Reader Post: Open Mike Silenced.Finally

mike carltonTwo weeks ago, Mike Carlton, a regular columnist at the Sydney Morning Herald, spent his words on the situation in Gaza (Aussie Dave: I posted about it here). It is hardly surprising: everyone who is anyone is writing about it. Not an hour goes by without my inbox spewing another piece by someone wishing to share their wisdom, experience, insights and knowledge about ‘the situation’. (To preempt anxiety, rest assured, I have nothing to add to the mountains of words, deluge of tears and rows of coffins.)

Carlton’s piece was, unsurprisingly, very critical of Israel and IDF actions in Gaza. It was titled “Israel’s rank and rotten fruit is being called fascism.” Much of it was selective analysis, some of it was misguided and other bits were unabashedly inaccurate: “Call it genocide, call it ethnic cleansing: the aim is to kill Arabs.” None of it was new. As a true liberal, I would even rise to his defense to write his personal, one-sided, view as columnist. However, I confess that even my liberal views were tested when he dished out the holocaust chestnut: “It is a breathtaking irony,” he writes, “that these atrocities can be committed by a people with a proud liberal tradition of scholarship and culture, who hold the Warsaw Ghetto and the six million dead of the Holocaust at the centre of their race memory.”

Now, if Mike Carlton wishes to throw himself on the side of those who equate Israel with Nazism, it is his calling as a fair handed journalist he betrays. He is allowed to think what he likes of Israel. He is allowed to misread history in the comfort of his armchair, if misreading history is his bag. I would even venture to say he is allowed to indulge himself the perverse satisfaction that comes with saying the unsayable, in this instance accusing a people who have suffered a terrible calamity of now being the instigators of it themselves.

However, it was the accompanying illustration by cartoonist Glen Le Lievre which tipped the balance, and me off my chair. The drawing wasn’t the usual conflation between Israel and Judaism; it was pure, unadulterated antisemitic bile. The cartoon depicts a man sitting in a chair, pressing a remote control to detonate a collection of buildings. The man has a hook nose, is wearing a large kippah on his head and there’s a Magen David drawn on the back of his chair.It was truly Der Stürmer stuff.

The Jewish community went ballistic. The fury was tangible. The weekly Australian Jewish News devoted its front page to an opinion piece excoriating the Sydney Morning Herald. Carlton remained unfazed. He described the uproar as“febrile froth from the Likud lobby”.

It was only yesterday, 10 days after the column and cartoon first appeared, that the paper finally responded to the outrage. In its own editorial, the newspaper firstly ‘clarified’ that Le Lievre routinely depicts large noses and pronounced facial features. Further, “the cartoon had its genesis in news photographs of men seated in chairs and lounges, observing the shelling of Gaza from the hills of Sderot”.Antisemitism, we learn, is like a fetish; it can be ignited and driven by any visual object. Toward the end of the op-ed, finally, there was an apology: “It was wrong to publish the cartoon in its original form” it read. “We apologise unreservedly for this lapse, and the anguish and distress that has been caused.”

But this was not all – or the end of this saga.

Carlton received a barrage of emails from readers in response to his column. According to him their number was in the vicinity of 700 – of which 85% were supportive. It was the other 15% which irked him. And so he responded.

I have seen copies of some of the emails readers sent him and have also been forwarded the replies they received from Carlton himself. Carlton’s replies were truly revolting: abusive and nasty; offensive and personal. They included expletives and invectives which, for reasons of decorum, I will not quote here. If you do your own diligence, you will find them on line. The more printable of his comments include epithets such as: ‘Jewish bigot’, ‘pissant’, ‘turds’ and ‘demented Likudnik racists’.

This morning, Darren Goodsir, editor-in-chief of the paper, issued an apology to readers who had received offensive messages from Carlton. This only happened, it should be mentioned, as a result of The Australian, the Murdoch-owned rival paper, splashing Carlton’s barrage of invectives on its front page. Goodsir also had the good sense to tell Carlton that he expected him to apologise to the readers he had offended.“I have asked Mike to apologise for these actions. Mike regrets his behaviour and will be contacting affected readers to apologise.” All good, except that Carlton wasn’t aware of his contrition. When told to apologise, today, he promptly resigned from the Sydney Morning Herald. He later tweeted: “After a fortnight of being called Nazi, Jew-hating slime, I told a few people to f*** off. We do that in this country occasionally.”

