By Rob Harris
Part One: The issues raised
On the 9th of February 2012 the Irish Examiner featured an extraordinary article by Dervla Murphy calling on Irish President Michael D. Higgins not to visit Israel. Like many news outlets, the Irish Examiner is slanted against Israel but the intellectual dishonesty of Ms. Murphy’s article stands out, as does the extremism of purposing a one-state solution.
Part one of this article looks at the broad issues surrounding Dervla Murphy’s open letter. Part Two is a lengthier article analysing the views of the critics that Ms. Murphy quotes prolifically.
A photograph of dubious origin
A large image of a Palestinian man in intense agony is the first thing that greets the reader of Dervla Murphy’s article. It is a particularly emotive image to lead an article with. Beneath are the words:
Palestinian worker screams after an Israeli driver drove a trailer over his legs, as Israeli forces stopped workers building at house at al-Dirat on Jan 25.
Interestingly, this photo is only one of several libellous images that surfaced recently. It was published by the international media outlet AFP. CAMERA pointed out that the event was likely to be staged due to a number of obvious inconsistencies, in terms of the visuals of the event, subsequent accounts, and the absence of the relevant local Palestinian and UN agencies reporting a serious casualty. The controversy erupted at the end of January, after a number of mainstream news outlets ran the same image. The issue continues to rumble on so it is telling that the Irish Examiner chose to run it at this stage, when there are a vast number of alternative photographs at their disposal.
The image is part of a recent rash of staged photographs, including one of a supposed Israeli soldier with his boot planted on the chest of a girl lying on the ground, while he points a rifle at her. It turned out to be from a piece of street theatre staged in Bahrain, which pro-Palestinian activists attempted to turn viral. Such images are a key part of a demonising campaign to delegitimise Israel’s very existence.
The cynicism of this behaviour is illustrated by the all too common use of children as a pro-Palestinian propagandistic tool because it is such an understandably emotive subject. The 2000 Al-Dura case is the most famous of these proven mainstream media hoaxes. Recent fabrications were made about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in the judicial system which caused a great deal of diplomatic damage in Australia.
Who is Dervla Murphy?
Dervla Murphy is a well known Irish travel author, who has been writing about her experiences since the 1960’s. She is a distinctly left-wing author, who expressed support for the oppressive communist regime in Cuba. Considering her ideology, it is fitting that she is also a seasoned pro-Palestinian. She spent an extended period of time in the West Bank, where she visited the “sinister” settlement of Kirya Arbat.
Ms. Murphy planned to travel on the Gaza Flotilla in 2011, despite her advancing years, although it appears she didn’t attempt it in the end but features in a rather insulting promo where the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign urge people to “stay human”. She subsequently visited Gaza in 2011, and is currently writing a book about her encounters with Israelis and Palestinians, which looks set to be a piece of intensive pro-Palestinian propaganda if her article in the Irish Examiner is any indicator.
When Murphy was twelve, her family took in Charlie Kerins, the then IRA Chief of Staff, for several weeks in 1943 when he was on the run. As a leading member of the IRA, Kerins can be considered a Nazi collaborator because the IRA was co-operating substantively with Nazi intelligence at a time, and they believed the Reich would install the IRA as the government come an invasion. Many in the IRA were interned as a result. Thus harbouring Kerins could be seen as an act of treason at a time when the Irish State was attempting to stay neutral during World War II. Interestingly, she describes his subsequent execution for killing a policeman in rather heroic terms, as recounted in her book on Northern Ireland, entitled “A place apart” (1979).
Why an open letter?
Ms. Murphy’s article is extraordinary for several reasons. Firstly, it proports to be an open letter to beseech President Michael D. Higgins not to visit Israel. Open letters are an interesting facet of the publishing world because they have a sense of independence from the publication that carries them, whilst op-eds (opinion pieces) have a stronger association with the publication itself. Thus, there is essentially no requirement for any sort of journalistic ethics since an open letter is still a mere letter.
