On the Monday morning, I found out I’d been libelled by the Independent on Sunday. It was in one of those media gossip columns that proliferate these days because you can get cheap, young journalists to write pages of stuff without the expense of leaving the office.
The column followed an article I’d written about Iran’s bomb, and the Sindy made a facile (and erroneous) connection between that and my views on Iraq, adding one twist: the information that I was “a member of the Israel Hasbara Committee”, an organisation set up to propagandise for Israel in the public sphere. The implication of the Sindy piece was that I was a paid or unpaid semi-official lobbyist for Israel, and this was the reason for my arguments on Iran and Iraq (as we know, everyone else is very happy for there to be an Iranian A-bomb).
I emailed the legal person on the Independent titles telling her that this accusation was absolutely false. She emailed back saying that the paper would investigate, take the item off the website immediately, and then run a retraction, if appropriate, the following Sunday. I said that this was insufficient because the libel had now been published and viewed on the internet, and that an immediate online retraction was necessary and fair.
She didn’t reply, but the next day a colleague did. She repeated that the journalist concerned, a Matthew Bell, was out of the office and that nothing could be done till then. I told her (a) that no one is uncontactable these days and (b) that she could check the information herself and take action. Nothing.
The next day, Wednesday, in the afternoon, she called me to say that she had now spoken to Bell. He had been given the information by a source. And (she ventured, tentatively) wasn’t it true that I was listed on the Israel Hasbara website? She’d looked at the list.
Ah yes, the list. There I was on the Hasbara Committee List, and therefore (possibly?) a Hasbara Committee member. And what a committee. Sitting with me on this body, and also on the list, are some extraordinary folk.
There’s Chris Hitchens, Jonathan Freedland, Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn. It’s bipartisan so Michael Gove and David Miliband are there. It covers the cultural waterfront, and Salman Rushdie, Jackie Mason and Frederick Forsyth sit side by side. It has co-opted the supposed anti-Zionists (the Independent’s own) Robert Fisk and Dr Israel Shahak. This last illustrates another incredible capacity: the pressing into service of the dead, because the extinct Shahak is joined by the equally late James Michener, Howard Fast, Leon Uris and, most remarkably, Stefan Zweig (d. 1942).
Organisations are represented, too. Among others, there is the BBC in toto, The New York Times, the Associated Press, the staff of the Onion, The Economist and the Israel Antiquities Authority. There are shadowy members given odd titles, such as “30 June 2005”, “Le Figaro Interviewer” and, most sinister, “a weekly Torah column from the OU’s “Torah Tidbits”. Mossad?
Finally, to lead us, we have — from beyond the grave — Winston Churchill and Menachem Begin and, as live chairman, Mahmoud Abbas. Little wonder that we Yiddles (sorry, Zionists) run the world.
That’s your list, I told the embarrassed Independent lady, had anyone bothered to check it. The next day, the correction went up online (I wasn’t ever going to sue; I have made mistakes myself). But the journalist, Matthew Bell, wasn’t big enough to call me to apologise personally, so I must speculate that he got his story in this way:
There are 2,000 references to me and “hasbara” online, and just about every one comes from cross-postings of two articles by our old, anti-Jewish friend, the jazz-playing loony, Gilad Atzmon. So Bell was, almost certainly, just another of the growing number of journos who, when it comes to cyber antis, can’t tell their Zs from their Ss.