Friday, January 23, 2009

The Backman Beat-Up

"Alan Kennedy writes: In all her pieces on Michael Backman's column in The Age, a column the thought police have now eradicated from our cyber memory banks, Margaret Simons proceeds from the position that the column should not have run. Her proposition is that inexperienced people allowed it to run and they should have censored it. Now, if you don't accept that central proposition, you see the matter in a different light. I, unlike many, have read the column and apart from some clumsiness about Israeli backpackers, which he never fully explained - although on her blog Margaret Simons was able to provide a possible source for his views - it was a well constructed column. It was not anti-Semitic and all the anti-Semitic constrictions placed on it by the Jewish lobby in Australia and cheered on by The Australian are in their heads only. The controversy here is that it is controversial that the column ran. It was just past of the tapestry in this big issue. The controversy is that The Age felt pressured to apologise and that it pulled the column from its archives. Backman's own website which contained the column was cyber attacked and he had had to pull the column down. This is the obscenity in all this." (, 23/1/09)

One fine day out in newspaper land a business journalist named Michael Backman was sufficiently moved by the bloodbath in Gaza, unlike so many in newspaper land who couldn't give a shit or even find Gaza on a map of the world for that matter, to put his thoughts on paper. They duly appeared as an article, Israelis are living high on US expense account, in The Melbourne Business Age of 17 January.

An impressionistic and commonsensical piece, Backman noted that Israel has become "very expensive to the US, which subsidises and arms it." The bleeding obvious, of course. Mearsheimer & Walt in their indispensible The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy point out that US largesse to Israel translates into a subsidy of $500 per capita per annum. (p 26)

But that, according to Backman, was only half the story, because, he suggested, we're all really paying for Israel: "We have paid for Israel's failure [to transform the Palestinians from enemies into friends] with bombs on London public transport, bombs in bars in Bali, and even the loss of the World Trade Centre Towers in New York." He went on: "It is not true that these outrages have occurred because certain Islamic fundamentalists don't like Western lifestyles and so plant bombs in response. Rather, it is Israel - or more correctly the treatment of the Palestinians - that is at the nub of these events... Pictures of distraught Gazan mothers beside the mutilated bodies of their children are circulating right now among Muslim communities worldwide. It is pictures like these that make them want to do something."

More of the bleeding obvious. As bin Laden himself said of 9/11 on 26/11/01: "The events of...[September 11] are merely a response to the continuous injustice inflicted upon our sons in Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, southern Sudan, and other places, like Kashmir." (from Nineteen Students in Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited by Bruce Lawrence, 2005, p 148) Or as Gabriel Kolko observed more recently: "... one thing is certain. Israel has killed at least 100 Palestinians for each of its own claimed losses, a vast disproportion that has produced horror in much of the world, creating a new cause which has mobilised countless numbers of people - possibly as strong as the Vietnam war movement. It has made itself a pariah nation - save in the United States and a few other countries. Above all, it has inflamed the entire Muslim world. As Bruce Riedal, a 'hawk' who has held senior posts in the CIA for nearly 30 years and is now one of President Obama's many advisers, recently wrote '...the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central all-consuming issue for al-Qaeda', and 'Muslims feel a profound sense of wrong about the creation of Israel that infuses every aspect of their thinking and activities and has become the rallying cry used to convince the ummah of the righteousness of al-Qaeda's cause'. That was before Gaza. Much of the world now detests Israel's atrocities but most of it will live for many years to come with the consequences of Israel's atrocities. Muslim extremists will now become much stronger." (How to inflame the entire Muslim world,, 22/1/09)

Backman then delved into some historical background: "The enmity which many Muslims now feel for Israel has nothing to do with religion. The historical persecutors of the Jews have been Christians - their punishment for the death of Jesus. Jews and Muslims have lived in peace for hundreds of years in many parts of the Islamic world. When Catholic Spain and Portugal expelled its Jews, the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul invited them in. It is the Palestinian issue that has ruined all this." And those rockets - Palestinian of course, there are no others out in newspaper land - how are they to be explained? "Constantly slapping an opponent in the face, kicking him down to his knees, and watching him struggle in the dirt will not teach him to love or respect you. It teaches only hatred." "Hamas did not enjoy the support of all the people of Gaza. It does now. Why does Israel keep getting it wrong?" As I said, commonsensical.

