I’ve a question. You’ll see in a moment why I’m tempted to call it a Trivial Pursuit question. Can you tell me when the worst suicide bombing in Europe since the 7/7 murders took place? I doubt you’d believe me if I said it was last week. I can hear your response: ‘What suicide bombing? What murders?’ Last week, six people died and nearly 30 were injured when a suicide bomber, widely thought to be acting on Iranian orders, set off a device on a bus taking a group of tourists from their charter flight to their hotel.
But if you got your news from the British media — the story was huge elsewhere — you would know almost nothing about it. The BBC news channel did mention the incident for a short while. But it wasn’t much interested in what the anchor described as an ‘awful accident’, soon diverting to other news. Maybe that was a slip of her tongue. What was no slip was the ticker that ran across the screen, which repeatedly referred to it as an ‘explosion’, as if a gas main had blown up rather than a suicide bomber planning and carrying out the murder of innocent holidaymakers.
The Financial Times decided that this didn’t warrant even a passing mention in its daily email of ‘European news headlines’.
I single out the FT and BBC but there was a near universal absence of serious coverage to the worst suicide bombing in Europe for seven years.
And here’s why. The victims were Jews. I could beat about the bush and say it was because they were Israelis. But that’s a cop-out. Too often, views about Jews are made to seem somehow more acceptable in polite society by being couched in anti-Israel camouflage. Last week, however, something else happened which provides compelling evidence that it’s dead Jews who just aren’t news in the minds of the British media.
One could, I suppose, say that the murder of Israelis in Bulgaria is of no intrinsic interest to Brits. Faraway lands and all that. But what about the conviction in Manchester last Friday of two home-grown Islamist terrorists — which received even less coverage than the Bulgarian murders? Mohammed Sajid Khan had run a car valeting service. His wife, Shasta Khan, was a hairdresser who operated from their home in Oldham. They also had another occupation: watching al-Qa’eda material online and driving round Prestwich and Salford deciding on targets. When the police raided their house, they found all the ingredients of a bomb factory.
The Khans were seriously committed would-be terrorists who were foiled just before they struck. You might have thought that their trial and conviction would have produced wall-to-wall coverage. And you’d have been wrong. There was next to nothing anywhere (in the Guardian, I saw precisely nothing). Why not? Maybe the fact that Mohammed and Shasta Khan’s target was Manchester’s Jewish community had something to do with it.
You see why I referred to Trivial Pursuit. It seems that both the actual and the planned murder of Jews are viewed as so trivial that they don’t merit serious coverage. The charitable explanation for these twin news blind spots is that the anti-Semitism which underlies both of these stories (more accurately, non-stories) is now so widespread that it’s no longer even news. But I don’t believe that for a moment. If it were true, it would mean that a form of racism was so normal that news editors thought it barely worth covering when it led to murder. Then again, we have been here before. Before the war, calls for coverage of the systematic murder of Jews in mainland Europe were dismissed as cries by ‘moaning Jews’.
There’s another explanation. The default position of the liberal left — and thus of the media — is a knee-jerk anti-Israel hostility. The view is that if Israel did not exist, neither would al-Qa’eda, that the likes of Hezbollah and Hamas are liberation movements rather than terrorist organisations, that any putative Iranian nuclear bomb is simply a response to Israel, and that there is essentially no such thing as an innocent Israeli. Israeli citizens are, in this view, as culpable as were white South Africans under apartheid. So when a group of them are killed, what else is to be expected? If they want to live, they should get out of land that isn’t theirs.
As for diaspora Jews, a prominent columnist once put it to me like this: you all stick together, so of course we hold you responsible for the actions of Israel.
So forgive me if it grates when I write that, much of the time, it’s not Israelis but Jews who are really under discussion. But when Jews are under attack again, I think we are past speaking in euphemisms.
Stephen Pollard is editor of the Jewish Chronicle.