British Writers In Support of Palestine

July 2, 2011

Freedom Flotilla II: No, Howard Jacobson, no.

As the captain of  The Audacity of Hope is arrested at sea, BWISP co-founders novelist Irving Weinman and poet Judith Kazantzis respond to Howard Jacobson’s attack on Alice Walker’s decision to join the Freedom Flotilla II.

I’m writing as a novelist, like Howard Jacobson; as a Jew, like Howard Jacobson. Unlike Howard Jacobson, I’m American, though resident in England. Also unlike Howard Jacobson, I’m not a Zionist.

In writing what he has, Jacobson reveals his arguments for anyone to read and comment upon. And the fact is, his arguments are nonsensical. Does he really believe that Palestinian children in Gaza have the same sort of quality of life that Israeli children do? Do 80% of Israeli children depend on UN food relief for basic nourishment? No, Mr. Jacobson, this flotilla is about helping Palestinians in need. No, Mr. Jacobson, this flotilla is not going to enter Israeli waters, and stopping it outside Israeli waters breaks international maritime laws. No, Mr. Jacobson, the boats will willingly be searched for weapons. No, Mr. Jacobson, Israel will not take the cargo and deliver it. They didn’t with any of the other flotilla boats they stopped and whose cargo they took. And mostly, no, Mr. Jacobson you are not going to change the subject to the kids of Israel. This is about the kids of Gaza, the ones who get to go hungry, go without clean drinking water, get white phosphorus dropped on them by Israeli grownups who indeed were once Israeli kids.

Irving Weinman

So Israel supporter Howard Jacobson derides the brave Alice Walker and all the others on Flotilla II.  It’s as if a Somali pirate were to blame a ship for being in the Indian Ocean. The UN makes the two points over and over again that, first, Israel is blockading Gazan waters – which do not belong to Israel – and, second, Israel has no right under international law to arrest any other ship in international waters. Should we infer that Jacobson as a British citizen denies established international maritime law?

Howard Jacobson may think that the only good Americans are in AIPAC or the AIPAC packed Congress.  Most of the left and the liberal left will see Alice Walker’s presence as heroic witness in a woman of 67 who needs no publicity but is ready to run the blockade in the name of justice and humanity. Perhaps in the long watches of the night, Mr. Jacobson finds himself a little bit jealous of such courage; but don’t bet on it. He sounds more likely to hero-worship one of those tough Israeli pilots whose play-station childhoods (bang – splatter) train them to button-push unmanned drones to bomb Palestinian children (bang – splatter) and to consider such murdering a patriotic virtue.

As for the super weapon(s) with which it seems Mr Jacobson fears Gazans would annihilate Israel if they weren’t starved and besieged, this is official Israel Press Office paranoia – code name Tell It Like You Mean It – looped like a spider web round the world’s media to justify the eternal occupation of the Palestinians. The Big Lie. Not as pretty as a spider web.

Judith Kazantzis


July 3, 2010

Open Letter to the BBC: Biased Broadcasting Corporation

Filed under: BBC Campaign — Naomi Foyle @ 6:41 pm
Tags: , , , ,

The following is the text of a proposed newspaper advertisement challenging imbalance and bias in the BBC coverage of the attack on the Free Gaza flotilla.  To add your name to the letter, which currently has 151 signatories, please comment on this post, or contact its author, Tony Greenstein, via his blog.  Signatories are asked to donate between £10-£30 to the cost of the ad.

The BBC’s Biased & Shameful Coverage of the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a Betrayal of its Charter

When Israel’s navy attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, killing at least nine human rights activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, there was worldwide incredulity at Israel’s claim that its commandos acted in self defence.

The BBC’s prime time news reports, however, on radio and TV, broadcast without comment Israeli premier Netanyahu’s Orwellian statement that “Israel did all it could to avoid violence”. Mark Regev, Israeli government PR chief, went unchallenged as he justified the murders and vilified the victims.

