Jewish Council in Ireland comes to defence of Kevin Myers

Branding sacked columnist anti-Semite ‘an absolute distortion of the facts’

BBC presenter Vanessa Feltz has said she felt 'extremely upset by a Kevin Myers column in the Sunday Timeswhich suggested she and Claudia Winkleman earned high salaries because they were Jewish. Video courtesy: BBC Radio London

 

Branding Kevin Myers as either an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier was “an absolute distortion of the facts”, according to the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland.

The council, which speaks for the 2,557-strong Irish Jewish Community, came to the sacked columnist’s defence on Monday night and accused his critics abroad of circulating falsehoods about the columnist.

“More than any other Irish journalist,” said the council in a statement, “he has written columns about details of the Holocaust over the last three decades that would not otherwise have been known by a substantial Irish audience.

“The knee-jerk responses from those outside Ireland appear to care little for facts and pass on (along with some media outlets) falsehoods about his previous writings without verification. This has been exacerbated by a thoroughly misleading headline being sent around the world that is wholly unrepresentative of the article to which it refers.”

While it was “understandable” there was a strong reaction and rejection of Myers’ column in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, “it is wrong that misconceptions and misinformation be circulated about his previous writings”.

The statement continued: “Kevin Myers inadvertently stumbled into an anti-Semitic trope. Yes, Kevin ought to have known that his bringing the religion of the two BBC presenters into his writings on Sunday would cause concern and upset and that it was both unnecessary and bound to be misunderstood.

Larger picture

“But the larger picture is that Kevin, who up until now was a respected columnist, has a particular curmudgeonly, cranky, idiosyncratic style. We, who have been reading Kevin’s work over many years and those who know him personally, know that while this was a real error of judgement on his part, also know that he is not an anti-Semite.”

The council said Ireland had become more diverse and Myers’ voice was part of that diversity. “It would be a shame if Kevin Myers’ voice was lost based on his mistake and other people’s misconceptions about his prior writings.”

Earlier on Monday, both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste said the Sunday Times made the correct decision by issuing an apology for the newspaper column and subsequently dismissing Myers.

Leo Varadkar described the article as “misogynistic” and “anti-Semitic”, while Frances Fitzgerald said there was “an onus on everyone, including the media obviously, to make sure articles like that do not appear”.

Efforts to contact Myers were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, as commentary raged over Myers’ comments and his sacking, the Press Council of Ireland was bracing itself for a large number of complaints over it. The council has so far received five complaints about it – four related to allegations of anti-Semitism and one to an allegation of misogyny.

However, a spokesman for the council said it expects this number to rise significantly as those complaining in the UK are being advised by the Press Ombudsman there to make their complaints in Ireland as the article complained of was published in the Irish edition of the British newspaper.

The Sunday Times, and its Ireland edition, is not connected in any way to The Irish Times.

Misogynistic

His article, which suggested Jewish people are particularly good with money and contained what many people have described as misogynistic comments, was published in print in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, but was available online to all readers, including those in the UK.

The article, which has now been deleted from the newspaper’s website, continued to generate widespread anger on Monday. The controversy has also been picked up internationally with outlets such as the New York Times and the Jerusalem Post running stories on it.

Author JK Rowling tweeted to her 11.4 million followers, “This filth was published in @thesundaytimes. Let that sink in for a moment,” accompanied by a picture of the article.

The Press Council’s UK equivalent, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), has so far received 25 complaints. Most were that the article breached section 12 of the organisation’s code which deals with discrimination.

However, those complaining to IPSO are being referred to the Press Council of Ireland, which is a separate body, as the article was published by the Irish version of the newspaper which has a separate editor, Frank Fitzgibbon.

The Sunday Times deleted the article on Sunday afternoon and issued an apology. Shortly afterwards, it announced that Myers would no longer be writing for the newspaper.

In the column headlined “Sorry, ladies – equal pay has to be earned”, Myers criticised the “tiresome monotone consensus of the commentariat, all wailing and shrieking as one about how hard done by are the women of the BBC”.

Controversy

The article said: “I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity. I wonder, who are their agents?”

The article was in response to a growing controversy over the gender pay gap in journalism.

A senior rabbi criticised Myers on Monday for making a link between Jewish people and wealth, which she said was an anti-Semitic “caricature”. Rabbi Julia Neuberger said the columnist “needed to get some education”.

“I was offended by his association of Jews being rich and good at doing deals,” she told RTÉ’s News at One.

Rabbi Neuberger, who is also a baroness, said that she had not been aware of the controversy when she sat beside Myers at the West Cork History festival on Sunday. “I like him and admire his defence of the war graves of the Irish who fought in the first World War,” she added.

“You can admire someone for some things and still think they’re outrageous. I had not seen the article. He told me about it. He checked with me if he was wrong and I told him ‘yes’.”

Rabbi Neuberger said she was surprised the comment had got through the editorial process. “It was rubbish what he wrote,” she said, adding that “if you use that old caricature you are being anti-Semitic”.

Professor of journalism Roy Greenslade said a controversial columnist like Myers needed “careful watching”.

“This was an occasion where the subeditors or commissioning editor slipped up,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke programme.

“With form like that, I would have thought editors would be on the look out. I’m surprised that any editor thought that his comments on Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman were worth publishing.”

Ms Feltz described the column as “vile” and a display of “horrifying racism”.

Press Council chairman Seán Donlon said the Sunday Times had reacted in the correct way after concerns were raised. He said the column was not only anti-Semitic but also misogynistic and insulting to RTÉ and BBC.

‘Abuse of free speech’

He said that while the Press Council had no powers of sanction, it relied on the court of public opinion which is “at least as effective as the court of law”.

Earlier, Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism in the UK said the comments made by Myers were an “abuse of free speech”.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he could not “see any newspaper wanting to employ” Myers following the article.

Myers, who previously wrote the ‘Irishman’s Diary’ column for The Irish Times before moving to the Irish Independent and later the Sunday Times, is no stranger to controversy.

He previously referred to children of single mothers as “bastards” in an Irish Times column, in 2005.

Following that publication, the editor at the time, Geraldine Kennedy, said in an article “I regret the decision to publish the Diary. I am sorry for the offence caused to hundreds of women and children, to many readers of this newspaper.”

In 2008, Myers wrote another column for the Irish Independent under the headline: “Africa has given the world nothing but AIDS”.

He later said the headline was “not quite what I said – the missing ‘almost’ goes a long way; and anyway, my article was about aid, not Aids.”