One purpose of open-letters is to challenge the stance of the person to which it is addressed. Even though the piece is addressed to Michael D. Higgins, his own views are not addressed. Rather the letter treats a number of appalling things Israel has supposedly done as a given, and quotes the views of a large number of extreme anti-Israel activists. This is an odd approach to pursuasion because Higgins is certainly no stranger to these accusations or the stances of anti-Israel activists. If anything he would be far more familiar with them then Ms. Murphy herself. Higgins is commonly seem as Ireland’s most senior anti-Israel politician.
Higgins has done vastly more to criticise Israel than Ms. Murphy has over the years. Higgins’ own stance is ignored and the piece simply advances a particular solution to the conflict, namely the nullification of Israel as a Jewish state. As a result it would seem this “open letter” is in essence a further effort to delegitimse Israel, with zero requirement for journalistic ethics as befitting the format.
By your quotes we shall know thee
Perhaps the most interesting feature of Dervla Murphy’s relatively lengthy article is the large number of anti-Zionist Jews she cites. She quotes Tony Judt, Judith Butler, Vitzhak Laor, Udi Aloni, and the Olga Document, the culmination of meetings by a group of anti-Zionist Jewish-Israeli academics.
Through a patchwork of selective quotes, Murphy uses their words to make more of the points than she actually does herself. Three non-Jewish people are quoted. These are two Palestinians and an Arab man, two of which are quoted very briefly. It is surely an odd way to construct a letter or article.
Indeed Murphy disingenuously ties up her article by asserting a concern for Israeli citizens themselves:
For the President of Ireland to visit Israel as a state guest would contribute to block that road to peace. By condoning the actions of a government that consistently flouts international law, you would be betraying the citizens of this country, the defenceless Palestinians and the many non-Zionist Jews who are so deeply ashamed of the state of Israel as present constituted.
Jewish anti-Zionists like Tony Judt and Ilan Pappé are cited by pro-Palestinians more commonly than non-Jews. A notable feature of the pro-Palestinian movement is the prolific use of Jewish critics, whether they are academic or not, to publicly attack Israel. These critics include victims of the Holocaust. This is surely an odd fact since the pro-Palestinian movement is a vast international phenomenon, in which a limited number of anti-Israeli Jews would represent a very small minority.
While some Jewish people attack Israel on their own initiative, there seems to be a ploy of promoting Jewish critics in the movement because, although related to the issue, they appear to be greatly over-represented given population size. An example of this phenomenon is the common mischaracterisation by pro-Palestinians of the Neturei Karta, as representative of mainstream Judaism, when in fact they are a small group of Ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist extremists.
Considering the extreme sensitivity of the pro-Palestinian movement to accusations of anti-Semitism, it does seem that the prolific use of Jewish critics is intended to deflect accusations of racism. Using such sources targets the common belief amongst some that anti-Semitism is behind the intense criticism of the Jewish State. It also allows the pro-Palestinian critic to go further in their demonisation of Israel for the simple reason that a number of Jewish people are doing it too.
Using Jewish and Israeli-Jewish critics also undermines understanding of why Israel, as a Jewish state, ought to exist. The rebuttal of the right of a Jewish state to exist is a recurrent feature of Ms. Murphy’s article. Consequently, her article is a highly manipulative work, advancing an extremist agenda, whilst disingenuously inferring or proclaiming a concern for Jewish welfare in virtually every paragraph.
Have Jewish people stopped supporting Israel?
Murphy repeatedly cites numerous Jewish people to suggest the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement is some sort of solidarity movement. Her stance infers that there is a very substantial support among Jews for this campaign, and the one-state solution. This is total nonsense.
Many Jews and non-Jews alike have refuted the precepts of the BDS movement. It includes 41 Nobel laureates who affirm the BDS movement is:
- antithetical to principles of academic and scientific freedom,
- antithetical to principles of freedom of expression and inquiry, and
- may well constitute discrimination by virtue of national origin,
Her article invokes what academic Ted Lapkin refers to as “the meme of the ‘disaffected Jew’”, which has been greatly exaggerated in the media. The fact remains that the great majority of Jewish people the world over support Israel, as surveys attest.
In a 2010 annual survey of Jewish American opinion, when asked “Should the Palestinians be required or not be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement?”, no less than 94% of those asked said it was required. This survey was taken by moderates that identify as Democratic Party supporters. Jewish support for the dissolution of the Jewish State is marginal at best.
