The Guardian acknowledges a degree of anti-Semitism
The Guardian's critics are hitting home in their charges of anti-Semitism at the paper. But acknowledging the problem is not the same as eradicating it
The Guardian made an unusual admission this week. In a piece titled “On averting accusations of anti-Semitism,” the paper’s Readers’ Editor, Chris Elliott, acknowledged (or at least partly acknowledged) that The Guardian had a problem with anti-Semitism.
The paper likes to think of itself as a bastion of liberalism, fairness and anti-racism, and most Guardian staff would probably acknowledge that anti-Semitism is one of, if not the, most deadly forms of racism in history.
“Guardian reporters, writers and editors must be more vigilant about the language they use when writing about Jews or Israel,” wrote Elliott.
He added that Guardian writers should have avoided “references [this year] to Israel/US ‘global domination' and the term ‘slavish’ to describe the US relationship with Israel; and, in an article on a lost tribe of Mallorcan Jews, what I regarded as a gratuitous reference to ‘the island’s wealthier families’.”
However, Elliot added, “I don’t believe their appearance in The Guardian was the result of deliberate acts of anti-Semitism: they were inadvertent.”
I worked with Elliot in another context earlier this year and found him to be a fair-minded editor. But, being very much a “Guardian man,” he may not fully realise that the examples he cites in his piece are only the tip of the iceberg. The coverage of Israel in The Guardian and other British and European newspapers is all too often tinged with anti-Semitism.
Perhaps more damaging than the overt examples of The Guardian’s anti-Semitism that Elliot provides, is the paper’s long track record of being at or near the forefront of efforts to demonize the Jewish state: its decades’ long policy of greatly exaggerating any wrongdoing by Israel while ignoring, downplaying or even romanticizing attacks on her.
So, for example, while The Guardian has run highly provocative and unfair headlines such as “Netanyahu turns to Nazi language,” (July 10, 2009) or “Israel simply has no right to exist” (Jan. 3, 2001) and while its writers have used very insulting terms such as “proto-fascist” (Feb. 12, 2009) to describe the Israeli cabinet, the paper takes a very different approach to those who have murdered Israelis.
It ran a front page article, for instance, describing Yasser Arafat (known to many as the “father of international airline terrorism”) as “cuddly” and “erotic,” adding that “the stubble on his cheeks was silky not prickly. It smelt of Johnson's Baby Powder” (Nov. 12, 2004).
Hamas master terrorist Nizar Rayan, who directed suicide bombers (including his own son) to murder and injure dozens of Israeli civilians, and who described Jews as a "cursed people" whom Allah changed into “apes and pigs,” was portrayed in The Guardian as someone who was “highly regarded” and “considered a hero” (Jan. 3, 2009).
The paper’s deputy editor Katharine Viner (best-known for co-writing the propaganda play “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” and twice named as British Newspaper Magazine Editor of the Year), wrote in The Guardian about Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled, who hijacked and then blew up TWA Flight 840:
“The gun held in fragile hands, the shiny hair wrapped in a keffiah, the delicate Audrey Hepburn face refusing to meet your eye.”
I don’t think the families of Khaled’s many victims would have compared her to Audrey Hepburn.
When The Guardian does report on anti-Semitism, it often “balances” this with coverage that is highly insensitive to Jews. For example, when marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, The Guardian published a lead editorial, titled “Holocaust Memorial Day: Eternal memory” with an accompanying commentary by former Oxford University professor Terry Eagleton, in which he justified suicide bombing “in Israel” and likened suicide bombers to their victims. (Unsurprisingly, the piece was reprinted the following day in the Saudi paper Arab News and appeared on radical Moslem websites.)
Taken singly these examples may not denote anti-Semitism, but collectively they amount to a pattern that comes close to doing so.
Indeed it is not surprising that, with its skewered, often inflammatory reporting on Israel, The Guardian has become the paper of choice not just for liberals, but for anti-Semites to leave comments at the foot of articles on its website.
Israel should by all means be criticised. Indeed Israel as a democracy welcomes criticism.
The Israeli media is one of the most self-critical in the world. It scrutinizes Israeli society, including its security forces, to a much greater extent than any British paper has scrutinized the conduct of the British military in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere; or the New York Times has scrutinized the conduct of America’s armed forces in Afghanistan.
The Guardian should not hold Israel up to impossibly high standards. It is no good publishing blatantly untrue headlines replete with historic anti-Semitic motifs (such as “Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs”) even when the paper later changed the headline online, citing “a serious editing error.” (“Corrections and Clarifications,” The Guardian, December 22, 2009.)
Such headlines and reporting should never have appeared in the first place.
Tom Gross is the former Middle East correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph. For more by him, please see www.tomgrossmedia.com
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