When Michael Backman penned a column for The Age recently in which he opined that many Israeli tourists who trek in Nepal are loathed by the locals for their arrogance, he was hung, drawn and quartered by the Australian Jewish lobby, Age editor Paul Ramage apologized for the column and incredulously said it was published in error, and Backman was wrongly and grossly unfairly called an anti-Semite in some quarters.

But you can bet your house that this week the Herald Sun ’s Alan Howe won’t face the same fate as Backman did. Howe’s column in this morning’s Herald Sun is a whinge about the protectionist European Union doing over Australian farmers. But he starts off with these rather startling lines:

It’s hard to know which Europeans we like the least. My default position, like most, is the French. France has been an untrustworthy “ally” since cheese was invented and seeks to reinforce this position from time to time, not so long ago with nuclear bombs in our backyard. If we are wary of Austrians, there’s good reason. They delivered us Adolf Hitler. Later they came up with Kurt Waldheim, once their president, who was secretary general of the United Nations before we realised what a devious racist he was. And don’t get me started on the Swiss.

Leaving aside the fairly stock standard anti-French position taken by Howe, his sprays at Austria and Switzerland are a bit over the top. Is he suggesting that all Austrians are Nazis? And what is about all Swiss people that he so loathes?

Now will the Austrian community in Melbourne and the Swiss consul be hot footing it down to the Herald-Sun editor’s office and banging on the desk until they get Howe to write a letter or apology and have the column removed from the paper’s website? Somehow one doubts it. They might write a letter to the editor, and that is all they could expect by way of reply.

But let’s say Howe wrote “If we are wary of the Israelis, there’s good reason.” Or, “And don’t get me started on the Israeli’s?” The Jewish lobby, led by its most prominent Melbourne members Mark Leibler and Colin Rubenstein who went to town over Backman, would not stand for it.

Alan Howe would join Backman on their wall of shame and there’s a fair chance that the Herald Sun editors might succumb to the incessant brow beating by Leibler and Rubenstein and issue some sort of apology.

Of course if Leibler and Rubenstein and others who were outraged by Backman are serious about wanting to stamp out what they perceive as the media tolerating slurs against race shouldn’t they be taking the big stick to Howe as they did to Backman? Or is it ok to say what you like about other countries, because Israel and Israelis are somehow special?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey