Terry Glavin made a defamatory reference to my Israeli Apartheid Week public lecture, “'Dark Hope': The Resistance to War and Ethnic Cleansing in Israel/Palestine” (University of Guelph, March 7, 2012), in an article he published in the Ottawa Citizen on March 8 and the Vancouver Sun on March 10. My letter responding to this defamation was published by both newspapers—as “Words were misinterpreted,” Ottawa Citizen (14 March 2012), http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Words+were+misinterpreted/6297753/story.html; and in abbreviated form as “Attack on critics of Israel distorts, ignores facts,” Vancouver Sun (14 March 2012), available at http://www.ottawcitizen.com/news/Attack+critics+Israel+distorts+ignores+facts/6298790/story/html. The other correspondence reproduced here has not previously been published.
The newspapers integrated into Conrad Black's media empire received a hard right-wing stamp from Black and the editors he hired—an ideological slant that remained unchanged when his Canadian holdings passed into the hands of Israel Asper's CanWestGlobal chain, and that has persisted in the mutation of that chain's ownership into something calling itself Postmedia.
With honourable exceptions, journalists writing for this chain have learned that their job description includes an element of ideological police-work, which involves seeking to discredit people of opposing viewpoints by any means available. Terry Glavin, who writes for the Ottawa Citizen, and whose articles are often carried by other Postmedia newspapers, has made himself an expert in this kind of work.
On March 7, 2012 I delivered a public lecture, “'Dark Hope': The Resistance to War and Ethnic Cleansing in Israel/Palestine,” as part of Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Guelph. (That title, as I made clear in my lecture, echoes the title of a book by Israeli scholar and peace activist David Shulman, Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine.) The online poster advertising the IAW event was noticed by Glavin, who incorporated a defamatory reference to my lecture into an article, “The pseudo-left marches away from reason,” published by the Ottawa Citizen on March 8 and by the Vancouver Sun on March 10.
I reproduce here my correspondence with the Vancouver Sun, which may be of interest for what it reveals about the difficulty, once one has been smeared by newspapers in this chain, of exercising what used to be known as the right of reply.
I will not offer any recital, beyond what is contained in the correspondence, of the vicious inanities contained in Glavin's article: anyone interested in the full details of his text can look it up on the Ottawa Citizen's website.
One of the subjects on which Glavin exposed his ignorance and vented his hatred was the Israeli attack, in international waters, on the humanitarian relief vessel Mavi Marmara, the flagship of an international flotilla that was seeking peacefully to break Israel's illegal blockade of the Gaza strip.
I chose in the letter I sent for publication in the Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver Sun to mock Glavin's stupidities; it remains a fact that the nine civilian peace activists who were murdered by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010 were shot a total of thirty times, and that five of the victims, as The Guardian reported, “were shot either in the back of the head or the back.”1
1. Letter to the Editor, Vancouver Sun (sent March 11, 2012)
To the Editor:
Terry Glavin's shillelagh-swinging is a treat to watch, even when it's oneself he's trying to whiff with his little cudgel (“The pseudo-left marches away from reason,” March 10, 2012).
What other journalist could consign opponents to “The Zombie Octoplex” and produce scoops at the same time? Who'd have guessed that the rights and liberties Arab activists struggle for across the Middle East are “already guaranteed” by Israel? The news will be a relief to the anemic women and stunted children of the blockaded Gaza strip, and to the Palestinian prisoners held without charges and dying on hunger strikes in Israeli jails.
Glavin tells us the Mavi Marmara's humanitarian aid mission was a “disgraceful hoax.” Let me guess: zombies again? Is that why Israeli commandos used head shots on “so-called peace activists” they killed?
A third example exposes Glavin's method. My Israeli Apartheid Week lecture, the online poster said, would reveal in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign “a humane, rational, and peaceful approach to solving the conflict.” With a wave of the Glavin shillelagh, this becomes “a lecture on the humane, rational and peaceful necessity of Judenstaatsrein.”
When they're not zombies, peace activists are neo-Nazis; human solidarity is a hoax; and the blockaded are free. How clever!
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph
2. Second letter to the Vancouver Sun (sent March 11, 2012)
To: The Editor, Letters Page, The Vancouver Sun
I sent you a letter early this-morning, responding to Terry Glavin's smearing of me in the article “The pseudo-left marches away from reason” that you published on March 10.
Although my letter is within the 200-word limit that you specify, and although you very clearly owe me a right of reply, I have not yet heard back from you.
My letter points out three flagrant falsifications in Glavin's column.
The third of these falsifications appears in the paragraph Glavin devotes to me. Let me explain to you why Glavin's words are defamatory as well as false.
The University of Guelph's Israeli Apartheid Week organization advertised my March 7, 2012 lecture, “'Dark Hope': The Resistance to War and Ethnic Cleansing in Israel/Palestine,” in an online poster. That poster, which Mr. Glavin very clearly read, stated that my lecture would argue “that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign offers a humane, rational, and peaceful approach to solving the conflict.” But Mr. Glavin informs your readers that I delivered “a lecture on the humane, rational and peaceful necessity of Judenstaatsrein.”
