Are Indian mainstream publishers beginning to back their writers?

Journalists, academics, artists, and poets speak out at the Delhi Press Club

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Indian
Ashok Vajpeyi at the Press Club of India

Indian media moderators and ombudspersons have pointed out in their articles that the Indian mainstream news publishers have generally not backed their journalists in speaking out on the Israel-Gaza war. Nevertheless, the journalists have persisted in speaking out and calling for a cease-fire in Gaza at meetings held at the Press Club of India in New Delhi.

At a public event organized on 3 November by a couple of literary and cultural groups, including ‘Artists, academics and cultural workers in solidarity with Palestine’, several leading journalists spoke out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ongoing genocide in Gaza. The poet Ashok Vajpeyi spoke of the need for the widespread condemnation of Israel’s continuous bombing of homes, schools, and hospitals and the cutting off of water, electricity, food, and medical supplies — calling it a “mandate of conscience.” Speakers at the meeting also criticized the Indian government for prohibiting peaceful demonstrations protesting the apartheid of Israel-Palestine and the latest Gaza war. A strong police contingent was present at the Press Club, ostensibly to prevent the peaceful meeting from turning into a street demonstration beyond its gates.

Aiyer speaks out in the Times of India

On 19 November 2023, Swaminathan S Ankelsaria Aiyar, in his Swaminomics column in the Sunday Times of India, titled his column on page 16 – ‘Israel: Silencing critics new form of McCarthyism’. Aiyer begins his column by writing, “I am appalled that the art historian Ranjit Hoskote had to resign from the finding committee of Documenta 16, a prestigious German art exhibition, after being accused of anti-semitism. His so-called crime was signing a petition in 2019 criticizing a discussion organized by the Israeli consulate seeking to develop an intellectual link between Zionism and Hindutva.

The West has reached such a stage where anyone criticizing Zionism can be pilloried as anti-semitic. Germany feels so guilty about the Holocaust that it cannot tolerate the slightest criticism of Israel.

This new form of discrimination must be called ethnic hounding. It is morally indefensible and diverts attention from neo-Nazis who are truly anti-semitic. Many Palestinian sympathizers are also strong critics of both neo-Nazism and Hamas extremism, but are not permitted to air their views in mainstream western media. The ethnic hounders seek to silence rational critics of Israel as immoral Jew-haters.”

Aiyer’s article cites several outspoken critics of Israel such as Noam Chomsky, and the historian Eric Hobsbawm. He lists the replacing of three Muslim experts of the region as anchors by MSNBC; the Frankfurt Book Fair cancelling the award ceremony for Palestinian writer Adania Shibli; and, the firing of the eLife editor Michael Eisen for reposting an article from the Onion about Gaza. He recounts the forced resignation of Paddy Cosgrave, the CEO of the Web Summit tech conference Web for tweeting, “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies.” He cites the abrupt cancellation of an event by the 92NY in uptown Manhattan where the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen was to speak – because he had signed an open letter criticizing Israel’s Gaza action.

Aiyer’s article is detailed, filled with facts and he calls out both sides. He ends the column by writing, “Nachem Goldman, a founder of the Zionist movement and Israel, once said it was ‘sacrilege’ to use the Holocaust as a justification for oppressing others. For this, he was ostracised in Israel. Yet such ‘sacrilege’ has inspired ethnic hounding, of which Hoskote is the latest but surely not the last victim.”

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