Cancelled, Irish style

The truth about woke witchhunts is that there is no ethic of forgiveness in this religion


This article is taken from the April 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Cancellation doesn’t exist, apparently. It is a self-pitying myth invented by petulant conservatives to cover up being on the wrong side of history. Yet “they had it coming” is also audible. It’s what the American journalist Rod Dreher calls the Law of Merited Impossibility: “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.” Let us therefore consider someone who was most definitely cancelled — and remains so in his native Ireland — and see what the case of Kevin Myers teaches us.

The gleeful controversialist’s memoirs are reviewed in this issue by Simon Kingston. His cancelling offence had been to write a column in the Sunday Times’s Irish edition which reproached female BBC journalists whose agents brokered them lower salaries than their male peers. But it clumsily extolled two Jewish personalities whose agents did a sharper-elbowed job. In short, Myers exhibited that distinctive species of antisemitism which is admiring of its supposed target.

In a country whose politics and journalism are not noted for philo-Israeli views, Myers stood out

As the well-organised online mob howled — led by such stern men as Fintan O’Toole and Roy “Bomber” Greenslade, now thoroughly discredited himself — Myers found himself wordlessly sacked that Sunday morning by the paper’s then-editor (his copy having gone through the usual half-dozen hands to get to the page). Since then, Myers has been excluded from Irish broadcast media and her national press.

Who is, or was, he? Myers was Israel’s greatest champion in the Irish Republic. In a country whose politics and journalism are not noted for philo-Israeli views, Myers stood out by writing things like, “The Israeli Ambassador is returning home: his time in hell is over. Now it is the turn of some other poor bastard in [Israel’s] diplomatic service to come over and meet the conjoined forces of hatred, ignorance, blindness, hysteria and prejudice that the name ‘Israel’ invariably inspires.” He committed a still greater crime in holding an unforgiving light up to the country’s “sneaking regarders” — the curious people who find a lot to forgive and explain away in the actions of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, a distinction Myers found superfluous.

A part of his honesty about Ireland’s present was a respect for her past. Myers was for a generation the most prominent defender of Islandbridge, the Lutyens-designed memorial to pre-partition Ireland’s shared Great War sacrifice. By the 1970s the site — having been bombed by Republicans — was being used by Dublin Council as a tip. Without Myers, the odds are it would have stayed this way. With him, it and its memory were restored.

The journalist Eoghan Harris suggested that if Ireland’s Jews say he’s not an antisemite, then perhaps he’s not

When the opportunity came for O’Toole and Greenslade’s long, grudge-laden memories to act up, they seized it, as did Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE. Idiotically, and ultimately very expensively, RTE proclaimed Myers a Holocaust denier in addition to being the klutz he had apologised for being over BBC salaries.

Myers’s vindication in court was a long time coming, however. As the storm broke around him, the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland had fruitlessly defended him: the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar happily joined the hunt. Vainly the JRCI pleaded that, more than any other Irish journalist, Myers had put the Holocaust before often indifferent Irish eyes. It did him no good then, any more than his legal victory over RTE has done him since.

Who are his critics? The prim O’Toole evidently despises the Rabelaisian Myers. Over the affair of the women’s salaries, “Myers would still be in that pulpit if he had stuck with straight misogyny,” wrote O’Toole in 2017, though his tune changed when his friend Ian Buruma was evicted from the editor’s chair at the New York Review of Books in 2018 (for running a piece by a man accused of formidably graver #MeToo offences than Myers has ever been). “If all those who take wrong turnings are instantly thrown overboard, the whole ship will be sunk,” O’Toole now wailed.

In condemning Myers’s imagined antisemitism, O’Toole struck a queasy note. Having survived all his other public sins, Myers perished this time because he “broke the one rule that matters — don’t pick on people who can answer back”. One day we may discover what unique answering-back properties O’Toole ascribes to Jews. Of the Israel that Myers spoke up for, O’Toole wondered: “When does the mandate of victimhood expire?”

But that brings us to the great truth about woke witchhunts: there is no ethic of forgiveness in this religion. Myers has not, and will not, be forgiven for his sins. When absurd and disingenuous accusations rained down on Myers, the journalist Eoghan Harris suggested that if Ireland’s Jews say he’s not an antisemite, then perhaps he’s not. Fintan O’Toole knows better than the Jews though. Which is why you hear from him in Ireland but not Kevin Myers.

Currently an organisation whose leaders once travelled in U-boats is Ireland’s most popular party. Senior journalists receive “we know where you live” intimidation from Republicans and keep it to themselves. Cancelling the voice that would have called this out has consequences.

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