Another study in 2011 by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, found that 63% of American Jews still feel connected to Israel, and 75% said that caring about Israel is a significant part of their Jewish identity. This was affirmed by younger and older people surveyed. Despite many being exposed to intense pro-Palestinian activism on US campuses, surveys indicate Jewish students still support Israel.
A survey of Jewish people in the UK found that “British Jews strongly identified with and supported Israel, with nine out of 10 having visited it.” Regarding strength of opinion, 72% agreed Israel’s action in Gaza in 2008 and 2009 was “a legitimate act of self-defence” and 77% favoured the two-state solution as the only solution to peace.
A survey of Israeli citizens, taken a few months ago by the Brookings Institute, showed that most Israeli citizens want the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, with 2/5ths wanting it as a precondition for future negotiations. The survey included Arab-Israeli citizens, and interestingly, a significant number believed Israel was an apartheid state a la BDS propaganda but at least 60% thought Israel was not apartheid.
Black und White pro-Palestinianism
Before getting into the substance of the points in the article, Murphy starts off appropriately enough by leaving the reader in no doubt as to where she stands, when she addresses Higgins:
Were you, as President, to visit Israel, you would be signalling to all the world that this country approves of a truly vicious regime.
Such a black and white stance, with no centre ground to speak of, is a common feature of the pro-Palestinian movement. The reality is that Higgins wouldn’t merely be visiting Israel. He would also be visiting the West Bank and Gaza, which would in effect be a telling expression of his interest in the Palestinians and a just solution to the conflict.
By using the phrase “pressing that button…” in relation to free-speech, Murphy insinuates that Israel somehow manipulated Irish government ministers into attending an Israeli film festival late last year:
Last November, to my Palestinian friend’s disappointment, we failed to organise a boycott of a four-day, state-funded Israeli film festival in Dublin….
Freedom of speech is a tricky one and the pressing of that button gained Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s attendance at the opening night.
This illustrates an all too common contempt for free speech amongst the pro-Palestinian brigade. Indeed, even a number of more moderate supporters of the Palestinians were angry that the IPSC, of which Ms. Murphy appears to be a member, attempted to prevent any showing of the films, and intimidated those that wished to attend. The IPSC has a right to protest but it has no moral right to shut down such an event.
Perhaps the Government is uninformed about “Brand Israel”. This global campaign, also launched in 2005, is funded by various Israeli government agencies and major pro-Zionist international (mainly US) groups. Its primary purpose is to promote Israel as a “normal” country involved in tourism, sports, innovative science, a vibrant youth culture, and so on. On its behalf, all Israel’s consulates and embassies are kept busy.
The “Brand Israel” campaign was in actual fact an attempt to present Israel as something more than a state involved in conflict. Perhaps all the nations of the world engage in such activity. Brand Israel is not an attempt to whitewash the conflict because the content rarely addresses such topics. Rather it was an effort to counter the continual coverage of the Middle East, which presents Israel in a one-dimensional way. Despite Ms. Murphy’s exaggeration over its scale, it could never be more than a modest response to continual high-level mainstream coverage.
As much as Ms. Murphy would like us to think otherwise, Israel is also a fairly “normal” country that functions “normally”, with many lives that are relatively untouched by the conflict. Ms. Murphy, and her pro-Palestinian associates, would have us turn away from and refute this obvious truth about Israel.
Israeli’s ain’t “normal”
One of the more absurd paragraphs illustrates the remarkable nerve of Ms. Murphy’s attitude on Israel:
Israelis have the power to oppose the occupation through BDS, the most powerful non-violent means available. Things change the minute you say “we cannot continue to act as normal”. To work to the side of the occupation is to participate in its normalisation. And the way that normalisation works is to efface or distort the reality of the occupation within public discourse. As a result, neutrality is not an option.
Bizarrely, Ms. Murphy believes any ordinary Israeli person is not entitled to live a normal life, even if they do not actively participate in the machinations of the Jewish State! Oh no, Israeli’s are not entitled to be “normal”, that particular reality, in which several million Israeli’s live is somehow bad or wrong since it represents complicity with the “occupation” to be involved in its apparent “normalisation”.