Journalists come, journalists go. Sometimes they find other platforms; sometimes they disappear from public view. Mike Carlton writes a good column and often sounds the clarion call on important social and political issues. He is allowed to have his views about Israel, or anything else – and he can keep them too. He is entitled to write about abuses in Gaza and share his sympathies with the people of Gaza. There are Israeli writers who do it too. But if he finds a new place to pen his thoughts, I hope he reconsiders how to interact with his readers in a dignified and reasonable manner – especially those who disagree with him – and not resort to the uncouth and vile (not to mention slanderous) language he has used.

I hope, too, that Carlton will choose to spend time thinking of and writing about other social injustices, elsewhere. For instance, he can write about mass executions, torture and child soldiers in Iraq where more than 5,000 have died in gruesome and violent ways. There is no shortage of gruelling stories from Syria where the death toll had surpassed 120,000. In Uganda children are routinely harassed, threatened, beaten, sexually abused and killed with impunity as the government looks on. He might like to write a column about Iran’s war against women; a country which holds the title of the world’s highest rate of execution of women by stoning. We have not mentioned China, Somalia or North Korea.

He has his work cut out for him.

About Ori Golan

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  • Norman_In_New_York

    Hey Mike, don’t let the doorknob ream your tush on the way out.

  • unpluggged

    As far as I remember, there are no hills in Sderot. Sderot lies in the coastal plain. Plain.

  • Esther

    One correction: Carlton didn’t resign because he was told to apologise. Apparently he agreed to that. It was when someone higher up the food chain decided that, in addition to the apologies, he would be suspended for a few weeks, that he walked out. He and his supporters have been depicting him as a martyr brought down by the twin evil empires of Murdoch’s Newscorp and the Zionist/Jewish/Likud lobby.

    Carlton has form. While I have seen no mention of it during the current brouhaha, Carlton wrote a similarly offensive column following the Gaza flotilla a few years ago, where he described his critics, the “Jewish lobby” (it’s always a conspiracy, they’re never just ordinary individual Jews and others), as a “ferocious beast” that “lunges from its lair, fangs bared”. It’s like a verbal version of a Der Sturmer caricature. He also went on to say “the Israel lobby, is orchestrated in Jerusalem by a department in the Prime Minister’s office with the rather Orwellian name of the Ministry for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs”. Lest anyone think that his resort to well-worn stereotypes might be indicative of at least a latent anti-Semitism, Carlton is incensed at any such suggestion, declaring himself to be not the least bit that way inclined. And he has a Jewish son-in-law, so there.

    The Sydney Morning Herald which published this drivel, and which has been providing woefully unbalanced coverage of the Gaza operation, is as Carlton described it, a once-great paper. Founded in 1831 (which makes it very old by Sydney standards, white settlement having only commenced in 1788) it was a mainstream and respected Sydney institution, whose financial fortunes have for some years been flagging. It has, as a result of this debacle, now lost a number of long-time subscribers. Ironically, supporters of Carlton’s and members of the local Muslim community have threatened to stop buying the paper unless Carlton is reinstated which, given that Carlton resigned and was not sacked, may not be in the paper’s power. Deliciously, the Herald is now, therefore, getting it from both sides.

  • Gedalia

    Sorry, but I was unable to determine the point of this post. There is nothing new in the content, and whilst we are told what happened, there is no opinion expressed other than that Carlton has a right to express his opinion and he should do so for other conflicts. This article adds nothing to discussion. Carlton is unlikely to reform himself or reach a reasonable view regarding Israel and his hatred of Jews is now on the public record. No more oxygen is required for this story. Lets move on and focus our energy in those areas where we can make a difference.

  • jlevyellow1

    Mike Carlton makes his living through the adroit use of language – not the equivalent of clear thinking. While not having read his original piece, the quotes extracted by Ori Golan are nothing more than name calling. Characterizing or describing something is not the same as understanding the “hows” of the situation at hand. Anyone who does not acknowledge the contribution of Hamas to the suffering of the people they claim to represent has been blinded to the point of prejudice. Hamas’ opposition to the Jewish State of Israel has resulted in their dead babies. Israel’s success in halting Hamas’ aggression meets precisely the legal definition of “proportionality.” They hit Hamas until Hamas stopped shelling Israel, but went no further. Israel’s responses were not vengeful, while Hamas’ tactics and strategies have been exactly that – vengeful in the extreme..

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