BBC audiences were not told that Israeli forces had confiscated all photo and audio recording equipment belonging to the 700 people on the flotilla, then kidnapped and detained them while pumping out its own doctored and often faked “evidence” to the world media.

By the time the flotilla survivors were free to tell their side of the story, the news agenda had conveniently moved on, leaving imprinted on BBC viewers’ and listeners’ minds Israel’s fantasy of outnumbered heroes fighting off crazed terrorists bent on bringing weapons of destruction to Israel’s peaceful shores.

Anyone relying on BBC news would not have heard world famous Swedish novelist Henning Mankell,  explain the beatings inflicted on activists after they were detained.

They would not know that a widely-broadcast audio clip purporting to reveal someone on the Mavi Marmara telling the Israeli attackers to “go back to Auschwitz” was a forgery.

They would have missed photos, smuggled past the Israeli censors, showing activists not attacking, but treating, injured commandos aboard the Turkish aid ship.

Nor would they have heard of Jewish American art student Emily Henochowicz, who lost an eye on May 31 when Israeli soldiers fired a teargas canister directly at her during a non-violent protest at Qualandyia checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.

Knowledge of such routine attacks on Palestinians and their Jewish supporters would provide meaningful context to the isolated reports provided by the BBC. Instead we heard a BBC correspondent fatuously state: ‘Of course the Israeli military is very well experienced at dealing with crowd control.”

If Iran, North Korea or Somali pirates, had carried out a murderous attack in international waters on a ship flying another country’s flag, would the BBC have broadcast uncritical interviews with apologists for the attackers?

That it did so in this case reflects a pro-Israeli bias in the BBC’s coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that was highlighted in a report presented to the corporation’s Governors in April 2006.
The report showed that, despite occasional excellent background reporting, the BBC habitually feeds its audiences news coverage which, in the name of “balance”, makes no differentiation between the victims of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and the forces of the state responsible for the occupation.

“BBC coverage does not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture,” the report to the Governors said.

It noted that historical and other context was frequently absent and coverage failed to reflect “the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation.” It also found that “the death of an Israeli killed by the Palestinian side was more likely to be reported by the BBC than the death of a Palestinian killed by the Israeli side.”

The culture behind these failings was at work in the BBC’s mainstream coverage of the siege of Gaza, Israel’s reasons for imposing that siege and the murders on the Mavi Marmara.

We look forward to a thorough review of the BBC’s mainstream news coverage in order that the context of events is always present in that coverage. For example Israel’s habitual violence against and repression of peaceful protest should have served as the backdrop to its coverage of Israel’s murders on the Mavi Marmara.

Let us see the BBC stand up to threats from Israel instead of caving in, as occurred when the government of Ariel Sharon targeted correspondents Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen. (BBC Says Sorry to Israel, 12.3.05. The Guardian, BBC appoints Middle East tsar, 11.11.03. The Guardian)

Let us see no more of the blatant bias exhibited by the Corporation’s refusal, in January 2009, to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza.

June 13, 2010

BWISP Letter to The Independent on Sunday, June 6 2010

The following letter expresses the support of the signatories for the cultural and academic boycott of Israel.  A shortened version appeared in the IoS 6.6.10.  

Dear Editor

The murder of humanitarian aid workers aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters is the latest tragic example of Israel’s relentless attacks on human rights. But while violently preventing the free passage of medical, building and school supplies to Gaza, Israel continues to pride itself as a highly cultured, highly educated state. In solidarity with Palestinian civil society and its call for a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, we the undersigned therefore appeal to British writers and scholars to boycott all literary, cultural and academic visits to Israel that are sponsored by the Israeli government, including those organised by Israeli cultural foundations and universities. (This boycott does not include courageous independent Israeli organisations who openly oppose the occupation.) We also ask that writers, poets and British funding bodies actively support Palestinian literary events, such as the Palestinian Literary Festival and the Palestinian Writing Workshop.