Backman then drew a link between Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians and the behaviour of Israeli backbackers in Nepal, citing Nepalese claims of rudeness, arrogance, and a tendency to "argue over trifling amounts of money even though they clearly have means." This is hearsay, of course, but even worse claims have been made by Israelis themselves (see my 4/12/08 and 8/12/08 posts Zionist S & M and A Blight Unto the Nations). His conclusion: "Israel needs to change." And, in terms of how to interact with others, Backman suggested that Israelis might have something to learn from the good works of India's Parsees.

Well and good, another piece in the bag, Backman must have thought as he read his article on The Age's website. But others out in Israel lobby land, Zionist hawks who watch the scribblings of journalists - well, like hawks - lest a few home truths about the apple of their eye emerge into print, saw an opportunity and swooped. I say opportunity because, with the slaughter in Gaza, the Israeli apple has been looking decidedly wormy of late to all but Zionist hawks, and Backman's plain-speaking provided an excuse to both draw attention away from Gaza and target The Age for daring to deviate from the rigidly pro-Israel line laid down by the lobby. The technique? Smear Backman, and by implication The Age, as a purveyor of anti-Semitism, albeit in its supposed modern-day guise of criticism of Israel. And where better to do so than in Rupert's rag.

It was a highly orchestrated affair: "The Jewish community is considering legal action against The Age newspaper over 'poisonous' anti-Semitic commentary published over the weekend" (Jews slam 'racist' newspaper article, Angus Hohenboken), asserted a 'news' report in The Australian of 20 January. What, the entire Jewish community? And where was the adjective 'alleged', as in 'alleged poisonous anti-Semitic commentary'? Welcome to the wonderful world of The Australian. Read on and you find that "the Jewish community" reduces, in the body of the report, to John Searle (Jewish Community Council of Victoria), Danny Lam (Zionist Council of Victoria), Michael Danby (MP, Melbourne Ports) and Vic Alhadeff (Jewish Board of Deputies). IOW, the organised Israel lobby.

Lamm "condemned the article, saying it encapsulated 'centuries of hate speech against Jews in a few hundred words'." This because "the article stated that the historical persecution of Jews constituted punishment for the death of Jesus..." Backman's words ("The historical persecutors of the Jews have been Christians - their punishment for the death of Jesus") may have been a little bald - 'who claimed that it was' might have been preferable to the dash - but to suggest that he was somehow endorsing this Christian view is really stretching it. The stretch was followed by a sleight of hand: "... and suggested Israelis and Jews were disinterested [sic] in the welfare of others..." Backman used the word Israelis, not Jews: "Israel needs to change... the Parsees have peace and the Israelis do not." Danby "called on Backman to apologise for 'using the blood of 80 Australians for his bigoted theories'." His premise, of course, is that Backman approves of the Bali outrage. There is no evidence whatever for this. Positing a motive for such a terrorist outrage other than that approved by Zionist/neocon propagandists (that the Bali bombers were motivated solely by hatred for our western lifestyle) is clearly a flagrant breach of the party line and cannot be tolerated. Danby also took umbrage at "stereotypes in the article about young Israelis not paying bills in Nepal [feeding] into primitive prejudice about 'penny-pinching' Jews'." In doing so he misrepresents Backman who was merely quoting the Nepalese: "... they [Nepalis] say that the young Israelis are rude, arrogant, and argue over trifling amounts of money even though they clearly have means."

Hohenbeken's report was followed by an excerpt from Backman's piece in the Cut & Paste section of The Australian's letters page (The song remains the same: it's all the fault of Israel: Michael Backman, in the business pages of The Age, blames Islamist terrorism on arrogant, penny-pinching Israelis). Also in Cut & Paste was A letter in online publication Issues of Concern for Justice & Society which likened Backman's piece to the content of Der Sturmer , invoked Hitler's blaming of the Jews for Germany's losing of WW1, and spoke of "people like Backman who are too cowardly to say that they hate Jews, so they vilify Israel." Again, the smear: criticism of Israel is merely classical anti-Semitism in contemporary dress. But there was more: Tim Blair in his Daily Telegraph blog, contra Backman, felt obliged to point out that Hamas was lobbing rockets on Sderot because its "charter simply demands [Israel's] obliteration." And more: The Australian Jewish News reports "The Age's coverage has been the most problematic. Even worse was The Age's opinion balance." That, however, let the cat out of the bag as to what was really eating the Zionists - not Backman, but the more balanced Age coverage of the Gaza bloodbath (see my previous post). Finally, Cut & Paste quoted Mark Steyn in the National Review Online on the act of Jew-baiting, then and now to the effect that the Jew-baiting Mosleyites of the 30s had re-emerged in London as today's anti-Israel protestors.

