CST Blog

Robert Fisk and immoral equivalences

18 December 2014

Writing in the Independent, Robert Fisk gives a startling example of anti-Israel obsession, expressed in words that are about Jews, not Israelis. In doing so, he illustrates how far Israel's most trenchant critics will go in order to focus scrutiny and disgust upon it, rather than other targets: in this case, the extremes of Jihadi terrorism. Given the links between anti-Israel agitation and antisemitic attack levels, this rhetorical trend / temptation brings obvious risks for Jews.

Fisk has previously exposed antisemitism and sincerely warned against it, but he still uses language that risks leaving too much to the average reader’s imagination.

Now, Fisk's words about Jews are “massacre of the innocents”. They begin and end an article on the (Pakistani) Tehreek-e-Taliban’s dreadful mass murder of 148 people, including 132 schoolchildren, in a school in Peshawar. It has nothing, whatsoever, to do with Israel, but Fisk cannot resist ending with an attack upon Israel and its Jewish identity.

The article is headlined “Massacre of the innocents born of ambivalence  towards Taliban”. Its opening sentences read “It was a massacre of the innocents. Every report must admit this – because it’s true”. It is typical Fisk, insightful analysis and righteous anger at local and international power play politics, here the relations between the Pakistani Army, Pakistani intelligence services and the Taliban.

The article is nearly a page long and includes a quote from David Gosling, a former head of a leading Peshawar school. Having described the horror of the Peshawar school tragedy and the Pakistani politics behind it, Fisk’s penultimate paragraph once again quotes Gosling. This is where the article shifts to Israel and its Jewishness, where it ceases to be about Pakistan and Jihadis.

“You must remember,” Gosling says, “how enraged people were with the Israeli attacks on Gaza this year. People in Pakistan were furious at the casualty toll – more than 2,000 people, many of them children.”

Then, Fisk’s ending, about Israel and Jews:

“Needless to say, the phrase “massacre of the innocents” was not used about those children.”

So, at its end, the article’s theme “massacre of the innocents” ceases to be about murdered Pakistani schoolchildren. Instead, it is now about Israel and about Jews. Perhaps it was actually about that all along: about the alleged hypocrisy of railing against the Taliban, whilst supposedly giving Israel an easy ride.

The phrase “massacre of the innocents” helps underpin two millennia of Christian anti-Jewishness. It is the story of Herod, King of the Jews, ordering the murder of newborn children in order to kill Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews. This is one of the deep origins of the Jewish “child murderer” charge that occurred repeatedly against British Jews during this summer’s war between Israel and Gaza. Rightly or wrongly, it is also a trope that some perceived to underpin certain mainstream media coverage of the conflict.

But Fisk does not seem to be warning against anti-Jewish resonance within anti-Israel criticism or hatred. On the contrary, he seems to be embracing exactly that practice, using it to say that the media and politicians are somehow forcibly prevented from talking about Israel’s victims in the way that they would the Taliban.

Then, on the wider point about Israel's critics bringing everything back to it, there is Fisk's apparent determination to drag IsraeI into a moral equivalence with the Jihadism evidenced in Peshawar by the cold blooded slaughter of children: and by so many other Jihadist crimes against women, Muslims, Christians, Jews, non-believers, and whoever else they are able to intimidate, brutalise and murder.

The warning here for Jews is that those on the left and elsewhere who are determined to keep depicting opposition to Israel as the world’s most important ideological cause, must overcome the far worse crimes and fantasies of the Jihadists. This means Jihadist crimes must be ignored or minimised, or somehow explained away with Israel as the root cause or moral equivalence. In practise, all four tactics are often simultaneously employed: ignoring, minimising, scapegoating and equating. The factual and moral outrages and hypocrisies that ensue may not be antisemitic as such, but they are a dangerous stupidity that can only bring harm for Israel, Jews, and all other Jihadi targets.

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