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Brits Confess to Their Bias Against Israel

May 10, 2007 By:
John R. Cohn, M.D.
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At their annual meeting in April, Britain's National Union of Journalists passed a resolution asking for "a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions, and [for] the [Trades Union Congress] to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government."

In itself, this is a remarkable display of bias by journalists covering one of the modern world's most contentious conflicts.

The New York Times' ombudsman, Byron Calame, observed last year, "Keeping personal opinions out of the public realm is simply one of the obligations for those who remain committed to the importance of impartial news coverage."

And Times' editor Bill Keller has stated, "Publicly taking sides in a debate gives you a position to defend, an inclination to prove you are right, in a way that merely holding private opinions does not."

The NUJ also "called for the end of Israeli aggression in Gaza and other occupied territories."

Only One Left
Since NUJ members presumably read newspapers as well as write for them, they should be aware that Israel expelled all of the Jews from Gaza in 2005.

Other than kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, there are no more Jews in Gaza.

Israeli troops have only returned to the Gaza Strip in response to continued attacks originating from that increasingly fortified territory.

The NUJ resolution went on to condemn Israel's "savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon ... ."

This must have been particularly distressing to Israel's government that was savaged in their own press and again criticized just last week by the Winograd Commission for lack of preparation resulting in an ineffective response to last year's combat, triggered by Hezbollah's surprise assault on Israeli soldiers and their shelling of northern Israel.

The NUJ failed to publish their resolution on their Web site, perhaps sensing their prejudice was only exceeded by their ignorance. NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear did post his own statement, in an effort to explain.

According to Dear, "The call for the boycott in part related it to the kidnap of [BBC Gaza correspondent] Alan Johnston." In other words, Palestinians kidnap a British journalist, so British journalists call for a boycott of Israel. No doubt, Johnston's Palestinian kidnappers began shaking in their kafiyas when they heard that.

Presumably, the NUJ general secretary was not suggesting Israelis kidnap British journalists if they want the NUJ's support. Then again, journalists working in much of the Middle East have legitimate reasons to fear for their lives.

Contrary to the assertions of former President Jimmy Carter and other foes of Israel, it takes no courage to criticize the Jewish state, even in the heart of Jerusalem. By contrast, as Johnston's kidnapping once again showed, even positive reporting of Palestinians, let alone criticism, carries serious risk.

In a recently completed analysis of media coverage of Israel's 2006 fight with Hezbollah, Marvin Kalb and Carol Saivetz at Harvard's Shorenstein Center observed, "The role of the journalist in many parts of the world has been dramatically transformed -- from a quest for objectivity and fairness to an acceptance of advocacy as a tool of the craft." They disparaged the "trajectory of the media from objective observer to fiery advocate, becoming, in fact, a weapon of modern warfare."

While many British journalists have repudiated the NUJ statement, it is hardly clear that they reject the NUJ's proclamation of obvious media bias or just its too public disclosure.

Based on the NUJ statement, it would seem that Kalb and Saivetz, along with astute media observers like those at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, have been correct after all.

The Brits have confessed.

This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

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