Confidant to many senior Tories, ennobled by the party for political service, and stalwart of the Murdoch Times, Danny Finkelstein is also a regular fixture on broadcast media, the polite yet challengingly knowledgeable regular on shows like the BBC Daily Politics. But at a time when his paper is throwing around accusations of racism, his own links are coming under increasing scrutiny, and questions are being asked.
The latest questions have come from expat journalist Abi Wilkinson, and concern Finkelstein’s connection to the Gatestone Institute, described with admirable restraint by Wikipedia as “a right-wing … anti-Muslim … think tank that publishes articles, particularly pertaining to Islam and the Middle East. The organization has attracted attention for publishing false articles and being a source of viral falsehoods”.
Ms Wilkinson’s concerns were put directly. “He's in a position of double influence: national newspaper columnist and unelected politician in the House of Lords. It matters quite a lot that he might well be using those positions to aid the Gatestone Institute agenda, however subtly and politely … The Gatestone Institute *only* exists to spread anti-Muslim hate. That's the entirety of what it's about. His stint on the board came after endless scandals about this stuff. He literally just had to read their wikipedia page, their blog feed or any news article about them”. And, it seems, he knew what this was all about.
“He knew exactly what the organisation was. Here's a tweet where he confirms that … Geert Wilders was involved from the start. They were explicitly racist from the very start”. Gatestone also hosted infamous Islamophobic bigot Douglas Murray.
How did Finkelstein respond to the concern, and indeed the claim that he had served on the board of this singularly unpleasant convocation of right-wing bigotry? “I do not serve on the board and have never had any role of any kind running Gatestone or supervising it in any way. They listed me on the board, until I asked them to stop”. He then went further.
“They listed me on a board and I didn’t actually know at first. The board never met or was asked to meet or had any role and rather lazily, once I do know, just left it … More recently I thought, mmm, being listed on a board is different to making a speech or two and I don’t want to be responsible for everything they do with no actual control so I’d better not continue lazily ignoring this. So I asked to be taken off”.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, that is not what Finkelstein said three years ago. After Nafeez Ahmed asserted “you are on the board of [Gatestone]”, he replied “I naturally don't (and didn't) say that I didn't know who it was or what it publishes or who it hosts. Of course I do. Being on the Board doesn't mean I agree with every article or every speaker, nor does it imply that I don’t” [my emphases].
Do go on. “I don't accept your characterisation of Gatestone. I find Douglas Murray stimulating and worthwhile and often right, without always agreeing. I think Gatestone acts as an excellent platform …”. Murray said “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”, a remark from which he has never resiled.
He also said “There are certain things in Britain about which it is impossible to speak frankly. The birth rate of the Muslim population is a prime subject”. In either of those cases, had he used “Jews” and “Jewish”, he’d - rightly - have been denounced for his bigotry.
Moreover, it is one thing to take the stance of Voltaire, and defend the right of Murray, and the likes of Geert Wilders, to speak freely, no matter how distasteful their views, but quite another to allow oneself to be so closely associated with them. Danny Finkelstein admitted to “being on the board” of the Gatestone Institute. That is rather closer than the guilt-by-association catch-all of “sharing a platform” which his paper uses today.
Moreover, being part of an organisation which “frequently warns of a looming ‘jihadist takeover’ and ‘Islamization’ of Europe leading to a ‘Great White Death’”, which “published articles claiming that Europe had Muslim ‘no-go zones’, falsely describing them variously as ‘off-limits to non-Muslims’ and ‘microstates governed by Islamic Sharia law”, which “published an article that said the British Press had been ordered to avoid reporting the Muslim identity of terrorists by the European Union” and “falsely claimed that 500 churches closed and 423 new mosques opened in London since 2001” is not a good look.
If racism is A Very Bad Thing - and it unquestionably is A Very Bad Thing - then no aspect of it should get a free pass. That includes anti-Muslim bigotry, whoever practices or condones it, and however tangential their approval. By being on the board of the Gatestone Institute, Danny Finkelstein gave its behaviour his tacit approval. It is most telling that he did not dispute that role until Ms Wilkinson called him out yesterday.
Anti-Muslim prejudice is the true growth industry of modern racism. As a result, it ill behoves anyone in a position of trust to go anywhere near it. I’ll just leave that one there.