August 21, 2012

Antony Lerman says "Enough already!" in The Guardian and Mike Marqusee says "Enough already!" to The Guardian

Two very different issues only related by my own perception.

Antony Lerman is saying, "Enough already!" to the Jewish establishment in the UK and not for the first time.  He has an article today in  the Guardian's Comment is Free section on line titled,  The abuse of dissenting Jews is shameful.
The Jewish establishment in the UK – which includes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, the Zionist Federation and numerous private groupings of the great and the good – is highly experienced at this. I saw it happen in the 1980s when communal leaders sought to make life impossible for the small but highly active radical Jewish Socialists' Group. And I became a target for such treatment myself when I was appointed head of the influential Jewish Policy Research (JPR) thinktank for a second time in 2005, an experience I recall in my book The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist.
By then I had served the community professionally for 26 years. A Zionist for decades, I was one no longer. But I wished passionately that Israel would become a democratic state for all its citizens, end the occupation, recognise the Palestinians' right of return, and acknowledge that Israel's establishment in 1948 was a Nakba, a catastrophe, for the Palestinians. I had no intention of using JPR as a platform for advocating these views but rather made one of my principal aims creating space for Jewish critical thinking and debate about how Jews should relate to Israel, to its policies towards Palestinians and to the serious impact of its actions on European Jews. I believed that only through open and civil discussion of these issues could the necessary change in diaspora Jewish opinion occur.
I looked for the "article history" which used to be a feature of The Guardian's on line articles but they no longer have it so I don't know if the article appeared in print.  It made me think of a complaint Mike Marqusee made recently about how The Guardian exploits journalists by relegating their articles to Comment is free.  Here's Mike on
I submitted the article (below), on the tension between the Olympic packaging and the reality of sports, to the Guardian Comment page, hoping that some of it at least would find its way into print. The editors liked the piece and asked me to cut it down to the appropriate length, which I was happy to do. Then, without consulting with me, they stuck it on the Cif website (not the print edition) under the crass and inapposite headline “Spare us the jingoistic Olympic hype.
Inevitably readers responded to the headline rather than the article, and within hours there were hundreds of angry posts abusing me for being a killjoy and / or ‘anti-British’. The abuse is what you get for contributing anything contentious to Cif and it goes with the territory. But in this case it was made even more pointless than usual by the way the Guardian packaged the article.
Of course, this is only a minor irritation. Editors reserve the right to write headlines and I accept that, though I do think they have an obligation to write headlines that reflect accurately the content and tone of the articles.
There is however a more important issue involved, which is the Cif website and how it treats contributors in general.
Some time ago I resolved not to contribute articles to Cif (as opposed to the print edition) because the rate of pay was so insulting and so injurious to journalism. Many contributors are not paid at all and those who are, including me, receive £90 for 800-1200 words, a small fraction of the minimum NUJ rate, and not remotely a reflection of the labour, skill, research, and accumulated expertise involved in creating the article. I know that for many free-lance writers, including myself, £90 is not to be sneezed at, but the long term cost to our dignity and our craft is just too high. We all want our writings to be circulated as widely as possible, but the Guardian is exploiting that desire to secure virtually cost-free copy. This copy is then used to attract readers and generate revenues for the Guardian, none of which trickles back to the contributors.
If free-lancers enjoyed the slightest degree of industrial muscle, the Cif scam would have been busted long before now. All I can say to my NUJ comrades on the Guardian staff is that you shouldn’t be letting this happen.
There are, of course, other issues with Cif.

PS, In his article, Antony Lerman mentions but modestly doesn't link to his book, The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist.

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