Threats against Robert Fisk

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Tue Feb 4 14:54:54 MST 2003

Last year Hollywood actor John Malkovich  threatened to kill the
journalist Robert Fisk and the Scottish MP George Galloway because of
their support of Palestinian rights and denunciations of Israeli war crimes.

Below is Fisk's response to that and other threats.  It's kind of old
(May last year) but interesting nevertheless:

Robert Fisk: Why does John Malkovich want to kill me?
He might be denied any further visas to Britain until he apologises for
his remarks. But the damage has been done
The Independent, 14 May 2002

It used to be just a trickle, a steady drip-drip of hate mail which
arrived once a week, castigating me for reporting on the killing of
innocent Lebanese under Israeli air raids or for suggesting that Arabs -
as well as Israelis - wanted peace in the Middle East. It began to change
in the late 1990s. Typical was the letter which arrived after I wrote my
eyewitness account of the 1996 slaughter by Israeli gunners of 108
refugees sheltering in the UN base in the Lebanese town of Qana.

"I do not like or admire anti-Semites," it began. "Hitler was one of the
most famous in recent history". Yet compared to the avalanche of vicious,
threatening letters and openly violent statements that we journalists
receive today, this was comparatively mild. For the internet seems to have
turned those who do not like to hear the truth about the Middle East into
a community of haters, sending venomous letters not only to myself but to
any reporter who dares to criticise Israel - or American policy in the
Middle East.

There was always, in the past, a limit to this hatred. Letters would be
signed with the writer's address. Or if not, they would be so-ill-written
as to be illegible. Not any more. In 26 years in the Middle East, I have
never read so many vile and intimidating messages addressed to me. Many
now demand my death. And last week, the Hollywood actor John Malkovich did
just that, telling the Cambridge Union that he would like to shoot me.

How, I ask myself, did it come to this? Slowly but surely, the hate has
turned to incitement, the incitement into death threats, the walls of
propriety and legality gradually pulled down so that a reporter can be
abused, his family defamed, his beating at the hands of an angry crowd
greeted with laughter and insults in the pages of an American newspaper,
his life cheapened and made vulnerable by an actor who - without even
saying why - says he wants to kill me.

Much of this disgusting nonsense comes from men and women who say they are
defending Israel, although I have to say that I have never in my life
received a rude or insulting letter from Israel itself. Israelis sometimes
express their criticism of my reporting - and sometimes their praise - but
they have never stooped to the filth and obscenities which I now receive.

"Your mother was Eichmann's daughter," was one of the most recent of
these. My mother Peggy, who died after a long battle with Parkinson's
three and a half years ago, was in fact an RAF radio repair operator on
Spitfires at the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940.

The events of 11 September turned the hate mail white hot. That day, in an
airliner high over the Atlantic that had just turned back from its routing
to America, I wrote an article for The Independent, pointing out that
there would be an attempt in the coming days to prevent anyone asking why
the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington had occurred.
Dictating my report from the aircraft's satellite phone, I wrote about the
history of deceit in the Middle East, the growing Arab anger at the deaths
of thousands of Iraqi children under US-supported sanctions, and the
continued occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza by
America's Israeli ally. I didn't blame Israel. I suggested that Osama bin
Laden was responsible.

But the e-mails that poured into The Independent over the next few days
bordered on the inflammatory. The attacks on America were caused by "hate
itself, of precisely the obsessive and dehumanising kind that Fisk and Bin
Laden have been spreading," said a letter from a Professor Judea Pearl of
UCLA. I was, he claimed, "drooling venom" and a professional "hate
peddler". Another missive, signed Ellen Popper, announced that I was "in
cahoots with the archterrorist" Bin Laden. Mark Guon labelled me "a total
nut-case". I was "psychotic," according to Lillie and Barry Weiss. Brandon
Heller of San Diego informed me that "you are actually supporting evil

It got worse. On an Irish radio show, a Harvard professor - infuriated by
my asking about the motives for the atrocities of 11 September - condemned
me as a "liar" and a "dangerous man" and announced that "anti-Americanism"
- whatever that is - was the same as anti-Semitism. Not only was it wicked
to suggest that someone might have had reasons, however deranged, to
commit the mass slaughter. It was even more appalling to suggest what
these reasons might be. To criticise the United States was to be a
Jew-hater, a racist, a Nazi.

And so it went on. In early December, I was almost killed by a crowd of
Afghan refugees who were enraged by the recent slaughter of their
relatives in American B-52 air-raids. I wrote an account of my beating,
adding that I could not blame my attackers, that if I had suffered their
grief, I would have done the same. There was no end to the abuse that came

In The Wall Street Journal, Mark Steyn wrote an article under a headline
saying that a "multiculturalist" - me - had "got his due." Cards arrived
bearing the names of London "whipping" parlours. The Independent's
web-site received an e-mail suggesting that I was a paedophile. Among
several vicious Christmas cards was one bearing the legend of the 12 Days
of Christmas and the following note inside: "Robert Fiske (sic) - aka Lord
Haw Haw of the Middle East and a leading anti-semite & proto-fascist
Islamophile propagandist. Here's hoping 2002 finds you deep in Gehenna
(Hell), Osama bin Laden on your right, Mullah Omar on your left. Yours,
Ishmael Zetin."

Since Ariel Sharon's offensive in the West Bank, provoked by the
Palestinians' wicked suicide bombing, a new theme has emerged. Reporters
who criticise Israel are to blame for inciting anti-Semites to burn
synagogues. Thus it is not Israel's brutality and occupation that provokes
the sick and cruel people who attack Jewish institutions, synagogues and
cemeteries. We journalists are to blame.

Almost anyone who criticises US or Israeli policy in the Middle East is
now in this free-fire zone. My own colleague in Jerusalem, Phil Reeves, is
one of them. So are two of the BBCs' reporters in Israel, along with
Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian. And take Jennifer Loewenstein, a human
rights worker in Gaza - who is herself Jewish and who wrote a condemnation
of those who claim that Palestinians are deliberately sacrificing their
children. She swiftly received the following e-mail: "BITCH. I can smell
you from afar. You are a bitch and you have Arab blood in you. Your mother
is a fucking Arab. At least, for God's sake, change your fucking name. Ben

Does this kind of filth have an effect on others? I fear it does. Only
days after Malkovich announced that he wanted to shoot me, a website
claimed that the actor's words were "a brazen attempt at queue-jumping".
The site contained an animation of my own face being violently punched by
a fist and a caption which said: "I understand why they're beating the
shit out of me."

Thus a disgusting remark by an actor in the Cambridge Union led to a
website suggesting that others were even more eager to kill me. Malkovich
was not questioned by the police. He might, I suppose, be refused any
further visas to Britain until he explains or apologises for his vile
remarks. But the damage has been done. As journalists, our lives are now
forfeit to the internet haters. If we want a quiet life, we will just have
to toe the line, stop criticising Israel or America. Or just stop writing

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