The statement that I used that last word is of course false. But are you aware of the word's implications?
“Judenrein” (meaning “cleansed of Jews”) is a term that was used by the Nazis to describe the goal of a murderous antisemitism that culminated in the Shoah.
“Judenstaatsrein” (meaning “cleansed of a Jewish state”) is a polemical coinage invented by supporters of the policies of the state of Israel as a means of smearing opponents of those policies. The claim that is made by people who deploy this word is that criticisms of Israeli policies amount to a devious continuation of the antisemitic project of the Nazis. Nazi antisemites wanted a world that would be “Judenrein”; their successors (call them what you like: neo-Nazis or new antisemites) now supposedly want a world that would be “Judenstaatsrein”—and the continuity of their hatred is implied by the resemblance of the two words.
I hope you understand now, if you didn't before, why Mr. Glavin's statement that I myself used that word is a defamatory smear.
I hope you understand as well that I regard this as a very serious matter.
Your newspaper, by publishing Mr. Glavin's article, has defamed me. I expect from you a right of reply—by which I mean that I expect you to publish my letter, in its entirety.
I would like to hear from you at your earliest convenience.
p.s. I am appending to this letter a copy of my 'Letter to the Editor'.
3. Third letter to the Vancouver Sun (sent March 12, 2012)
From: Michael Keefer
Sent: Monday, March 12, 2012 2:06 PM
To: Valerie Casselton, Executive Editor, The Vancouver Sun; Nicholas Palmer, Senior Editor, The Vancouver Sun; Harold Munro, Deputy Managing Editor, The Vancouver Sun; Fazil Mihlar, Editorial Pages Editor, The Vancouver Sun
Dear Valerie Casselton, Nicholas Palmer, Harold Munro, and Fazil Mihlar,
On March 10, The Vancouver Sun published an article by Terry Glavin, “The pseudo-left marches away from reason,” a short paragraph of which was devoted to me.
Mr. Glavin's remarks included a statement that is both false and defamatory.
Early on March 11, I sent a 'Letter to the Editor' to the address firstname.lastname@example.org. In that message, sent from my g-mail account, I provided my home address and telephone number; and in a follow-up message sent several minutes later, I gave you my University of Guelph email address as well.
When by yesterday evening I had not heard back from The Vancouver Sun, I sent a follow-up message to the same address (email@example.com).
Mr. Glavin stated in his article that I had delivered “a lecture on the humane, rational and peaceful necessity of Judenstaatsrein.” His wording implies very clearly that I used the word “Judenstaatsrein” (which, by the way, Mr. Glavin evidently believes to be a noun rather than an adjective).
I did not use the word, and in my follow-up message I explained very clearly why Mr. Glavin's ascription of it to me is defamatory as well as false.
Having given this explanation, and having indicated that I regard this as a very serious matter, I am, frankly, astonished not to have heard back from The Sun.
I would now like to have a prompt assurance that this matter is being dealt with in a manner consistent with professional journalistic standards and common decency.
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph
p.s. I append a copy of my follow-up letter, and of the original Letter-to-the-Editor.
4. The Outcome
At 5:08 p.m. on March 12, I heard from Fazil Mihlar, the Vancouver Sun's Editorial Pages Editor: “Dear Prof. Keefer: This is the first I am hearing of this; will read and get back to you.” Mihlar wrote again ten minutes later to say that “We will run the letter in its entirety in wed's paper.” The Sun didn't quite come through on this promise: the letter appeared on March 14, 2012 in a slightly abbreviated form, though with my mockery of Glavin largely intact.
In the mean time the Ottawa Citizen, which whom I had a similar but briefer correspondence, published my letter without changes, though with a stultifying headline: “Words were misinterpreted.” (It would seem that in the mental universe inhabited by the Citizen's editorial staff, a gratuitous insinuation of neo-Nazi antisemitism counts as “misinterpretation.”)
A satisfactory outcome? Hardly—even if it was a small pleasure to see language diverging from the uncritically pro-Israel party line appearing, however briefly, in two Postmedia outlets. For it would seem that Terry Glavin himself had the pleasure of knowing he had got away with yet another smear.
“Dieu me pardonnera,” wrote the poet Heinrich Heine: “c'est son métier.” Terry Glavin's métier has become the production of vicious libels. But perhaps, in his ongoing practice of this debased sub-journalism, Glavin may make the mistake of smearing someone who has the leisure and the inclination to press libel charges.
I was content to mock Glavin's idiocies in the same Postmedia outlets where he makes his living; before too long, some other recipient of his abuse may feel inclined to impose a more substantive penalty.
1 Quoted by Moustafa Bayoumi, “Introduction,” in Bayoumi, ed., Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict (New York: OR Books, 2010), p. 3.