By Richard Lightbown
'mensch: a person of integrity and honor' Merriam-Webster online dictionary
Louise Mensch first came to fame when, as Louise Bagshawe, she earned recognition for her poetry and considerable commercial success for her chick-lit fiction. These days she retains the name for her writing work while in her married name she represents Corby East Northamptonshire as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Sometimes she combines both functions as politician and creator of fiction, to rather unsavoury effect.
Thus in the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on 19 July 2011 she accused the former editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, of phone hacking in order to gain a scoop on a former manager of the England national football team. Mr Morgan now hosts his own show for CNN so Ms Mensch-Bagshawe was perhaps a little reckless when she chose to appear on CNN’s ‘The Situation Room’ to defend her performance without adequately doing her homework.
Piers Morgan, joining the programme by phone link, immediately accused her of cowardice for refusing to repeat the allegation outside of parliamentary privilege and called her a liar for misquoting from his book during the proceedings. It was, he said, a deliberate attempt to smear his name along with that of the Daily Mirror and CNN. Ms Mensch stood pink faced and smirking throughout the tirade. When the journalist read out the exact quotation from his book, and compared it to the adulterated version the MP had quoted in parliament she declined to repeat the statement outside of parliament, validating Mr Morgan’s claim of cowardice. She also refused to apologise for the defamation, while incorrectly and unfairly accusing Mr Morgan of threatening her on the programme.
It was ten days before Ms Mensch finally deigned to apologise to Mr Morgan in a letter to the Chairman of the committee, explaining that she had taken her information from a Daily Telegraph report covering a blogger’s claim that the story was acquired by phone hacking. This admission illustrates the poor quality of research that had gone into the preparation for the meeting of the committee.
This then was the baggage of damaged goods that appeared again on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for the valedictory meeting with Mark Thompson as Director-General of the BBC. (Mr Thompson it might be recalled, had the joint role of Editor-in-Chief, and as such had presided over some of the worst reporting scandals in the history of the Corporation.)
After an hour and 40 minutes of questioning, Ms Mensch moved onto the subject of what she called “the BBC’s total non-coverage” of the massacre of five members of the Fogel family in the Israeli settlement of Itamar on the Palestinian West Bank on the night 11 March 2011. It was she said “the most reaction I have ever had for anything in all my time in politics and it came from the Jewish community…”. Her apparent surprise was disingenuous; she must know that lobbies exist to create a reaction, and the Jewish lobby is renowned as being the most powerful.
She told the Director-General that Palestinian terrorists had killed the entire Fogel family, slit the throats of children and decapitated a three-month-old baby. She complained that the BBC had only once run the story on radio, as a lead item, and put it on their web site for a day. She also referred to a piece that she had written on the subject for the Daily Telegraph for which she had received an overwhelming response both from the UK and abroad.
Her article in the Daily Telegraph covered the same ground in slightly more detail and included the allegation that the BBC website had “omitted key facts and failed to mention the subsequent celebrations in Gaza, and the statement by a Hamas spokesman that ‘five dead Israelis is not enough to punish anybody’”.
Some fact checking is in order here. First of all three members of the Fogel family survived this gruesome event, so it is not correct to say that the entire family was killed. Neither was the three-month-old daughter decapitated. Nor is there any evidence to back up the allegations of celebrations in Gaza, nor Hamas approval.
The most sensational of these claims is the beheading of the infant Hadas which is a malicious story that was presumably invented by an unscrupulous and rabid anti-Palestinian to extract the most amount of hatred from a crime that was of itself most foul and abominable. The story may have originated with David Ha’ivri, who was executive director of the pro-settler Shromron Liaison Office, and who in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza Flotilla Raid stated publically that the Mavi Marmara should have been sunk on the high seas. The Liaison Office exists to promote the activities of the settler community in the region of Shromron (i.e. the Palestinian West Bank north of the Jerusalem – Jericho axis). Mr Ha’ivri was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as recounting the story of the beheading.
Although the story was largely ignored by the mainstream media and by many Zionist blogs it was picked up and reported as fact by American journalist Claire Berlinski who visited Itamar the day after the massacre, but would presumably not have seen the murder victims. However graphic photographs of the victims were released by consent of the family and one video shows the dead father and infant in a mass of blood where they lay dead in their bed. The infant’s head is intact with its body. Ms Mensch has had more than a year to check out this story, but her busy life as mother, writer, poet, politician and television celebrity seem to have prevented her from substantiating the truth of what in reality is a vicious, mischievous slander designed for evil intent. Such filth has no place being uttered in the House of Commons.
Of the celebrations over the event in Gaza there is no valid justification. There are indeed photographs of one man in Gaza handing round a tray of sweets to two policemen, a car driver stopped at a traffic light, and an old lady. These are everyday innocent events that occur all over the world and there is no evidence available anywhere (outside of the fertile imaginings of evil minds) to link these scenes with the awful deeds at Itamar. Ms Mensch disgraces herself writing this bilge, as she does by ignoring the actual reactions of Palestinian leaders. President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad both unconditionally condemned the attack. MEMRI, which is not noted for its pro-Palestinian bias reported that,
"Hamas political bureau member 'Izzat Al-Rishq denied that his movement had any connection to the attack, stating that "'it is not the policy of Hamas and the Palestinian resistance factions to harm children.'"
It is correct to say that there were Palestinians who supported the murders, such as the editor-in-chief of the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Felasteen. It is also true to say that there are unprincipled members of the British House of Commons who will distort reports of this story to the detriment of the Palestinian people.
A parallel tale to this story comes to mind. In August 2009 an article was published in the Swedish journal Aftonblade that had been written by Donald Boström. The article claimed that Israeli troops harvested organs from Palestinians who had died In Israeli custody (from injuries inflicted on them by their captors). The article aroused a storm of protest in Israel alleging anti-Semitism and blood libel. There followed a diplomatic rift between the governments of Israel and Sweden when the Swedish government refused to interfere with press freedom, which is guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Five months later after the furore died down Israeli television screened an interview with the former director of the Abu Kabir forensic institute made in 2000 in which he admitted widespread removal of organs from dead bodies without the families’ consent, and that the victims had included Palestinians. The stories and their relative truths may vary, but the furore and righteous indignation are uncomfortably familiar.
Regarding the BBC’s priorities on the 12 March when the story broke it is worth recalling that it was a busy day for news services throughout the world. On the same day of the Itamar massacre a huge earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan. The official death toll now stands at 15,840, but on the days after the disaster struck 80,000 people were unaccounted for. At about the same time that the Fogel family members were slaughtered Tepco was reporting that it had lost control over pressure in two of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima threatening an unprecedented environmental catastrophe. Other events of note at that time were the Libyan government’s forces move towards Benghazi (which journalists were saying likely presaged an unavoidable bloodbath) along with the violent repression of peaceful protests in Yemen and only a few days later in Bahrain also. Both attacks by security forces caused hundreds of casualties.
Palestine is a country about which many in Britain know little, and this is not a coincidence. The mainstream media likes to keep it that way, as does the government of Israel which prevented journalists from entering the Gaza Strip during its murderous assault in 2008/9, and still withholds the bulk of the footage that it stole during the Gaza Flotilla raid. Now a British Member of Parliament complains when the death of five Israelis (who after all lived on another continent well over a thousand miles away) were not presented as mainstream news at the same time that 80,000 Japanese were feared to have perished.
Louise Mensch has admitted to taking class A drugs as a young woman. Perhaps they are more harmful to the brain than is generally realized.
- Richard Lightbown contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.