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(Hatem Omar / Maan Images)

What the Günter Grass controversy says about censorship in Europe

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Rupert Murdoch doesn’t see how the Palestinians could have any problems with the theft of their homeland.

(World Economic Forum)

The furore over Günter Grass’s poem on Israel has got me thinking about how much journalists are subject to censorship in Europe.

In an opinion piece for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Gideon Levy recalls how journalists working for the German media group Axel Springer were for many years required to sign a pledge not to write anything that questioned Israel’s “right to exist.”

Not only does Axel Springer own some of this continent’s largest-circulation newspapers (such as Die Welt and Bild), it has played an important role in talks on strengthening Israel’s political and economic ties with the European Union.

In 2007, a “business dialogue” between the EU and Israel was established, providing an annual forum where leading entrepreneurs could brainstorm on removing any obstacles that stood between them and profit maximization. Mathias Döpfner, the chief executive of Axel Springer, was chosen as the European chairman of the forum.

Special responsibility?

Two years later, Döpfner told The Jerusalem Post “it is very important that we never forget about Germany history and what Germany has done, and because of that we have a special responsibility to support Israel and this is something we have to continue from generation to generation to make sure that it will never be forgotten.”

Apparently, this special responsibility involves keeping your mouth shut about the crimes committed by your partners in “dialogue” – or worse, actively supporting their crimes. Israeli participants in the forum – which has the full blessing of the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission – include Elbit, the weapons manufacturer whose products are regularly used to murder and maim Palestinians. Bank Leumi and the booksellers Steimatsky, both of which have branches or stores in illegal settlements in the West Bank, are also involved, along with the Saban Capital Group.

Haim Saban, who runs the latter firm, is a major shareholder in Bezeq, which provides telecommunications services to the Israeli army. As a media proprietor, Saban was invited to join the board of the French television channel TF1 in 2003. TF1 was founded by Bouygues, which acquired a 23 percent stake in the energy and transport firm Alstom in 2006. Along with Veolia, Alstom has been developing a tramway reserved almost exclusively for Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.

Zionists and their sympathizers control vast chunks of the mainstream media in the EU’s three largest countries: Germany, France and Britain.

Murdoch doesn’t get Palestine

One of the few valuable services that Alastair Campbell, the chief propagandist during Tony Blair’s stint as UK prime minister, has performed for mankind was how he explained in accessible terms the blind devotion of Rupert Murdoch to Israel. In his published diaries, Campbell recalls how Murdoch told Blair in 2002 that he could not see why the Palestinians had any grievances. In response, Murdoch’s son James pointed out that Palestinians had been “kicked out of their fucking homes and had nowhere to fucking live.” (There is scant evidence, it should be emphasized, that James Murdoch has sought to educate the pundits on Fox News or other outlets in his family’s empire about Middle Eastern realities).

The problem, in my experience, isn’t confined to one of ownership. Journalists working in the mainstream media tend to be biased on the side of the powerful.

The bias of journalists

When I began writing about the Middle East for the newspaper European Voice (part of The Economist group) in 2001, my editor told me that “we mustn’t take sides” between Israelis and Palestinians. The same editor was a reservist in the British army, who went on to take part in the occupation of Iraq. In my very first editorial meeting, he made a joke about how as an Irishman I would be familiar with the weapons used by “terrorists.” Though he apologized for that quip, it clearly reflected his mindset: Palestinians were “terrorists,” in his view (I recall him labelling Yasser Arafat with the “t” word).

As it happened, this editor was actually slightly more open-minded than other British journalists I have encountered. He was, at least, willing to hire and work with reporters from different nationalities and classes. One of his successors as European Voice editor, in contrast, introduced a de facto policy of only recruiting graduates from Cambridge. As these bright young men and women came from a highly privileged background, the idea that journalists had a duty to champion the underprivileged seemed alien to them. Like its sister paper Roll Call in Washington, European Voice is one of the most widely read publications among the Brussels elite.

For too long, most journalists and intellectuals in Europe have accepted that you cannot call out Israel as a racist endeavor. While there are some good people working in the mainstream media, I don’t believe it can be changed from within. Fortunately, the internet offers many possibilities to develop alternatives. Seizing the opportunities offered by the internet is vital if justice is ever to be achieved.

Comments

This kind of language verges on the conspiratorial, if not worse (I don't think it needs to be spelled out): "Zionists and their sympathizers control vast chunks of the mainstream media." And what else do they control? The banks? The Elders of Zion?

It's obviously your choice whether you're really comfortable putting forward this kind of language, but please be aware of how it comes off. And, if you didn't mean for it to sound the way it does, kindly consider a more subtle, and less problematic, choice of words in the future. Thanks.

Rather than criticizing the language used, maybe try a counter argument if you don't agree?

Your shrill and disingenuous response is typical of of the pro Israel crowd and it doesn't do you any favors.

Labeling any kind of interest in power & influence and how it's exercised as a conspiracy is that trick that never gets old. How dare anyone believe that there may be, just may be, a relationship between the ideologies of the owners of media & their reporting!

Germany lost a lot of territory and sovereignty for a good reason. They launched a war of extermination against their neighbors and lost. The victors were nice enough to let them live but put a few terms on them. All very natural.

Zionism is the bookend of Nazism-twin offspring of odiousness incarnate...To wrap this ugliness in a cloak of antisemitism by the dead of holocaust is even more vile..

Babies cannot be forced to be keep paying forever a price tag that has been long paid. This price is now used as blackmail for crimes similar to the original and that is wrong!!! The price is paid. Move on. Raise your principles above ethnic groups. Raise your values above your guilt...Let it be...The bleeding must end.

Indeed, this is also my experience from working for five years at a major European broadcaster. The way it happened there is as follows: there were one or two Zionists who decided on the newsreporting re. Israel/Palestine. And the rest of the journalists/correctors, etc, stayed well clear of this "delicate", "difficult" issue, mostly, as far as I could tell, to preserve their careers. So you don't need a plot or a conspiracy, just one or two well-placed people, combined with a bunch of gutless sheep.

And, if they are not simply zionists who own the press (most of them aren't) they are subject to blackmailing and any kind of smashing so they better 'learn their lesson and keep in line'. Call this willingly or forced self-censureship. You must not forget that the same Axel Springer, who demands in the company's legacy all his journalists a signature not ever to critisize Israel, in the wake of WWII divorced from his jewish wife, because she would be an obstacle for his professional future! Did you get it? The only real Anti-Semites are the zionists, because they make their living out of it.