What if Israelis had abducted BBC man?
By Charles Moore
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 02/06/2007
Published in the Telegraph.co.uk
Watching the horrible video of Alan Johnston of the BBC broadcasting Palestinian propaganda under orders from his kidnappers, I found myself asking what it would have been like had he been kidnapped by Israelis, and made to do the same thing the other way round.
The first point is that it would never happen. There are no Israeli organizations – governmental or freelance – that would contemplate such a thing. That fact is itself significant.
But just suppose that some fanatical Jews had grabbed Mr. Johnston and forced him to spout their message, abusing his own country as he did so. What would the world have said?
There would have been none of the caution which has characterized the response of the BBC and of the Government since Mr Johnston was abducted on March 12. The Israeli government would immediately have been condemned for its readiness to harbour terrorists or its failure to track them down.
Loud would have been the denunciations of the extremist doctrines of Zionism which had given rise to this vile act. The world isolation of Israel, if it failed to get Mr. Johnston freed, would have been complete.
If Mr Johnston had been forced to broadcast saying, for example, that Israel was entitled to all the territories held since the Six-Day War, and calling on the release of all Israeli soldiers held by Arab powers in return for his own release, his words would have been scorned. The cause of
Israel in the world would have been irreparably damaged by thus torturing him on television. No one would have been shy of saying so.
But of course in real life it is Arabs holding Mr Johnston, and so everyone treads on tip-toe. Bridget Kendall of the BBC opined that Mr Johnston had been “asked” to say what he said in his video. Asked! If it were merely an “ask”, why did he not say no?
Throughout Mr Johnston’s captivity, the BBC has continually emphasised that he gave “a voice” to the Palestinian people, the implication being that he supported their cause, and should therefore be let out. One cannot imagine the equivalent being said if he had been held by Israelis.
Well, he is certainly giving a voice to the Palestinian people now. And the truth is that, although it is under horrible duress, what he says is not all that different from what the BBC says every day through the mouths of reporters
who are not kidnapped and threatened, but are merely collecting their wages.
The language is more lurid in the Johnston video, but the narrative is essentially the same as we have heard over the years from Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen and virtually the whole pack of them.
It is that everything that is wrong in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world is the result of aggression or “heavy-handedness” (have you noticed how all actions by American or Israeli troops are “heavy-handed”, just as surely as all racism is “unacceptable”?) by America or Israel or Britain.
Alan Johnston, under terrorist orders, spoke of the “absolute despair” of the Palestinians and attributed it to 40 years of Israeli occupation, “supported by the West”. That is how it is resented, night after night, by the BBC.
The other side is almost unexamined. There is little to explain the internecine strife in the Arab world, particularly in Gaza, or the cynical motivations of Arab leaders for whom Palestinian miseries are politically convenient.
You get precious little investigation of the networks and mentalities of Islamist extremism – the methods and money of Hamas or Hizbollah and comparable groups – which produce acts of pure evil like that in which Mr. Johnston is involuntarily complicit.
The spotlight is not shone on how the “militants” (the BBC does not even permit the word “terrorist” in the Middle East context) and the warlords maintain their corruption and rule of fear, persecuting, among others, the Palestinians.
Instead it shines pitilessly on Blair and Bush and on Israel.
>From the hellish to the ridiculous, the pattern is the same. Back at home, the Universities and Colleges Union has just voted for its members to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions”.
Well, they could consider how work by scientists at the Technion in Haifa has led to the production of the drug Velcade, which treats multiple myeloma. Or they could look at the professor at Ben-Gurion University who discovered a bacteria that fights malaria and river blindness by killing
mosquitoes and black fly.
Or they could study the cperation between researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who have isolated the protein that triggers stress in order to try to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and their equivalents at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.
The main universities of Israel are, in fact, everything that we in the West would recognise as proper universities. They have intellectual freedom. They do not require an ethnic or religious qualification for entry. They are not controlled by the government. They have world-class standards of research, often producing discoveries which benefit all humanity. In all this, they are virtually unique in the Middle East.
The silly dons are not alone. The National Union of Journalists, of which I am proud never to have been a member, has recently passed a comparable motion, brilliantly singling out the only country in the region with a free press for pariah treatment. Unison, which is a big, serious union, is being pressed to support a boycott of Israeli
goods, products of the only country in the region with a free trade union movement.
The doctrine is that Israel practises “apartheid” and that it must therefore be boycotted.
All this is moral madness. It is not mad, of course, to criticise Israeli policy. In some respects, indeed, it would be mad not to. It is not mad – though I think it is mistaken – to see the presence of Israel as the main reason for the
lack of peace in the region.
But it is mad or, perhaps one should rather say, bad to try to raid Western culture’s reserves of moral indignation and expend them on a country that is part of that culture in favour of surrounding countries that aren’t. How can we have
got ourselves into a situation in which we half-excuse turbaned torturers for kidnapping our fellow-citizens while trying to exclude Jewish biochemists from lecturing to our students?
Nobody yet knows the precise motivations of Mr Johnston’s captors, but it is surely not a coincidence that they held him in silence until the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War approached, and only then made him speak. They wanted him to give the world their historical explanation – Israeli oppression – for their cause.
Yet that war took place because President Nasser of Egypt led his country and his allies declaring “Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel”.
He failed, abjectly, and Egypt and Jordan later gave up the aspiration. But many others maintain it to this day, now with a pseudo-religious gloss added.
We keep giving sympathetic air-time to their death cult. In a way, Mr Johnston is paying the price: his captors are high on the oxygen of his corporation’s publicity.
As for Israel, many sins can be laid to its charge. But it is morally serious in a way that we are not, because it has to be. Forty years after its greatest victory, it has to work out each morning how it can survive.