The Australian was back at it the next day: "A former editor-in-chief of The Age [and one-time editor of the AJN Michael Gawenda] has accused the paper of 'journalistic failure' [Yes, that's right, Gawenda accuses The Age of journalistic failure in The Australian of all places!], blasting the newspaper for printing an 'inadequate' apology after it published a column espousing racist views... The apology said [it] was 'published in error. The Age does not in any way endorse the views of the columnist, apologises for the distress the column caused to many readers, particularly in the Jewish community and regrets publication of the column' it said." (Paper's apology over anti-Semitic article 'inadequate', Angus Hohenboken) But not even an apology from Age editor Paul Ramadge was enough for Gawenda (who'd earlier been sacked as an Age columnist for criticising Fairfax management). He wanted The Age to "tell its readers how it would prevent the publication of racist material in the future," and suggested that Ramadge initiate a "cultural" revolution at the paper.

The Backman beat-up was getting bigger than Ben Hur. There was also an editorial, Apologists for evil: Blaming Israel for terrorism completely misses the point, which suggested, like the AJN quote above, that The Age was really the problem ("... no amount of apologising can disguise the obvious: if Blackman's [sic] beliefs are not held by senior staff at the paper, why did his piece appear?"), rather than Backman ("There is no evidence that Blackman [sic] hates Jews, but people who do will endorse his arguments and continue to cloak their anti-Semitism in a faux concern for the Palestinians.").

Hello? Let's look at that again: there is no evidence that Backman hates Jews. That is, nothing he has written can be characterised as anti-Semitic, right? So he's not an anti-Semite, right? But didn't Hohenboken's report the day before refer to Backman's " 'poisonous' anti-Semitic commentary," weren't Searle and Lamm quoted as saying the article "encapsulated 'centuries of hate speech against Jews...'," and didn't Alhadaff say it "reflected 'the bigotry of rank anti-Semitism...' "? Didn't Cut & Paste conjure Der Sturmer and Hitler? I'm afraid they did. And, in the same issue as the editorial declaring that Backman was not an anti-Semite, isn't Gawenda banging on about "racist material"? Yep, afraid so. Basically, the editorial reduces to the contention that, while sometimes real anti-Semites may masquerade as pro-Palestinians, Backman is not in that category.

Should that not have been the end of the matter? But there's always more in The Australian, the special mission of which is the shielding of Israel from legitimate criticism and analysis by smearing it as anti-Semitism. Under the hypocritical title (this is The Australian remember), Broadsheet no place for narrow minds: anti-Semitism is a monster that will be difficult to stamp out globally, but it hopefully isn't too much to expect that it can at least be eliminated from the pages of The Age, one of the lobby's mates, Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson, accused Backman of "dredg[ing] up the most venerable of anti-Jewish biases," and "appear[ing] to endorse [the New Testament Book of Thessalonians in accusing] the Jews of murdering Jesus... " The remainder of Ronaldson's opinion piece is the usual Zionist filler ("Zionism, the national movement for Jewish sovereign self-determination") having nothing to do with the Backman beat-up.

To summarise: Neither Backman nor his article are in any way anti-Semitic. The article was, however, opportunistically seized on to peddle the false Zionist dogma that Judaism (a faith) and Zionism (a political ideology) are essentially one and the same (and that by extension Jews, all Jews, are Zionists), such that criticism/opposition to Zionism and its political embodiment, the state of Israel, is really just classical anti-Semitism in modern form. The general aim, of course, being to divert the public's attention from Israel's crimes in Gaza and blunt criticism of same. The problem for the Israel lobby, which effectively controls coverage of the conflict at The Australian, is the relative even-handed approach to the issue of its Fairfax rival The Age. The Age's independence of the lobby in this respect has long been an anathema and an affront to it, and Backman's imaginary crimes have been used in an attempt to put pressure on The Age's editorial line on Palestine/Israel.

