Fairfax’s arts supplements don’t set aside space for letters to the editor, so there’s little recourse for the public to respond to an article with a blatantly political slant, or factual problems.
Such was the case on Sunday – in the arts supplements for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times, which featured a fawning interview of Irish “travel writer” Dervla Murphy in its “Books” section.
The interview, written by her longtime friend Rosamund Burton, gave Murphy a chance to see the Israeli-Palestinian through her skewed perspective through the guise of a “travel book”.
To call Murphy merely a travel writer, however, would be simply inaccurate. What she is really famous for is using travel writing as window dressing for her left-wing political agenda, which naturally varies according to her subject matter.
As the Guardian wrote about Murphy in 2006:
She says that “a letter writing segment” of her readers disapprove of the “political stuff”, but there is an equivalent group “that tells me they haven’t thought about these things in this way before and are glad that I’ve written and thought more about the political side. My view is that I have these things I want to say and I don’t really care if it spoils a pure travel book.”
Of course, Murphy is not the first writer to combine their distaste for Israel with a travel story concept. (You may remember UK writer/activist Mark Thomas’ 2011 “travel book” framed around his tracing the path of the West Bank security barrier on foot was spruiked by the Australian media at that time as well).
It takes nearly halfway through the current 1,400-word feature before Fairfax’s readers are informed that Murphy is an extreme anti-Zionist – something that is misleadingly not made clear by the book’s title or introduction, but apparently revealed in the foreword.
Murphy says in the foreword that her sympathies lie with the Palestinians. She is not anti-Semitic, but admits to ‘‘being anti-political Zionism, therefore anti-Israel as the state is at present constituted”.
The pullquote used by Fairfax in the story tells us all we need to know about Ms. Murphy and the uncritical nature of the interview and the editing.
“All the discussions about the two-state solutions have been used by the Israelis as a screen…”
Murphy, who has spent only a handful of months of her life in the Holy Land, makes no attempt to provide any compelling evidence to justify making such sweeping judgements – which amounts to demanding a UN member state in existence for 67 years be destroyed or dissolved.
She may say she is not antisemitic, but it is incumbent on her to explain why it is that of all the world’s states, it is the Jewish state, fulfilling the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, that must not be allowed to continue existing. Of course, her friend Burton doesn’t even try to challenge her on this or any other point – the article is intended as a megaphone, not a genuine interview.
Just as most people wouldn’t go to an ophthalmologist for a leg problem, you wouldn’t turn to a travel writer to get expert analysis of Israeli government policy or the ins and outs of the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Murphy’s book seems to be aimed at the kind of reader who actually would, while Fairfax press, with the help of Murphy’s friend Burton, seem determined to ignore the obvious problems with doing so.