British journalist John McCarthy fails to charm at Book Week

British journalist John McCarthy was forced to defend himself against allegations of antisemitism during a heated discussion at Jewish Book Week about the past and present experiences of Israeli Arabs.

Mr McCarthy, who while working in Lebanon in 1986 was taken hostage by jihadists and held in captivity for five years, was at the festival to publicise his book You Can’t Hide the Sun: A Journey Through Israel and Palestine.

He spoke of Israel’s “ruthless project to appropriate the refugees’ land… to show them that there was nothing left to return to” and how Israeli Arab villages looked like “nuclear Armageddon” .

Mr McCarthy was criticised by audience members for not providing any balance, with one person suggesting that this risked “leaving the impression you are antisemitic”.

“I’m certainly not antisemitic,” he said. “I’m talking about the experience of Palestinian citizens within Israel”.

Mr McCarthy’s stridently critical talk was notable for any reference to violence and terror.

“There have been very few incidents of violence perpetrated against the state by Palestinian citizens of Israel,” he said, later adding that he “didn’t discuss terrorism” with his subjects since suicide bombers “haven’t come from within the Palestinian community in Israel.”

In fact, in 2001, a suicide bomb attack on Nahariya station by Israeli citizen Mohammed Shakur Habeishi left three people dead and 60 others injured. In May 2011, an Israeli Arab drove a truck into pedestrians, killing one person. The perpetrator was convicted of murder and of perpetrating a terror attack last summer.

Last updated: 5:45pm, February 28 2013