Materially and ideologically, state-sponsored Israeli academic and cultural events both prop up and mask the continuing brutal occupation of Palestine. Israeli universities are key players in the creation and dissemination of government policy, and while some Israeli cultural foundations may promote ‘dialogue’ between the two peoples, there can be no true dialogue when one party is a military superpower and the other a nation of second-class citizens, refugees and virtual prisoners. Appearing as an international guest at all such Israeli cultural and academic events helps to divert attention from, and normalize, Israeli war crimes in Gaza; the annexation of East Jerusalem; and the on-going illegal settlement of the West Bank. Such appearances will also help to normalise Israel’s recent abhorrent military actions at sea.

More information on the cultural and academic boycott of Israel may be found at and But in brief, we the undersigned do not wish to lend our presence or approval to cultural or academic events underwritten by the State of Israel, nor do we wish to help sustain the deliberately fostered illusion of moral and military parity between the two actors in this conflict. Rather as Britons and British residents, we believe that we have a historical and moral obligation to support the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people in their struggle for long-denied peace, justice and self-determination.


BWISP (British Writers In Support of Palestine)

Prof Mona Baker (scholar)

John Berger (novelist, art critic, essayist, poet, Booker Prize winner)

Lauren Booth (writer and journalist)

Prof Marilyn Booth (scholar, literary translator)

Kevin Cadwallender (poet)

Jimmy Powdrell Campbell (writer)

John Chalcraft (scholar)

Leena Dhingra (novelist)

Jenny Diski (novelist, essayist, travel writer)

Dr Hugh Dunkerley (poet and scholar)

Prof Rasheed El-Enany (scholar)

Prof Hoda Elsadda (scholar)

Alison Fell (novelist, poet)

Naomi Foyle (poet, novelist and BWISP co-ordinator)

Prof Patrick Ffrench (scholar, writer)

Maureen Freely (novelist, translator, academic)

Prof Ian Gregson (poet, literary critic)

Prof Peter Hallward (scholar)

Rumy Hasan (scholar)

Mischa Hiller (novelist)

Aamer Hussein (writer)

Ewa Jasiewicz (writer and journalist)

Fred Johnstone (poet, novelist and translator)

Dr Ghada Karmi (writer and scholar)

Judith Kazantzis (poet, novelist and BWISP co-ordinator)

Mimi Khalvati (poet)

Eleanor Kilroy (journalist)

Wendy Klein (poet)

Stephen Knight (poet and critic)

Zoë Lambert (writer and scholar)

Diane Langford (novelist)

Tom Leonard (poet and critic)

Dr Les Levidow (scholar)

Alistair Ligertwood (scholar, literary translator)

Catherine Lupton (writer)

Lauro Martines (writer, socio-political and historical scholar)

Mike Marqusee (writer)

Prof Nur Masalha (scholar)

China Miéville (novelist)

James Miller (novelist)

Alan Morrison (poet and editor)

Dr Dalia Mostafa (scholar)

Ali Nasralla (scholar)

Sybil Oldfield (academic, scholar, feminist historian/biographer)

Julia O’Faolain (novelist)

Jeremy Page (poet, editor, critic)

Thomas Pakenham (historian)

Dr Ian Patterson (poet and scholar)

Prof Jonathan Rosenhead (scholar)

Dr Khadiga Safwat (writer and scholar)

Prof Myriam Salama-Carr (scholar, translator)

Dr Duncan Salkeld (literary scholar)

Seni Seneviratne (poet)

Kamila Shamsie (novelist)

John Siddique (poet and writer)

Mark Slater (scholar, critic and writer)

Catherine Smith (poet and writer)

Dr Derek Summerfield (writer, scholar)

David Swann (poet and writer)

Tom Vowler (writer)

Kate Webb (writer, critic)

Irving Weinman (novelist and BWISP co-ordinator)

Hilary Wise (scholar and writer)

Eliza Wyatt (playwright)

Evie Wyld (novelist)

Robin Yassin-Kassab (novelist)

(66 signatories)

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