Robert Fisk: Why does John Malkovich
want to kill me?
May 14, 2002
might be denied any further visas to Britain until he apologises
for his remarks. But the damage has been done
It used to be just a trickle, a steady drip-drip of hate mail
which arrived once a week, castigating me for reporting on the killing
of innocent Lebanese under Israeli air raids or for suggesting that
Arabs as well as Israelis wanted peace in the Middle
East. It began to change in the late 1990s. Typical was the letter
which arrived after I wrote my eyewitness account of the 1996 slaughter
by Israeli gunners of 108 refugees sheltering in the UN base in
the Lebanese town of Qana.
"I do not like or admire anti-Semites," it began. "Hitler
was one of the most famous in recent history". Yet compared
to the avalanche of vicious, threatening letters and openly violent
statements that we journalists receive today, this was comparatively
mild. For the internet seems to have turned those who do not like
to hear the truth about the Middle East into a community of haters,
sending venomous letters not only to myself but to any reporter
who dares to criticise Israel or American policy in the Middle
There was always, in the past, a limit to this hatred. Letters
would be signed with the writer's address. Or if not, they would
be so-ill-written as to be illegible. Not any more. In 26 years
in the Middle East, I have never read so many vile and intimidating
messages addressed to me. Many now demand my death. And last week,
the Hollywood actor John Malkovich did just that, telling the Cambridge
Union that he would like to shoot me.
How, I ask myself, did it come to this? Slowly but surely, the
hate has turned to incitement, the incitement into death threats,
the walls of propriety and legality gradually pulled down so that
a reporter can be abused, his family defamed, his beating at the
hands of an angry crowd greeted with laughter and insults in the
pages of an American newspaper, his life cheapened and made vulnerable
by an actor who without even saying why says he wants
to kill me.
Much of this disgusting nonsense comes from men and women who say
they are defending Israel, although I have to say that I have never
in my life received a rude or insulting letter from Israel itself.
Israelis sometimes express their criticism of my reporting
and sometimes their praise but they have never stooped to
the filth and obscenities which I now receive.
"Your mother was Eichmann's daughter," was one of the
most recent of these. My mother Peggy, who died after a long battle
with Parkinson's three and a half years ago, was in fact an RAF
radio repair operator on Spitfires at the height of the Battle of
Britain in 1940.
The events of 11 September turned the hate mail white hot. That
day, in an airliner high over the Atlantic that had just turned
back from its routing to America, I wrote an article for The Independent,
pointing out that there would be an attempt in the coming days to
prevent anyone asking why the crimes against humanity in New York
and Washington had occurred. Dictating my report from the aircraft's
satellite phone, I wrote about the history of deceit in the Middle
East, the growing Arab anger at the deaths of thousands of Iraqi
children under US-supported sanctions, and the continued occupation
of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza by America's Israeli
ally. I didn't blame Israel. I suggested that Osama bin Laden was
But the e-mails that poured into The Independent over the next
few days bordered on the inflammatory. The attacks on America were
caused by "hate itself, of precisely the obsessive and dehumanising
kind that Fisk and Bin Laden have been spreading," said a letter
from a Professor Judea Pearl of UCLA. I was, he claimed, "drooling
venom" and a professional "hate peddler". Another
missive, signed Ellen Popper, announced that I was "in cahoots
with the archterrorist" Bin Laden. Mark Guon labelled me "a
total nut-case". I was "psychotic," according to
Lillie and Barry Weiss. Brandon Heller of San Diego informed me
that "you are actually supporting evil itself".
It got worse. On an Irish radio show, a Harvard professor
infuriated by my asking about the motives for the atrocities of
11 September condemned me as a "liar" and a "dangerous
man" and announced that "anti-Americanism"
whatever that is was the same as anti-Semitism. Not only
was it wicked to suggest that someone might have had reasons, however
deranged, to commit the mass slaughter. It was even more appalling
to suggest what these reasons might be. To criticise the United
States was to be a Jew-hater, a racist, a Nazi.
And so it went on. In early December, I was almost killed by a
crowd of Afghan refugees who were enraged by the recent slaughter
of their relatives in American B-52 air-raids. I wrote an account
of my beating, adding that I could not blame my attackers, that
if I had suffered their grief, I would have done the same. There
was no end to the abuse that came then.
In The Wall Street Journal, Mark Steyn wrote an article under a
headline saying that a "multiculturalist" me
had "got his due." Cards arrived bearing the names of
London "whipping" parlours. The Independent's web-site
received an e-mail suggesting that I was a paedophile. Among several
vicious Christmas cards was one bearing the legend of the 12 Days
of Christmas and the following note inside: "Robert Fiske (sic)
aka Lord Haw Haw of the Middle East and a leading anti-semite
& proto-fascist Islamophile propagandist. Here's hoping 2002
finds you deep in Gehenna (Hell), Osama bin Laden on your right,
Mullah Omar on your left. Yours, Ishmael Zetin."
Since Ariel Sharon's offensive in the West Bank, provoked by the
Palestinians' wicked suicide bombing, a new theme has emerged. Reporters
who criticise Israel are to blame for inciting anti-Semites to burn
synagogues. Thus it is not Israel's brutality and occupation that
provokes the sick and cruel people who attack Jewish institutions,
synagogues and cemeteries. We journalists are to blame.
Almost anyone who criticises US or Israeli policy in the Middle
East is now in this free-fire zone. My own colleague in Jerusalem,
Phil Reeves, is one of them. So are two of the BBCs' reporters in
Israel, along with Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian. And take
Jennifer Loewenstein, a human rights worker in Gaza who is
herself Jewish and who wrote a condemnation of those who claim that
Palestinians are deliberately sacrificing their children. She swiftly
received the following e-mail: "BITCH. I can smell you from
afar. You are a bitch and you have Arab blood in you. Your mother
is a fucking Arab. At least, for God's sake, change your fucking
name. Ben Aviram."
Does this kind of filth have an effect on others? I fear it does.
Only days after Malkovich announced that he wanted to shoot me,
a website claimed that the actor's words were "a brazen attempt
at queue-jumping". The site contained an animation of my own
face being violently punched by a fist and a caption which said:
"I understand why they're beating the shit out of me."
Thus a disgusting remark by an actor in the Cambridge Union led
to a website suggesting that others were even more eager to kill
me. Malkovich was not questioned by the police. He might, I suppose,
be refused any further visas to Britain until he explains or apologises
for his vile remarks. But the damage has been done. As journalists,
our lives are now forfeit to the internet haters. If we want a quiet
life, we will just have to toe the line, stop criticising Israel
or America. Or just stop writing altogether.