Guardian Reader’s Editor’s half-hearted apology for antisemitic reporting

Guardian Middle East Page

Guardian's Middle East Page

Shortly after Gilad Shalit was released in that lopsided prisoner exchange, the Guardian journalist Deborah Orr wrote a horribly snide article on the subject in which she accused Israel of racism, the proof being that Israel considers the life of one Israeli worth more than 1,000 Palestinians.

Yes, you read that correctly. Orr effectively turned cause and effect on its head, and turned Hamas’s obscene demand for so many terrorists into an Israeli demand – as if any sane state, Israel included, would demand to return to the enemy as many prisoners as possible in order to bring about the release of one hostage. Besides the overt antisemitism in her comment, it makes no logical sense.

Orr compounded her bigotry by stating that Israel’s “racist act” emanated from their feeling of superiority since they consider themselves the chosen People.

Yet who is surprised really, to learn that Netanyahu sees one Israeli’s freedom as a fair exchange for the freedom of so many Palestinians? Likewise, Hamas wished to use their human bargaining chip to gain release for as many Palestinians as they could. They don’t have much to bargain with.

At the same time, however, there is something abject in their eagerness to accept a transfer that tacitly acknowledges what so many Zionists believe – that the lives of the chosen [see footnote] are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours

This vile article drew huge criticism and thousands of complaints from the whole spectrum of political opinion; see Honest Reporting, CifWatch, Normblog, Harry’s Place (twice), amongst many others.  These critiques brought forth an apology from Orr that almost made matters worse.

Today, finally, almost 3 weeks after Orr’s smearing of Israel, the Guardian’s Reader’s Editor chimes in with another “excuse for an apology”.

After giving a brief history of the Guardian’s attitudes towards Israel over the years, with the editor admitting that the paper’s opinion has slid from active pro-Zionism in Israel’s infancy and pre-Independence days to today’s overtly critical attitude, the editor, Chris Elliott, addresses the Guardian’s anti-Israel stance, its antisemitic commenters, and specifically Deborah Orr’s article about the Shalit exchange and the heated response it generated.

Two weeks ago a columnist used the term “the chosen” in an item on the release of Gilad Shalit, which brought more than 40 complaints to the Guardian, and an apology from the columnist the following week. “Chosenness”, in Jewish theology, tends to refer to the sense in which Jews are “burdened” by religious responsibilities; it has never meant that the Jews are better than anyone else. Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read “chosen” as code for Jewish supremacism.

One reader wrote of the column: “The despicable antisemitic tone of this rant is beyond reason or decency.”

I give Mr. Elliott kudos for describing the idea of Chosenness and for printing one of the criticisms of the article.  However, he goes on to miss the point about equating Zionism with racism, or rather conflating Zionism and Israel with Judaism.

Newspapers have to be aware that some examples involve coded references. They need to ask themselves, for example, if the word Zionist is being used as a synonym for Jew.

It is a sad fact that today the word Zionist has indeed become synonymous for Jew. It is the way that “civilized” people can be antisemitic without being called out for their bigotry. When double standards, demonisation and deligitimisation are used against Israel, and solely against Israel – or Zionists – that is indeed antisemitism, no matter how much you deny it to yourself.

I have been careful to say that these examples may be read as antisemitic because I don’t believe their appearance in the Guardian was the result of deliberate acts of antisemitism: they were inadvertent.

I don’t believe that for one minute. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

But that does not lessen the injury to some readers or to our reputation. The Guardian should not be oppressed by criticism – some of the language used by our critics is abusive and intimidatory – or retreat into self-censorship. But reporters, writers and editors must be more vigilant to ensure our voice in the debate is not diminished because our reputation has been tarnished.

The Guardian’s reputation unfortunately has been tarnished long ago. Mr. Elliott sounds sincere if misguided and vague. Let us hope that this marks the beginning of a recalibration of their editorial standards.

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2 Responses to Guardian Reader’s Editor’s half-hearted apology for antisemitic reporting

  1. Andrea says:

    Orr’s article was so shameful even for a not friendly Israel press that Mr Elliot simply could not avoid apology. I am sure that any acculturated person – on the left or on the right, Jew or Gentle – felt disgusted by reading that rubbish. As I ponted out in another post I am still astonished that this article have been mirrored on “Haaretz” – Not sure if Haaretz editor expressed same apology or regret but someone could object that article was written this time by a supposedly Israeli opininist for Israeli readers……nevertheless level of misrepresentation does not change. It is time to know better the meaning of “chosen people” and many other misunderstod thinghs on Jewish religion and quite surpisingly one – and maybe more – Israeli opinionist has to come back to school on this topic.

    • anneinpt says:

      In a way, that article in the Guardian was a good thing because it was so outrageously and blatantly antisemitic that it couldn’t be missed or excused by anyone.

      But as you say, it does not excuse or explain that outrageous article in Haaretz. Both the newspaper and the writer should be ashamed of themselves. Re-education camp a là China sounds like a good idea too.

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