The erosion of free speech
It was the wrong sort of courage and she was defending the freedom
of the wrong people
By Robert Fisk
Independent" -- -- You've got to fight. It's the only
conclusion I can draw as I see the renewed erosion of our freedom to
discuss the Middle East. The most recent example - and the most
shameful - is the cowardly decision of the New York Theatre Workshop
to cancel the Royal Court's splendid production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie.
It's the story - in her own words and emails - of the brave young
American woman who travelled to Gaza to protect innocent
Palestinians and who stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer in an
attempt to prevent the driver from destroying a Palestinian home.
The bulldozer drove over her and then reversed and crushed her a
second time. "My back is broken," she said before she died.
An American heroine, Rachel earned no brownie points from the Bush
administration which bangs on about courage and freedom from
oppression every few minutes. Rachel's was the wrong sort of courage
and she was defending the freedom of the wrong people. But when I
read that James Nicola, the New York Theatre Workshop's "artistic
director" - his title really should be in quotation marks - had
decided to "postpone" the play "indefinitely" because (reader, hold
your breath) "in our pre-production planning and our talking around
and listening in our communities (sic) in New York, what we heard
was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas. ...
we had a very edgy situation", I didn't know whether to laugh or
So let's confront this tomfoolery. Down in Australia, my old mate
Antony Loewenstein, a journalist and academic, is having an equally
vile time. He has completed a critical book on the Israel/Palestine
conflict for Melbourne University Publishing and Jewish communities
in Australia are trying to have it censored out of existence before
it appears in August. Last year, Federal Labour MP Michael Danby,
who like Loewenstein is Jewish, wrote a letter to the Australian
Jewish News demanding that Loewenstein's publishers should "drop
this whole disgusting project". The book, he said, would be "an
attack on the mainstream Australian Jewish community".
Now the powerful New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies has
weighed in against Loewenstein and efforts are under way to deprive
him of his place on the board of Macquarie University's Centre for
Middle East and North African Studies.
A one-off bit of skulduggery on Israel's behalf? Alas, no. A letter
arrived for me last week from Israeli-American Barbara Goldscheider
whose novel "Naqba: The Catastrophe: The Palestinian-Israeli
Conflict" has just been published. She has been attacked, she told
me, "merely because I chose an Arabic title to my novel on the
conflict... My brother-in-law has broken his relationship with me
before he even read the book ... From members of my 'Orthodox'
Jewish congregation in Bangor (Maine), I received a phone call from
an irate 'friend' sputtering ... out: 'Don't you know the Arabs want
to destroy Israel?'"
A talk on her new novel scheduled to take place last month at a
conservative synagogue was cancelled "due to the uproar about my
novel". A Boston professor has mercifully written to Goldscheider
with what I regard as bloody good advice. "There's a vicious
campaign out there," he said. "Don't cave in."
But what do you do when a publisher - or an "artistic director" -
caves in? I found out for myself not long ago when the Military
History Society of Ireland asked permission to reprint a paper I had
published some years ago on a battle between the Irish Army's UN
battalion in southern Lebanon and Israel's proxy - and brutal -
Lebanese militia, the so-called "South Lebanon Army", whose
psychotic commander was a cashiered Lebanese army major called Saad
In the paper, I mentioned how an Israeli major called Haim extorted
money from the inhabitants of the south Lebanese village of Haris
and gave the code name of an Israeli agent - "Abu Shawki" - who was
present at the murder of two Irish soldiers.
I had published these details many times, both in my own newspaper
and in my previous book on the Lebanon war, Pity the Nation. Major
Haddad died of cancer more than 10 years ago. I actually met Haim in
the early 1980s as he emerged from a meeting with the mayor of Haris
from whom he demanded money to pay Israel's cruel militiamen - the
UN was also present and recorded his threats - while "Abu Shawki",
whom the Irish police would like to interview, later tried to arrest
me in Tyre - and immediately freed me - when I told him I knew that
he was a witness to the murder of the two Irish soldiers.
So what was I supposed to do when I received the following letter
from ex-Brigadier General Patrick Purcell of the Irish Army?
"Unfortunately we have been forced to withdraw (your) article in
view of a letter from our publisher Irish Academic Press. It is
clear from our contract that (our) Society would be responsible in
the event of a libel action." The enclosed letter from publisher
Frank Cass advised that his lawyer had "cautioned" him because I had
described Haddad as "psychotic", named the blackmailing Israeli
major and named the Israeli agent present at the two murders.
It's interesting that Mr Cass's lawyer believes it is possible to
libel a man (Haddad) who has been dead for more than a decade, even
more so that he should think that publishing a military code name
would prompt this rascal to expose his real identity in a court of
law. As for Major Haim, he remains on UN files as the man who tried
- and apparently succeeded - in forcing the people of southern
Lebanon to cough up the cash to pay for their own oppressors.
And the moral of all this? Well obviously, don't contribute articles
to the Military History Society of Ireland. But more to the point, I
better remember what I wrote in this newspaper just over six years
ago, that "the degree of abuse and outright threats now being
directed at anyone ... who dares to criticise Israel ... is fast
reaching McCarthyite proportions. The attempt to force the media to
obey Israel's rules is ... international". And growing, I should now
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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