Friday 9 October 2009

The Guardian newspaper and Israel

The Guardian's coverage of Israel and the Palestinians is even more biased than that of the BBC, and that is quite difficult. Take a read of Comment is Free or the news pages and there is a seemingly never-ending diet of anti-Israel stories. So it was with some relief that I found this reprinting of a letter by Denis MacEoin that I recommend you read. Here's a few extracts to give you a flavour:
"I know no other country in the Middle East that promotes the values I hold dearest: democracy, free speech, freedom of the press, and those rights for women, gays, and religious minorities. If I were to take you by the hand across the Middle East, from Morocco (where I have lived) to Iran (where I have lived as well), and beyond to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, those virtues would be nowhere evident. You would see no trace of democracy, you would see women oppressed, you would see young gay men dangling from ropes. Hence my deep concern when I see Israel traduced so many times in the Guardian, the very paper that should be holding it up as a flawed but dynamic model for democracy and ethical behaviour in the region.


I have seen with my own eyes any number of Guardian news reports slanted heavily against Israel, and a surfeit of op-eds voicing anti-Israel sentiment, including pieces written by apologists for Hamas and by two of its leaders. Hamas is without denial a virulently anti-Semitic terrorist organization whose very Charter commits it to the destruction of Israel and the fighting of jihad in preference to engaging in peace talks. The number of anti-Israel op-eds over the years has hugely outnumbered those in favour of the Jewish state. Azzam Tamimi alone has written some thirty-one pieces: this is a man who has said he wished he could be a suicide bomber in Israel. We have had large numbers of comment pieces from Ghada Karmi, a proponent of the one-state solution designed to eradicate Israel, and we have had pieces by Faisal Bodi, who famously wrote in the Guardian that Israel had no right to exist. The Guardian has published opinion pieces by two Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Khalid Mish’al. Among other things, Mish’al has stated: ‘Before Israel dies, it must be humiliated and degraded. Allah willing, before they die, they will experience humiliation and degradation every day’. He is not a man I would have in my living-room. No decent person would shake his hand. The EU and many countries have declared Hamas to be a terrorist entity: I find it hard to understand why a liberal newspaper would give publicity to the leaders of what is, quite frankly, a fascist organization.


I have waited to see the Guardian investigate in depth the very real evil of Palestinian terrorism, to carry a major report on the years of shelling of Sderot and Ashkelon, or even to publish and invite comment on the anti-Jewish and anti-peace Hamas Charter or the Risala Maftuha of Hizbullah.


I am also concerned that Guardian editors display a clear fondness for Arab and Palestinian sources than for Jewish or Israeli. On 21 March this year, Arab Media Watch held a dinner for 200 guests. Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, was unable to attend, but sent a glowing tribute to the AMW. I would not deny that someone in Mr Black’s position should use AMW, but it’s worth saying that this organization is blatantly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. Their logo and name are shown in the colours of the Palestinian flag. I would have looked for some balance, perhaps with Mr Black’s honouring pro-Israel media organizations like BICOM, Just Journalism, Honest Reporting or MEMRI, but, as far as I’m aware, he has not made even a mild tribute to their work.


the media are awash with allegations against Israel that are simply not true. No doubt some Israeli media carry their own distortions, but that is not the point. I am concerned with the context for your reporting, which is the existence of a general anti-Israeli myth that bears close resemblance in many respects to the myths about Jews that have been around for many centuries and show signs at the moment of being revived to potentially deadly effect.

This is particularly true of much of the Islamic media and the far left in Europe and America, but many of these falsehoods have taken hold elsewhere or have come to exert a subtle influence by creating an environment in which it is easy to create report and opinion pieces like those found in the Guardian. Some of these falsehoods are just political slogans: ‘Stop the Holocaust in Gaza’ or ‘Israelis are the new Nazis’ or ‘Israel is an apartheid state’. They are emotive, they have simply no basis in fact, yet vast numbers of people, clearly unable to examine any of them in detail, believe them. Naïve British people actually believe there has been a Holocaust in Gaza and seem unable to do the simple calculations that would show it to be an outrageous lie. This creates a toxic environment, in which it is all too easy to think Israel capable of anything and to believe it would be only natural for Israelis to kill children for sport or to use their blood to make matzos (this last blood libel imagery has been used in university settings in the US).


The ‘massacre’ at Jenin in 2002 is still much quoted, despite the fact that a UN fact-finding mission declared that no such massacre had taken place. More recently, the ‘massacre’ of 40 children in an UNWRA school in Gaza on 6 January this year, was blazed across front pages and TV screens worldwide. Jeremy Paxman accused Israeli troops of deliberately firing in the school. In fact, as the UN later admitted, no Israeli rockets fell in the schoolyard as claimed, but in the street outside, from which Hamas had been firing. Some twelve people, not forty and not schoolchildren, died. Who will remember the true story when the lie has had such currency? Next year we may expect to see banners on the streets of London accusing Israel of ‘Massacre in UNWRA school’.


I am not asking you and your colleagues to become advocates of Israel or its policies. I only wish the Guardian could be a deal more fair, that it would run more stories on the positive things that happen in Israel (its treatment of religious minorities, for example, is stunning and unparalleled in the Middle East; its very real lack of racism is exemplary; and its gay rights parades an affront to all ultra-orthodox Jews and every single state in the region). And perhaps we could read more on the negative features of life in the West Bank or Gaza (honour killings of women, murders of homosexuals, the persecution of Christians?). The positive stories are readily available. At the moment, Guardian reporters go to Gaza, interview a few civilians (under the very strict gaze of Hamas minders) and report back that Israel has done this or that terrible thing. But what would you say if you knew that Hamas would have no compunction about killing you and your family if you said anything favourable to Israel? The heavy reliance on Palestinian stringers and interviewees has been skilfully studied in Stephanie Gutmann’s The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy (2005), which I strongly recommend. Its cover alone speaks volumes. It shows a Palestinian boy seemingly in the act of throwing a stone. But he is not throwing anything at anyone. He is pretending to throw a stone at Israeli troops. Next to him are perhaps fifty reporters from the world press, photographing him. It is a fake, but it will have been used. I have seen many like this. Did anyone step away from that photo-shoot, pleading that the reporters job is to tell the truth?

Let me leave you with a short and straightforward story from the recent Gaza war:

Col. Roi Elkabets, commander of an armoured brigade, told of occasions when fire was held. His troops saw “a woman, about 60 years old, walking with a white flag and six to eight children behind her, and behind them was a Hamas fighter with his gun. “We did not shoot him.”

I desperately hope to see stories like that in the Guardian in future. Israeli troops are not jack-booted SS soldiers, they are often kindly, helpful, and moral. They operate according to a strict code of ethics. Some do wrong. But soldiers in any army do wrong. The IDF is more moral than most, and Hamas has shown itself to be without any morality at all, as witnessed in this recent conflict, when it dragged members of Fatah out of their hospital beds to shoot them, when it stationed troops inside hospitals, and when it placed rocket launching pads in schools and on civilian buildings."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Goldstone report tells a different story of Israel's benevolence. It is so damning that Israel and the U.S. have pressured Fatah leaders to push for delaying the report to the ICC.