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Apology misses the point

This is the offending article

This is the apology written by Michael Backman.

As you will see,  it's more like a defence than an apology.  Unfortunately it compounds the original offence.

When Backman claims that he is not anti-Semitic, he may mean it.  He may well be an unconscious anti-Semite.  Backman states that some of the forms of words he used did not adequately explain what he intended to say. When he writes that he understands that an injudicious use of words and themes has caused upset, it  remains unclear to which words and themes in his article he refers. Does he acknowledge that it is wrong to blame Israel and the Jews for being the victims of hate and terror? This blame, after all, is the principle anti-Semitic theme of his article.

Backman’s apology reminds me of Mel Gibson’s infamous drunken anti-semitic rant.   His apology and insistence that he’s no anti-semite is also reminiscent of Gibson’s remorse after the fact.   Clearly, Backman’s article is anti-Semitic. His  apology is also anti-Semitic.  The claim that by naming his son Shimon he proves his respect for Jewish culture, is a bit like saying “some of my best friends are Jewish”. It is a false credential and irrelevant defence, merely adding insult to injury.

He makes matters worse by describing the feedback his article attracted as  “indescribable filth, shocking and unprecedented…” the clear assumption being that this “filth” was generated by a disgruntled Jewish readership. The same underlying anti-Semitic theme of blaming the Israelis/Jews in the original article is thus repeated in Backman’s apology as he continues to blame the victims of prejudice for expressing their consternation at it.

“Michael Backman is an internationally renowned writer, columnist and speaker.” Yet Backman states that some of the forms of words he used did not adequately explain what he intended to say. It is disingenuous in the extreme for Backman, on the one hand to apologise for his inadequate and injudicious use of words and themes, yet on the other hand, to defend himself as an experienced and robust journalist.

Backman's apology demonstrates his ignorance and his unconscious (maybe) prejudice. He just doesn't get it.


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Felicity B touches on a very significant point. Antisemitism (this is properly never a hyphenated word because it is not the anti of semitism) is peculiar to Islamic and Christian societies. There is no antisemitism in Hindu or Buddhist societies, except where it is imported by Christians or Muslims. Being supercessionary religions (Xianity grew out of Judaism and Islam grew out of both Xianity and Judaism), they both had a theological need to destroy the religions that preceded them. Indeed, Xianity and Islam have been at war with each other for many centuries. Xianity has largely become more tolerant of others in recent centuries while Islam is moving backwards into fundamentalism and hatred of all things not Islamic. That Backman describes antisemitism in the Far East demonstrates how Islamic thought poisons even those very distant from Israel and Jewish communities. Michael Backman, it seems that Israel and the Jews aren"t the problem, after all.

Posted by Jake in Jerusalem on 2009-01-26 11:13:41 GMT

Also, Felicity B, I wonder why Mr Backman hasn"t heaps of advice for the Palestinians on how they might go about solving their problem. Or does he think they are doing everything right

Posted on 2009-01-26 09:42:27 GMT

Yes Michael, the "mumbo jumbo mix" of observations and illogical conclusions is apalling from a so called academic. The irrelevant reference to Indian respect for Parsees infers that it is unique, when it is also a fact that Jews have always been held in very high respect in India too. This is partly because Indians were never influenced by the early Christian denigration of Jews eminating from Rome when it took over the new "sect". A little research by Backman would reveal that well before the spread of Roman Christianity into Europe, early Christian St Thomas and his followers, known as "Syrian Christians" as well as many Jewish migrants discovered and settled in Cochin, Kerala, India. I have visited the delightful old quarter "Jew Town" in Cochin, not so named as an insult but as a sign of affection and respect. A highlight as a Jewish woman was a tour of the 16th century synagogue which is open for inspection as a national treasure. Given Backman"s claimed expertise on Asia, he should know that Asian religions perceive all beliefs as part of a universal "oneness" consisting of many parts, unlike the superiority assumed by extremist factions in the Judeo/Christian world which includes Islam. That principle is what lies behind Indian respect for both Parsees and Jews, and anybody else who are law abiding and ethical. Backman could have made that point instead of descending into disgusting illogical racial slurs.

Posted by Felicity Bartak on 2009-01-26 08:06:25 GMT

I agree that this is the apology you make when you"re NOT making an apology.Unfortunately Michael Backman is very representative of many others.We are despised,hated and a pariah nation Nothing has changed since nazi Germany except for a civilised veneer

Posted by ella on 2009-01-26 01:27:20 GMT

I"m sorry I didn"t take the chance to write to Backman and tell him what I thought of his vile piece when I had the chance. The "contact" link on his website has been deactivated for several days - no doubt since he was deluged with mail from outraged readers. In the meantime, anyone can Google his offensive article. Backman is not just an anti-Semite. He is a cowardly, disingenuous one and The Age, with its ludicrous protestations about fair and balanced coverage of Israel and Jewish issues is equally tacky. Like Backman, who is a London-based Australian, The Age and others of the so-called intellectual left, have long aped the British press and dutifully regurgitate entrenched British biases including anti-Semitism. It"s classic cultural cringe of the most despicable kind - a sobering thought for Australia Day.

