Barbara Amiel: The voice of prejudice

It was with a mixture of outrage and disbelief that I read Barbara Amiel’s latest outpouring of vitriol that purported to be a serious commentary on the Middle East, published in the Daily Telegraph on September 15 under the title ‘Arafat’s assassination will not solve the Arab-Israeli conflict’ [1]. The director of the Jerusalem Post and wife of Telegraph proprietor Lord Black of Crossharbour (who recently condemned the BBC as ‘the most dangerous institution’ in the country) has never been famed for her equanimity, but on this occasion she manages to outdo even her own previous cynicism on the subject.

In this article she repeats her curious mantra that Arafat, whose elimination she objects to on pragmatic rather than moral grounds, is ‘dedicated to the annihilation of Israel’. She considers this to be reasonable grounds for the extra-judicial assassination of this democratically elected, if highly flawed, leader. There is a somewhat bemusing logic to this argument. If we are allowed to pick and choose which leaders should be summarily executed on the grounds of plans to destroy nations, then presumably General Sharon must also be high on Amiel’s list?

Throughout her various articles on the subject, Amiel’s blinkered and often incendiary position on the Middle East has revolved almost entirely around the extraordinary claim that Israel’s existence has never been accepted either by its Arab neighbours or by the Palestinian people on whose land it was founded, and that anyone who disagrees with her must be either in denial or anti-Semitic. In an earlier article also printed in the Telegraph, she alleges that ‘Arafat has never deviated from his refusal to recognise a Jewish state in the Middle East.’ For a commentator so intolerant of ‘the puerile ignorance of most media reports on the Middle East’, Amiel appears to be remarkably out of touch. She is evidently unaware of Arafat’s recognition of Israel at the UN as far back as 1988, while she is happy to turn a blind eye to the Israeli government’s latest attempts to forestall any viable Palestinian state by building its so-called “security fence” inside Palestinian territory. Nor does she appear to have heard of last year’s Saudi peace plan, which called for full recognition and relations with Israel in return for a full withdrawal from occupied Arab land. This plan was endorsed by all Arab governments, and even by more extreme players in the conflict such as Hamas, but rejected out of hand by Israel.

Amiel lectures us as to how the conflict can really be solved: if all major powers were ‘to make a joint declaration guaranteeing Israel’s existence as a Jewish State’ and if ‘the EU, Russia, China and the US reiterated that the UN declaration establishing a homeland for the Jews is as honourable today as it was in 1948’. Aside from the fact that the declaration in question allotted roughly half of mandate Palestine to a Palestinian state, rather than the 22% that now make up the occupied territories, it seems unlikely that she has paused to consider the disturbing implications of a ‘Jewish state’ established on land inhabited by millions of non-Jews. Any neutral observer who did would reach the inevitable conclusion that Israel can define itself on an ethnic basis or support human rights, but it cannot do both.

But perhaps Amiel has considered this dilemma, for she seems to be au fait with the notion of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. By calling into question the Palestinian right of return (while acquiescing in the Israeli ‘law of return’ under which Jews who have never even been to Israel may ‘return’ to their homes), she undermines a fundamental human right endorsed by the UN (resolution 194), the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other legal documents. This astonishing inversion of birthrights effectively denies the original dispossession of the Palestinians, the root cause of the conflict, to which Amiel’s historical perspective is entirely oblivious. For her, history begins in 1948 with the establishment of Israel, as if what became Israel was not previously in existence, let alone inhabited by real people. The implication of this deceptive view of events is that Israel simply existed and then suddenly the irrational Palestinians set about trying to destroy it. This is merely by way of a prelude to her bizarre accusation that Arafat created the Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe); would she prefer that Palestinians rejoice and celebrate their dispossession and expulsion? Is Amiel insinuating that the Palestinians invented the disaster from which so many still suffer today in refugee camps around the Arab world?

Unfortunately, even this is not enough to get her thinly veiled loathing for anything Palestinian, Arab or Muslim off her chest. In the same article, she continues: ‘I am increasingly of the terrifying view that this conflict in the Middle East is not amenable to a peaceful solution and can only be solved by the total victory of one side. This means the Arabs annihilating the Israelis or the Israelis being forced to use every means, not excluding nuclear power, to defend themselves. If you are a nation of under six million people surrounded by 70 million enemies who don’t accept your existence, the only option is to fight to the death.’ So this is what it has all come to? Nuclear Armageddon? This is less a valuable strategy for the solution of the conflict than the ranting of a dangerous psychopath. Note how she depicts even this scenario as a case of Arab attack and Israeli defence, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Even if her nightmare endgame did ever occur, it is now well known that Israel is the only state in the region that the international community has allowed to get away with developing nuclear weapons. Perhaps this is why Amiel shows nothing but disregard for the UN.

In a chilling finale, Amiel implies that unless Israel gets what it wants, the ‘sands of Arabia’ will be ‘soaked in blood’. In other words, she recommends that Israel use all necessary means, including nuclear, to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and that any of those stubborn Arabs who try to resist should be wiped out. Thus, from starting with the proposition that Arafat’s assassination would equate to a ‘moral act’, she works herself into such a frenzy that by the end she is effectively calling for mass murder, the very crime of which she accuses Arafat. Such a deluded call to arms seems to epitomise the ethical nadir to which 21st century Zionism has sunk.

At this critical time, surely we do not deserve such misguided and offensive views on the Middle East in a broadsheet newspaper. Rather than promote any meaningful debate, this diatribe merely apportions all blame to the Arabs –” the author can barely even bring herself to use the word Palestinian –” and suggests they should accept the consequences.

Amiel’s article belongs to a well-known genre, namely those which argue from the premise that Arafat is the root of the problem in the Middle East. This is one of the most common rhetorical stratagems of the pro-Zionist ideologues. One need not be a defender of Arafat –” and I myself am not –” to realise that this is deliberately missing the point. By utterly disregarding the real issues –” such as Israel’s 36-year illegal occupation of Palestinian land, demolition of Palestinian houses and villages, building of illegal settlements, curfews and closures on entire cities, extra-judicial assassinations, and now, the coup de grace, the building of the “security fence” which is illegally confiscating yet more land and water –” and by taking as their starting point convenient myths such as the non-acceptance of Israel, this article fails to even scratch the surface of the real issue: how to resolve the conflict. Side issues like the question of Arafat’s assassination only obscure the important debate. There is no small irony in the fact that such inflammatory and irresponsible journalism, laden with racist undertones, comes from the higher echelons of the Daily Telegraph, the very paper that has started a “Beebwatch” monitoring campaign against the BBC’s alleged bias. More importantly, and contrary to Ms Amiel’s contention, a just and peaceful solution to the conflict does remain a feasible outcome. What a shame that Britain’s ‘bestselling quality newspaper’ cannot see round its own prejudices to support that eventuality.


[1] "Arafat’s assassination will not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict" – by Barbara Amiel – September 15, 2003 (The Daily Telegraph, UK)