A quick summary:
Within 24 hours of our post in October of 2011 on the fact that the Guardian’s online bookshop was selling Gilad Atzmon’s egregiously antisemitic book, The Wandering Who?, they removed the book from their shop.
However, as we noted recently, at some point following October the Guardian placed the book back on their online shop.
Last week, however, we learned that, following an email exchange with the Guardian’s book editor by a CiF Watch reader, the Guardian reversed course and, noted that “The Wandering Who has now been removed from the Guardian Bookshop site”. They attributed the availability of the book to “a problem with [their automated] feeds.”
Yesterday, Chris Elliott, the Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, addressed the issue in “…On the inclusion of controversial titles in our bookshop“, March 11.
If you put the words Mein Kampf into the search function of the Guardian’s online bookshop you get two editions offered for sale…the second carries the following text:
“Hitler’s infamous political tract…contains a detailed introduction which analyses Hitler’s background, his ideology and his ruthless understanding of political power.”
It espouses a rabidly antisemitic view of the world among other things….I am entirely convinced that it is a book that should be available to be read because it has an important lesson from history; suppression would only lend an unjustified mystique. In this area waders or a wet suit are more suitable than a standard pair of wellington boots to navigate through the depths of this subject.
Should every book legally published be available in the Guardian’s online bookshop? This is where it becomes even more difficult. Part of me says, yes. I am opposed to the suppression of books and believe in the power of readers to make rational and intelligent decisions. Bring things into the light. But even where the sale of a book is legal, there will always be a selection process. Where the Guardian is involved in that selection process, it has the right to do what all good bookshops do and select what it offers according to its own principles such as when it is publishing its own books. Where the Guardian is not involved in selecting the title, then it has a duty to tell potential shoppers that that is the case.
…Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? was removed because of the controversy it has caused. Atzmon says he is anti-Zionist but he has been accused of making antisemitic remarks, including past praise for the “prophetic qualities” of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a falsified tract purporting to show plans for Jewish domination of the world that was written by agents of Tsarist Russia. [emphasis added]
…After strong protests last November about the inclusion of Atzmon’s book in the Guardian’s online bookshop, we removed it from the electronic feed but it was later restored on our bookshop lists and therefore other newspapers’ feeds. One reason was the technological problem but the others were considered to be broader issues. At the time Guardian executives considered that:
• If a book is removed, the impression may be created that the Guardian “approves” of all the other books on the Guardian’s bookshop feed.
• Removing a book lends an unjustified cachet to it.
When the book was restored to the list, a much clearer explanation of what the list represents for the Guardian was used:
“In addition to our recommendations, our browsable selection of books also includes a feed of the top 5,000 bestselling titles through independent booksellers (not including Amazon) as supplied by Bertrams. Inclusion in this automated feed does not necessarily denote recommendation by GNM.”
Now the book is off the list again following renewed protests. It will remain so. [emphasis added]
While I applaud their decision to remove Atzmon’s book from their shelves, it is necessary to address Elliott’s comparison with Mein Kempf. As Elliott noted, the synopsis of Mein Kempf on their site notes, “Hitler’s infamous political tract…contains a detailed introduction which analyses Hitler’s background, his ideology and his ruthless understanding of political power.”
That is, the book is being characterized as a hateful book, whose availability is owed to its historical significance in understanding the Nazi regime’s murder of six million Jews.
The Guardian synopsis of Atzmon’s book, however, included the following:
So, the publisher’s synopsis characterized an overtly antisemitic book – by an author who has claimed that Hitler’s views about Jews may one day be proven right, and who explicitly charges that Jews are indeed trying to take over the world – as a “unique crucial book” which tackles the issues of Jewish “ideology and their global influence”. [emphasis added]
Finally, unsurprisingly, a Guardian reader wrote the following below Elliott’s post:
Yes, the Guardian cravenly caved to the weight of “pressure” exerted by groups who fight antisemitism!
As I noted in a subsequent comment on the thread, the word “censorship” refers to a government which legally prohibits certain books from being sold. What we’re dealing with here is an independent bookseller making the decision not to sell a truly vile book. That is their right.
As I’ve argued before, if David Duke’s books (or books by the BNP, or other extremist groups) were among the top 5000 in their automated feed, would the Guardian be obligated to sell them?
Of course not.
“Censorship” or “Zionist pressure” has absolutely nothing to do with it.