Posted by Zelda Cawthorne on 2009-01-26 00:32:03 GMT

The apology from the Age is not worth the paper it"s printed on when the broadsheet proceeds to demonstrate its culture of hatred against the Jewish State by publishing one-sided news stories about Israel"s alleged war crimes as it has done on a daily basis since it went with its mea culpa on Backman. The crimes of Hamas, its genocidal charter, its rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets, its use of civilians as human shields, its use of schools, hospitals and mosques to store munitions, its infiltration into UNRWA facilities (and the unconvincing denials by UN officials), its intimidation of local journalists, the complicity of political activist/propagandists masquerading as humanitarian doctors in Gazan hospitals, the palpable lies and false civilian casualty figures have been suppressed or given minimum coverage while the Age finds it necessary to publish four highly inaccurate and confused articles accusing Israel in a sinister way of using white phosphorous (which is legal and which it has admitted to using anyway) in this war. More than just a little overkill unless you really want to make a point about how nasty these Jews really are. The apology should not be accepted until the Age cleans up its act. POSTSCRIPT: Today’s Age carries a story about how Hamas commandeered ambulances to transport its fighters during the war. The sub-editor at the Age couldn"t help it – he bestowed on it this headline "AS ISRAEL’S ROCKETS FELL, GAZA CIVILIANS ALSO HAD PROBLEMS WITH HAMAS" - even in a story about the evil misuse (abuse!) of ambulances by Hamas during wartime, they need to take a pot-shot at Israel. The SMH gave the story the proper headline "HAMAS TRIED TO HIJACK AMBULANCES DURING GAZA WAR".

Posted by Jack Chrapot on 2009-01-25 23:01:14 GMT

Spot on Ronit! When he chooses to use phrases like “indescribable filth, shocking and unprecedented…” he is conjuring up an awful image with himslef as the vivtim. He could have stated something like "I now understand why my article generated so much opposition, even hostile, and I apologise" -- but he didn"t! He should know that any unpleasant feedback he received was fully understandable due to the “indescribable filth, shocking and unprecedented…” IN HIS ARTICLE!!!!

Posted by Mary on 2009-01-25 22:27:24 GMT

Some was significant for what it omitted, not for what it retraction of the absurd and anti-Semitic charge that Israel is to blame for all the atrocities perpetrated by Islamic extremists around the world.

Posted by G. on 2009-01-25 21:15:04 GMT

The “apology” is a whitewash. It just emphasizes that Backman doesn’t recognize that his article is anti-Semitic. He calls it just n “injudicious use of words and themes” because his “writing style is robust”. Bullshit. Senator Michael Ronaldson eloquently explained (“Broadsheet no place for narrow minds”,25197,24940098-7583,00.html The Australian 21 January 2009) that the article is quite simply anti-Semitic. It’s not just “robust” writing, it’s defamation, vilification and incitement to hatred, based on lies. Backman got it VERY wrong, and if he is truly remorseful for the hurt caused, he needs to apologise PROPERLY and PUBLICLY, and get some serious coaching about what constitutes vilification and incitement to hatred.

Posted by Steve Lieblich on 2009-01-25 15:41:05 GMT

I was offended by two other themes which he pushed. One was that like the Parsee, we should remain quiet and invisible. Unlike most Australians, I am familiar with the Parsees and their only claim to fame was that Freddie Mercury, who was a wonderful showman, was one of their own. I think that the Jews can point to many thousands of great achievers, achievers of world standing. It was Backman"s reference to the Parsees which his anti-Semitic point, Jews should be quiet and invisible. This is code for Jews to be the silent eternal victim. A victim who must not fight back and whose destiny is to be the lambs before the slaughter, as it was for many centuries. But as Israel has just shown in Gaza, and this will become the standard pattern, attack the Israel and there will be overwhelming, and brutal, retribution. His second point, which was subliminally connected to the first, was his demeaning rejection and belittlement of all the great achievements of many Australian Jews, let alone the rest of the Jews scattered throughout the world. General Sir John Monash, Ron Castan, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and many, many others, simply did not exist. The achievements by Jews throughout the last thousands of years were simply ignored. That is what made me angry. Backman is a journalist who thinks that dealing with facts is a matter of his choice. He, however, drew his conclusions based on a mumbo-jumbo mix of unsupported "observations" sourced through the internet, and then he bases his conclusions upon non-existent connection. Great for debating and for crappy journalism.

Posted by Michael-Nth Caulfield on 2009-01-25 12:55:10 GMT

You are absolutely correct Ronit. You are kind to suggest that his prejudice may be "unconscious".

Posted on 2009-01-25 12:50:46 GMT