Owen Jones’s column in the Guardian is headlined ‘Anti-Jewish hatred is rising – we must see it for what it is.’ Sadly the article falls well short of that headline’s aspiration.
At one point in the piece Owen singles me out for criticism: ‘Take Douglas Murray, a writer with a particular obsession with Islam.’ (I suppose ‘obsession’, rather than ‘interest’, say, is intended to suggest something untoward. But I confess that I am indeed especially interested in one of the major stories of our day.) Owen goes on to say of me:
‘“Thousands of anti-Semites have today succeeded in bringing central London to an almost total standstill” was his reprehensible description of a Palestine solidarity demonstration last month. This is not simply an unforgivable libel against peace protestors – Jews among them – who simply object to their government’s complicity in the massacre of children. It makes it much harder to identify genuine anti-Semitism.’
Now I have had to pick Owen up on this before. But here we go again.
The last time there was an exchange between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Owen appeared on primetime BBC TV and seemed especially eager to claim, during a lengthy anti-Israel rant, that Israel was particularly interested in killing children. He said:
‘“I don’t want to just throw statistics around – I’ll give you one example of one of those children. Omar Misheri [sic]. He’s 11-months old, he’s a little boy, the son of a BBC journalist and he was killed in a so-called “targeted strike”.’
Now as I noted here last year, the case Owen appeared to be referencing was the tragic case of Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi. The son of a BBC Arabic Journalist, he was indeed killed in a strike. But not a ‘targeted strike’ by the IDF. No — the young Omar al-Mishrawi was killed by a rocket fired off by Hamas which ‘misfired’ and killed a child in Gaza rather than, as Hamas intended, a child in Israel. This was not my claim, but the claim of a subsequent UN report. As I noted last year, there should have been a lesson in this for Owen — as well as numerous other commentators on these matters. During a war it is exceedingly difficult if you are on the ground — never mind if you are not — to determine who has fired what where and when. I wrote a whole book about this a few years ago. Anybody who knows anything at all about conflict zones knows that the reporting of wars needs to be done with great care.
But on that occasion Owen was so keen to attack Israel that he failed to exercise that care. When I highlighted his serious factual error and suggested that he apologise for misleading viewers of the BBC, he refused to apologise and decided to stick to the libel under the apparent impression that attack was a better form of defence than apology. I thought that a shame at the time and thought less of Owen as a result.
Yet what is most striking today is that Owen is at it again. It is not just that he does not have the intellectual honesty to admit that anti-Semitism in Europe today is spearheaded not by far-right white racists, but by Muslims — and young Muslims in particular. Such people are happy to spend weekend after weekend dragging their young children to chant hatred against Israel on the streets of western capitals (thus ensuring that the hatred is kept alive for another generation). The real problem is that he continues to condemn anti-Semitism at the same time as assiduously feeding it.
As you can see from the quote above from his piece today, Owen criticises me for perpetrating an
‘unforgivable libel against peace protestors – Jews among them – who simply object to their government’s complicity in the massacre of children.’
And there that real and outrageous libel is once again. Take the word ‘massacre’.
‘Massacre’. So carelessly and easily dropped in. Perhaps it is thrown around in the society which Owen keeps and the rallies which he attends. So commonplace, perhaps, that he doesn’t even notice that he’s using it. But here’s the thing. Even if Owen and his fellow-travellers don’t hear the ‘Heil Hitlers’ of their fellow protestors or see the posters saying ‘Hitler, you were right’, or claim that this is some minority fringe, all the while they are writing columns strenuously objecting to the burning of synagogues and the beating up of rabbis while painting the background against which these acts of violence occur. And facts — and their distortion — are, after all, meant to matter.
Yet here is Owen glibly holding Israel responsible not just for a ‘massacre’ but for ‘the massacre of children.’ What is one to do about a claim like that? Beside me I have a Chambers dictionary:
‘Massacre, n indiscriminate slaughter, esp with cruelty; carnage. – vt to kill with violence and cruelty; to slaughter.’
That might be how one would describe the activities of ISIS in Iraq. It might well be how one would describe the intentions (even if they are largely, and carefully thwarted by Israeli defence systems) of Hamas or Hezbollah. But Israel? The IDF is carrying out the most targeted and careful campaign in military history. They seek to take out Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s rocket launch sites and to target the terrorist leadership. They have not been involved in Gaza in order to kill the Palestinian civilians which Hamas deliberately puts in their way as human shields.
I am sure that, if Israel ‘wanted’ to carry out ‘indiscriminate slaughter’ in Gaza, they could. But they don’t want to, which is a major reason why they don’t. Israel’s aim is to minimize civilian casualties. Hamas’s aim — in Israel and in Gaza (where at least 10 per cent of Hamas’s own rockets fall short and hit Gazans) — is to maximise civilian casualties.
But this is of no apparent interest to Owen or the thousands of people who turned out again last weekend to protest against Israel. To these people Israel is committing a ‘massacre’, an ‘atrocity’, ‘war-crimes’, ‘genocide’ and even a ‘Holocaust.’ There is no evidence for these claims. They are a wild and wilful distortion of the facts on the ground. The claim that Israel is engaged in ‘the massacre of children’ is not just a lie. It is precisely the sort of lie which makes its way into the body politic and then persuades some people that they must act on this outrage. After all, if you knew of a friendly government which was wilfully engaged in the deliberate ‘indiscriminate slaughter’ of children, what would you not do to stop it?
Here, in a nutshell, you can see the moral sickness of a portion of the Left. For good form’s sake — and doubtless sometimes with sincerity — they stress how much they loathe anti-Semitism. But as they hold one hand up in a scout’s promise that they oppose all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, there they are with the other hand busily feeding the furies. Anybody really concerned about avoiding anti-Semitism should take another course. An honest person would realise that if you stop the lies then, although you might never entirely stop the anti-Semitism, you may at least subdue it.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.