Literary magazine ‘using public money to demonize Israel’

Media watchdog: Only once in 11 years did ‘London Review of Books’ reflect Israel’s view.

November 18, 2010 05:38
4 minute read.
The London Review of Books

London Review of Books 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

LONDON – A media watchdog this week accused literary magazine the London Review of Books of using public funds to promote a tone that is “virulently” and “unremittingly” hostile to Israel and sympathetic to entities deemed terrorist organizations by the UK.

In a report published on Monday titled “London Review of Books: 10 years of anti-Israel prejudice,” London-based media monitors Just Journalism accused the publication of using £190,000 ($302,000) of British taxpayers’ money to pay contributors to depict Israel “in a uniformly negative light” and use only stories from extreme opponents of Israel demonizing the Jewish state.

The report shows that since its inception in 1979, the fortnightly literary magazine has received more than £767,000 from Arts Council England, and that between 2000 and 2010, over £188,000 was received by the magazine specifically to pay contributing writers.

The report looks at articles commissioned from writers covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during these years – amounting to 92 articles – and concludes that the magazine shows “an unremitting hostility to Israel embodied by the views of editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, who has described herself as ‘unambiguously hostile to Israel.’” Last year Wilmers, 72, told The Sunday Times: “I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state. They do things that are just so immoral and counterproductive and, as a Jew, especially as a Jew, you can’t justify that.”

The 23-page report also said that during this period, only once was a mainstream Jewish and Israeli perspective on the conflict seen in the London Review of Books.

“Despite the volume of coverage devoted to Israel-Palestine, only one article deviated from the fringe anti-Israel narrative and presented the situation from a mainstream Israeli perspective,” said the report.

“Given that the LRB receives government funding via the Arts Council, it is striking that the Israeli perspective is near totally absent.”

The London Review of Books is also accused of consistently portraying Israel as “a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality” using in abundance sympathetic portraits of groups – such as Hamas and Hizbullah, deemed terrorist organizations by the British government – to portray a narrative of “endless Israeli brutality.”

“While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent,” the report states.

“This comprehensive report reveals a stunning one-sidedness in LRB on a hugely complex issue,” Just Journalism’s executive director Michael Weiss said, “There is no effort to showcase a range of views on Israel-Palestine or to take Israel’s legitimate security and political concerns seriously.

“But more revealing is how truly fringe the LRB’s conventional wisdom is on this issue.

Hizbullah rockets raining down on Israeli towns are depicted as symbols of ‘consciousnessraising’” about Israeli injustices.

“Overt comparisons are made between Israeli military policy and the Nazi Final Solution, and Hamas is seen as a big-tent party of spiritual progressivism and not as a totalitarian, anti-Semitic terrorist organization.

“The fact that taxpayers’ money is being used to pay for contributors to write these unremittingly hostile articles ought to prompt some sort of public debate about whether, particularly in today’s economic climate, this funding should continue,” Weiss said.

The London Review of Books declined to respond to the accusations laid out in the Just Journalism report.

“Many thanks for offering us the opportunity, but we shan’t be responding,” Paul Myerscough, a senior editor at the magazine, told The Jerusalem Post.

Responding to the report on Wednesday, a spokesman for Arts Council England said: “The Arts Council’s funding to the LRB enables it to fulfill its editorial objective to encourage and publish high-quality non-fiction prose and literary essays. Coverage of contemporary fiction is a staple of every issue but the subject matter also includes a strong emphasis on history, biography, memoir, philosophy and politics. This editorial policy and the range of contributors means that contentious issues will often be aired.

“Writers and editors may display particular opinions and it is not our role to dictate editorial policy to a particular publication, beyond that it must comply with government legislative requirements.

“What Arts Council’s policies and procedures do ensure, however, is that we fund a wide range of literary organizations and individuals who, collectively, present a diverse and balanced view of world society,” the Arts Council spokesman said.

Appearing for its first six months as an insert in The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books published the first review of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2006. Last year, LRB writer Ed Harriman produced a documentary for the UK’s Channel Four that implied there was a powerful and influential Israeli lobby at work in the UK.

Contributors include ardent critics of Israel such as Yitzhak Laor, Avi Shlaim and Uri Avnery, as well as supporters of a call to boycott Israel including Jacqueline Rose, Neve Gordon and Ilan Pappe.

Published bimonthly, the London Review of Books said it has a circulation of around 48,000. A report in The Times earlier this year said that the magazine has run up mountainous debts of £27m., and is being propped up by the family trust belonging to Wilmers.

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