Ms. Murphy infers the reality of the “occupation” is somehow undermined in discourse because “normalisation” “distort[s]” or “efface[s]” the reality of the occupation. Quite how this happens is unclear. It is a particularly absurd argument, especially since there is prolific coverage of the conflict in Israel, perhaps more so than in any other nation of the world, and much of said coverage comes from distinctly left-wing sources like Haaretz that are very critical of the “occupation”. This bizarre theory does suggest that Murphy and associates want Israeli’s to simply stop functioning as human beings.
Oh wait, that is actually what they want! According to Ms. Murphy and her ilk, there can be no neutrality. Every Israeli must choose a side, and furthermore it must be Ms. Murphy’s side! All Israeli’s must advocate BDS strategies to bring the nation to its knees, even though they will no doubt harm their own lives in a very serious way, that of their families, their friends, those they love… It leads one to ask does working a job in Israel to feed one’s family also contribute to “normalisation”?
BDS and its link with the one-state solution
Almost without exception, the individuals Ms. Murphy quotes, strongly advocate both a BDS approach to bring Israel to heel, and then a one-state solution to the conflict! Murphy seeks a one-state solution, a la Rwanda, which Judith Butler cited as an example of such a bi-national solution. Murphy states:
BDS is the most powerful non-violent means available. If millions say, “we cannot continue to act as normal” while the repression continues, then things would change and everyone would be much closer to binationalism, which is the only solution.
The only solution to the conflict for these anti-Zionists is the creation of one state that in demographic terms would subsume the Jewish people under an Arab-Islamic majority regime. The remarkable fact is that the leaders of the broad Arab-Islamic culture of the region express considerably more genocidal intent toward the Jews than the National Socialists of 1930’s Germany did! Sadly, it seems people they represent have little objection to this approach, as suggested by independent surveys.
Omar Barghouti, a principle figure of the BDS campaign also advocates the one-state solution, which he understands to be the destruction of Israel:
It is not the occupation of the West Bank that is the problem, but the existence of Israel itself.
Blind to the blindingly obvious
Perhaps the most fundamental impression one gets of Dervla Murphy’s article, is its abject failure to address any of Israel’s worries or make any attempt to understand their perspective, however minimal:
For whatever reason, Ireland’s Government (and most others) choose to “continue to act as normal”. To maintain friendly relations as though Israel’s repression of the Palestinians were some isolated error of judgement, when in truth it is central to the state’s existence and has been since 1948. […]
…neutrality is not an option. We all have a moral duty to be hostile to a government that deliberately and relentlessly inflicts so much suffering on successive generations of a people who did nothing to deserve the Zionists’ colonisation of their territory.
The stark extremism of Ms. Murphy’s views are illustrated by the fact that she clearly thinks Israel ought not exist at all, and never should have. This is in part because she strongly advocates a one-state solution, which will nullify Israel, and also because she cites the year of 1948, when Israel came into existence, rather than 1967 when the “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza started.
Citing 1948 illustrates her profound bias over the conflict. Israel faced an existential threat from no less than eight armies attacking it within a day of its existence. The respected historian, Benny Morris, who has been cited prolifically by pro-Palestinians in the past, acknowledged the violence on the Israeli side but put it in the context of the times, namely a vicious sectarian conflict on both sides. Morris also acknowledges that Arab leaders told many Arabs to leave so the eight armies invading Palestine could wipe the region clean.
There was no doubt the Arab forces would do anything other than drive the Jews into the sea in 1948. Indeed the head of the Arab League openly threatened mass genocide of a future Jewish in 1947. At the time, the Arab nations of the Middle East initiated a move that would make the region Judenrein in two decades, other than a marginal Jewish populace in Tunisia. Massacres and expulsions were the order of the day for the ancient Jewish populace of the region. Israel had the generosity to take these people in, and now Ms. Murphy wants this state nullified.
Rob Harris contributes articles to several websites on contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He blogs at eirael.blogspot.com. He lives in Ireland. For all the exclusive blog entries by Rob Harris, go here.