But that was not the end of the matter. It was taken up on by author and media specialist Margaret Simons. In The Michael Backman column: weird & unpleasant happenings at The Age (21/1/09), she faithfully echoes the lobby's inflammatory discourse, stating that "it's all about an anti-Semitic column by... Michael Backman... and about the bizarre 'apology' The Age had on page 2 yesterday." "How did such a racist column come to be published?" she asks. The absence of the qualifier 'allegedly/alleged' is glaring, and indicates that on matters of what constitutes anti-Semitism/racism, Simons naively relys on her Zionist lobbyist contacts. What I find bizarre in all this is that in Simons we seem to have a media expert who evinces little or no awareness of the fact that false allegations of anti-Semitism (or the threat of same) are often wielded by Israel-firsters to mute or curb criticism of Israel in the corporate media*. It is hard to believe she does not have some inkling of this state of affairs?

[*As the American journalist Harold R Piety put it: "The ugly cry of anti-Semitism is the bludgeon used by the Zionists to bully non-Jews into accepting the Zionist view of world events, or to keep silent." (They Dare to Speak Out: People & Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby, Paul Findley, 1985, p 296)]

Simons writes that "part of the background [to the apology] is the instant action by the Jewish community, and in particular the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council and its chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein [who] spoke to... Ramadge on Monday morning, and he and Leibler met Ramadge face to face that afternoon. Rubenstein told me this morning that Ramadge 'happily agreed' that the column was offensive and outrageous, said its publication was due to a 'breakdown in editorial procedures' and promised that he had the affair 'under the microscope'. He also promised an unreserved apology." What is noteworthy here is Simons' unquestioning assumption that "the Jewish community" and AIJAC are one and the same. Does she mistakenly believe that the AIJAC heads are somehow elected by 'their' community? Does the ability of Leibler and Rubenstein to get a same day, face to face meeting with the editor, and an 'on the spot' apology not pique her interest as an objective observer of the media scene? Does she not wonder at Ramadge's reported 'Yes, sir, no, sir, 3 bags full, sir' response? Does she not feel the need to question the assumption that, if Ramadge really did concede that Backman's article was "offensive and outrageous," then it must have been offensive and outrageous? Does it occur to her that there are real implications for the right of free speech in all this?

Simons goes on to examine the process by which the article ran and finds that at the time some among the Age staff "argued strongly in favour of [Backman's] publication" on the grounds that "pieces critical of Muslims often got a run" and that "The Age should not be seen to be frightened of the 'Jewish lobby', and Israeli treatment of Palestinians and actions in Gaza were legitimate topics of debate." Frightened of the 'Jewish lobby'? What a revealing insight into the pressure that those trying to report and comment on the Palestine problem are under. Why doesn't Simons explore this?

But no, she has no doubts: "Here's what I think. The column is clearly offensive, and also weird... It makes the classic logical error of the racist - generalising from the particular deeds of an individual or group to the race as a whole. It manages to blame Jews for Muslim extremism and violence [I repeat, Backman is not talking about Jews as such, but Israelis], talks carelessly about that classic of anti-Semitic hate speech - that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus [Zionist conflation of Jews with Zionists is not careless talk?] - and leaps bizarrely from what is happening in Gaza to the alleged [her first and only use of this invaluable qualifier] rude behaviour of Israeli tourists... I think the Backman column shouldn't have been published. It's a pretty vile and silly piece." There really is only one word for this - bollocks!


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the piece, but I think you hit the nail on the head with your summary.

Many Jews, I think, are finding it more and more difficult to defend the racist, apartheid, arrogant attitude of Israeli Jews, and the State policy of land grabs, ethnic clearance, and blatant military aggression (eg Anti-Israel Jewish Voices Speak Louder). Nor can they be too comfortable aligning with the crazy Christian Zionist movement in the US.

Blowing up this piece is perfect for the zionist lobby since it brings these doubters back into the fold - " you see the old canard of Christians hating us because we killed Christ is still alive, therefore we have to behave like this and our actions are justified".

This canard about Christ, which by the way I have never heard spoken by anyone, would represent old-fashioned anti-semitism; and since the zionists of late have been struggling to keep afloat the concept that anti-Israel = anti-semitism, this will be seized upon and manipulated to keep this concept alive for a bit longer.

Therefore, I expect to see this article dragged back to life and discussed in depth for as long as they can keep it going.


Anonymous said...

I read the piece and now wish that I had made a copy. It was pretty much as you have described. The backpackers in Nepal bit was clumsy and not necessary, and did weaken his other points, but I would not have called it anti-semitic.


Anonymous said...

Check out the article here -