-wing manifestations, often promotes the idea that ‘the ‘system is rigged’ by the few to the detriment of the many, antisemitism can be defined as the belief that Jews are the ones rigging the system.  Antisemitism is a malleable, all-purpose conspiracy theory which finds Jews – or Israel as the Jew writ large – at the center of any attempt to understand why, politically or economically, things go wrong.  Further, though those who engage in the irrational belief that a minuscule minority – representing 2/10 of 1% of the world population – is controlling global affairs often see themselves as some sort of causation whistle-blower, daring to ‘connect the dots’ wherever they lead. They are ‘speaking truth to power’.

Enter Robert Fisk, who, in his most benign form, can be seen as that curmudgeonly elderly man in the neighbourhood yelling at kids to get to get off his lawn, but who often seems something closer to the guy on his computer at 3 AM cavorting with cranks and haters on fringe online forums – a guy who, by the way, also happens to be the long-time Middle East correspondent for a respectable British news site.

Though journalists don’t normally write their own headlines, in this case, the Indy editors responsible for this did in fact accurately convey Fisk’s explanation, in his March 26th piece, for US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Though we were able to quickly convince Indy editors to change the headline to something slightly less offensive, Fisk’s antisemitic narrative, that Israel controls the United States, remains in the article.  

Fisk not only levels accusations at mainstream news outlets, like the BBC, for not granting sufficient legitimacy to Syrian claims to the Golan, but argues, in prose dripping with contempt, that such “pro-Israel” coverage of the issue is evidence of the broader media’s “grovelling, cowardly, craven obeisance to Israel”, which he maintains is motivated by their “fear of being cast into the accusatory hell of ‘antisemitism'”. 

In addition to risibly charging the international media with being pro-Israel, and even subservient or submissive to the state, Fisk is arguing that this slavish relationship is motivated by their fear of (false) claims of antisemitism.  But, Fisk is clearly not one to bow to what he’s called moralblackmail” by this evidently perfidious clan, as he goes on to attack those who fail to “complain about the dual loyalties of their countrymen”, who “grovel” and are “in thrall” to the Jewish state.  Israel, he concludes, echoing the unfiltered venom of well-known far-right extremists, has “annexed America“.

So, what does the decision to publish such antisemitic language concerning Jewish power and loyalties tells us about the Independent?

Well, as we see in the Labour antisemitism scandal, it’s possible for a group, party or organisation to become institutionally antisemitic, even if anti-Jewish views are held by a minority of members, when the leadership either endorses such hate or at least allows it to go unpunished. 

Alternatively, those who take a firm stand against bigots associated with their brand can avert charges of antisemtism. 

For instance, in 2014, The Economist, following criticism, removed a cartoon – accompanying an article about opposition to the Iran Deal – that combined the Star of David with the US Congressional seal, suggesting Israeli or Jewish control over the US government.  They also added an editors’ note apologising, stating clearly that they do not believe Jews control Congress.  Even the Guardian readers’ editor ultimately condemned a hateful cartoon by Steve Bell that same year depicting the Israeli prime minister as a puppeteer controlling Tony Blair and William Hague, arguing that it echoed “past antisemitic usage of such imagery”.

Given the increase of antisemitism in Europe, and, in particular, in the UK, it’s incumbent upon top editors at the Independent to take a firm stand against any racist ideas endorsed by their journalists.   

The Indy itself argued, in an official editorial on the Labour antisemitism scandal published last month, that “the perception that one of our great national parties is weak in fighting antisemitism brings shame on us all”.

Whilst we do not believe the Indy is antisemitic, the perception that their news organisation is weak in preventing racist ideas about Jews from being promoted in their publication doesn’t reflect well on their editors.  Particularly in light of the ongoing national antisemitism crisis perceived by many in the British Jewish community as nothing short of an existential threat to Jewish life, their failure to remove Fisk’s toxic tropes or, at least, officially distance themselves from such views, would represent a serious moral abdication.  

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