The Shouting Match

8.7.2011
Words by Paul Fontaine
As many are aware, over a year has passed since a flotilla bound for Gaza with humanitarian aid was intercepted by Israeli commandos, the result being nine dead and 30 injured. In commemoration - and to get badly needed aid into Gaza - a second flotilla was recently organised, but thus far Israel has been more on top of their game in terms of blocking people from entering the region. Among their tactics is threatening and intimidating journalists.

Reading the Guardian story rang very familiar to me. You see, any time the Grapevine runs a story about Israel and/or Palestine, it seems to bring out a strong reaction in a very tiny but very vocal portion of our readership. This latest story, wherein we reported that the Foreign Minister has expressed his support for Palestine, has led to me, our paper, and the country as a whole being called anti-Semitic, as well as slurs made that the Palestinian people are violent and uncivilised, both in the comments section under the story and on our Facebook page.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a private number, from a man claiming to be from Denmark, who wanted to know why I thought anti-Semitism didn't exist in Iceland. I, of course, never said this and never would - it's something I've experienced firsthand, albeit very rarely. As he made clear that he had no intention of having a conversation but simply wanted to hurl accusations at me, there was a brief bout of shouting before I hung up the phone. The caller then contacted the Grapevine offices to inform them of my rudeness.

I can personally attest that we have only had to delete comments left under stories we've run on Israel. The only time we've been forced to ban someone from being able to comment on our site was because of their behaviour with regards to stories we did on Israel. The only time I've had profanity-laden Facebook messages sent to me or, now, have had my personal number called so that accusations and strawmen could be tossed my way, it's been over news we've run about Israel. On no occasion have we ever run an opinion piece or editorial that takes a stand on the Israel/Palestine question, either.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a complex issue, and so of course tensions are going to run high when reporting is done on it. We would love to get letters or articles from people who disagree with our reportage on Israel. Unfortunately, the people who resort to name-calling, baseless accusations and tactics of intimidation don't write letters or articles. They don't care that they would reach far more readers, and be taken more seriously, than they would simply dropping comments under an online article or on Facebook. Because they're not interested in discussion; they just want to shut people up.

I'm not big on conspiracy theories, as I don't like to believe in things I have no evidence to support, so I'm going to go ahead and assume that these individuals are acting on their own behest when they behave this way. I don't believe that being called an anti-Semite for criticising the policies of the Israeli government warrants a response. The reason why I'm writing this piece is that I want our readers to be aware of the fact that this is a form of intimidation that we face any and every time we run news on Israel.

I want you all to be aware of this. We ask that you make a note of this, and if you see this sort of behaviour on our site or on our Facebook, drop us a line and we'll take care of it. We believe these tactics go against the spirit of freedom of the press, and that it is unfair to our readers as well, who often face the same insults and false accusations when they step in to voice their own opinion.

In other words, open and honest discourse is welcome; slurs and intimidation are not, nor will they be tolerated.
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