Posts Tagged ‘Mordechai Richler’

When Private Eye Stood Up to Zionist Bullying

January 11, 2020

Yesterday I bought a copy of Patrick Marnham’s The Private Eye Story: The First 21 Years (London: Andre Deutsch/Private Eye 1982). This was partly because I still have some affection and respect for the magazine for the really good work it has done exposing the effects of austerity and privatisation. But it’s also because I’m still really perplexed at it continuing to push the anti-Semitism smears. And there was a time when it actually stood up to Zionist bullying and accusations of anti-Semitism.

The book tells how the Israelis attacked Private Eye as anti-Semitic because of its reports of Israeli atrocities during the 1967 war. They also caught the Zionist Federation attempting to close down criticism of Israel in the Guardian by threatening to withdraw Marks and Spencer’s advertising. Marnham writes

In the first half of 1966, sales were 39,868. In the first half of 1972, when Paul Foot left, they were 98,047. Not all the readers were equally pleased about this success. Among the least enchanted were Zionist sympathisers who objected to Private Eye reporting Israeli atrocities after the 1967 war.

In fact that war found Private Eye, with the rest of the press, generally sympathetic to Israel. But the balance quickly shifted as news of events behind the Israeli publicity screen began to reach Greek Street. An article about Moshe Dayan’s political ambitions (‘One Eyed Man for King’) in July 1967 led to many cancelled subscriptions. By November the novelist Mordechai Richler had become so offended by Private Eye’s line that he complained in The Observer that the paper was making jokes worthy of the Storm Trooper, the organ of the American Nazi party. Shortly afterwards two Labour MPs who were ardent Zionists followed this up by likening Private Eye to Der Sturmer, the organ of the German Nazi party in the thirties. Unlike Der Sturmer, Private Eye published these letters, although at that time it had no regular readers’ letter column.

In 1972 Private Eye was able to show how Zionists brought pressure on more orthodox publications. It revealed that Lord Sieff, then president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and chairman of Marks and Spencer, had written to The Guardian in 1967 to protest against reports of the Middle East war, while threatening to withdraw all Marks and Spencer advertising unless there was an improvement. After the editor of The Guardian had been confronted by the source of the Eye’s story, he agreed that the letter had indeed been written. (pp. 127-9).

Marnham also gives the magazine’s reply to accusations that it is anti-Semitic. Former editor Richard Ingrams felt that Jews were now too sensitive, and many of those accusing the magazine of anti-Semitism were Jews, who had been caught in wrongdoing. This passage contains a nasty racial epithet for Jews, which I’ve censored. It is, however, in full in the original.

To the criticism that Private Eye is anti-semitic Ingrams replies that it is no more anti-semitic than it is anti-any other minority. He told Ann Leslie of the Daily Mail that he thought the Jews had ‘become much too sensitive; they should be more tolerant of criticism, as they used to be.’ Anne Leslie interpreted this to mean that he yearned for a Golden English Age, ‘when Jews knew their place and laughed bravely when called “***s”; not a word Private Eye has ever used, though quite a useful one for adding a little read racialist meat to Miss Leslie’s article.

Others, apart from Zionists, who accuse Private Eye of anti-semitism are those who are attacked by it. Esther Rantzen once seriously claimed that Private Eye only wrote about her husband, Desmond Wilcox, because she herself was ‘both a successful woman and a Jew’. Sir James Goldsmith also tried to explain the Eye’s hostility on the grounds that he was a Jew. The Jewish Chronicle was not very impressed. Its columnist Ben Azai wrote on 13 May 1977: ‘Apart from an intermittent concern about Israel, Goldsmith was only vaguely aware of his Jewishness until Private Eye began what he regarded as a personal vendetta against him. Scratch a semi-Jew and one will discover a full one.’ (p. 205).

The Eye has also been accused of anti-Semitism for its ‘In The City’ column, where many of the crooks and fraudsters it has exposed have been Jewish. The magazine also strongly rebuts this accusation.

The only remark made about ‘Slicker’ by Richard which I really object to is his line over Jews. When he is asked why people say Private Eye is anti-semitic he usually says that there just happen to be a lot of Jews in the City and so we happen to expose a lot of Jewish crooks. In ‘Slicker’ has attacked more non-Jews than Jews. If Jews are there it is because they are crooks, not Jews. And we have twice run stories in ‘Slicker’ attacking the City for being anti-Semitic’. (pp. 135-6).

The Eye still runs some excellent articles criticising Israel. In last fortnight’s issue, for example, it ran a story about how the Israeli authorities were not releasing the bodies of Palestinians they’d shot as ‘terrorists’ for burial. But this has not stopped it pushing the line with the rest of the press that Corbyn and his supporters are anti-Semitic, and that the very credible, authenticated allegations of Israeli involvement in the smear campaign is nothing but ‘conspiracy theories’.

I intend to talk about this in greater depth in another article, but I think there are several reasons for it. Firstly, while the Eye was first left-wing, that shifted during the Wilson era, as the book says, when it attacked the Labour governments of the day. Its network of contacts extends into the political establishment. American left-wing commenters and activists like Jimmy Dore have said that it’s because of this that the American media simply regurgitates the material they’ve been fed by establishment politicos. They’re afraid that if they criticise the people giving them this information and granting interviews, it’ll all dry up. I think the same is probably true of the Eye. I’ve also pointed out how the magazine’s founders were all very definitely members of the establishment, as is its current editor, Ian Hislop. And while there was a time when the magazine was disreputable – so much so that the Monday Club once accused it of being an organ of Commie subversion – it’s now very respectable. And I also think another strong motive is fear. Hislop and the rest may well be afraid that if they step out of line, they will suffer the same treatment as Corbyn and Momentum. And one of the accusations against the Eye is that it is the victim of its success. Other magazines were able to pursue a solid left-wing line, because they didn’t have the Eye’s assets. But the Eye isn’t poor, and so successful libel actions against it are profitable. Hislop and the others may simply feel that supporting the people – including Jews – who’ve been falsely accused simply isn’t worth it.