Writing in The Independent on Sunday, our former ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles, points out that two members of the Iraq inquiry are Jewish and that one of them, Sir Martin Gilbert, "has a record of active support for Zionism".
"Such facts," says Mr Miles, "are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media." (This column has been a lonely exception to the rule.)
Sure enough, to prove the ambassador's point, he was swiftly denounced by a leading representative of the mainstream media, The Times. "Oliver Miles's contribution to the debate is extraordinary and disgraceful," proclaimed an editorial on Wednesday. "The members of the panel are eminent in scholarship and public service. They should be allowed to get on with their deliberations without a volley of snide attack and irrelevant innuendo."
The ambassador's comments and the attention paid to them by The Times may be helpful in the long run, if only by drawing attention to the Israeli dimension in the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a dimension that hitherto has scarcely been mentioned. Yet it is a fact that the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein was initiated, well before 9/11, by a group of influential American neocons, notably Perle, Feith and Wolfowitz (once described by Time magazine as "the godfather of the Iraq war") nearly all of whom were ardent Zionists, in many cases more concerned with preserving the security of Israel than that of the US.
Given that undeniable fact, the pro-Israeli bias of Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, both of them supporters of the 2003 invasion, is a perfectly respectable point to raise. It is equally legitimate to ask if at any point the panel will investigate or even refer to the US neocons and their links to Israel. Call me snide if you like, but I very much doubt they will.
Don't shed a tear for closed Borders
Not long ago, in the massive Borders bookshop at Oxford Circus, I asked for the biography section, only to be told that there wasn't one. At other times, I have dropped into the shop on my way to the office, only to be driven out by the pounding background music. A few weeks ago, the shop closed down and now the whole business has gone into liquidation.
The usual sorts of explanations are on offer – the effects of the recession, fierce competition from internet retailers and the supermarkets. The plain fact is that the bookshops have closed down because they weren't any good.
You had only to look around to see why piles and piles of books by or about celebrities – Jeremy Clarkson, Ant and Dec, Stephen Fry – filled the windows and the main display tables as you came in. These books were there not because Borders thought they were what the public might like to buy, but because the publishers had paid big money for them to be promoted like this.
The bookshop was now no different from a big DIY store renting out its shelves to publishers. The retailer played little part in the process and there was certainly no need for him or her to have any special knowledge of books.
Publishers will be in mourning following the collapse of Borders, but it might turn out to be good news for small, independent bookshops – or anyone, for that matter, who believes that there is a world of difference between selling books and selling pots of paint.
All in a flap about the habits of red kites
A correspondent takes me to task for my remarks last week about the climate-change deniers, in the course of which I quoted William Cobbett as saying: "Never write about any matter that you do not well understand."
All very well, the correspondent says, but it's a bit rich "coming from someone who spouts off about red kites when obviously knowing nothing about ecology".
I will admit it. I'm not even sure that I know what ecology means. As for kites, all I have done is to question the view of kite-lovers that these birds of prey are essentially benefactors to the community as they live on carrion and road kill.
Funnily enough, it was Cobbett himself who helped to persuade me that this rosy view of the kite was misplaced. Writing in America in 1797, he describes a gathering of lawyers being intimidated by the arrival of the US Chief Justice Thomas McKean: "The little scrubby lawyers (with whom the courts of Philadelphia are continually crowded) crouched from fear just like a brood of poultry when the kite is preparing to pounce in amongst them..."
Unlike me, Cobbett, a farmer's son, knew a great deal about such matters and will himself have observed the scene of savagery that he describes, which suggests that the kite is not quite the peaceful carrion-guzzling creature that the RSPB brigade would have us believe.
Of course, it is possible that the habits of kites are nowadays different from what they were in the 18th century. I will await the views of the expert ecologists on this point.
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