“Is the paper in favour of those who would delegitimise Israel? No. We still support the two -state solution”
Charlie English – The Guardian, 3 February 2011
A week after publication, the Guardian’s revelations about the Palestine papers – published in partnership with Al Jazeera – have been followed up by leading Israeli and Arab news outlets as well as global media organisations such as the BBC and the New York Times.
Nowhere, however, has the story been treated as harshly as it was by the Jewish Chronicle, which ran five hostile pages and a leader headlined “the Guardian’s shame“. The JC denounced the Guardian’s behaviour as “simply shocking” because of “the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance”. An analysis piece claimed evidence of a Guardian-Al Jazeera “nexus” which the author said was widely regarded as “the heart of the delegitimisation [of Israel] movement”.
Examining the haul of 1600 documents, there were a number of passages that the Guardian’s team of reporters agreed are highly significant.
These included the offer by Palestinian negotiators – in the context of an overall peace agreement – that Israel would annex all but one of the settlements in East Jerusalem. PLO negotiators also agreed to a remarkably low number of returning refugees.
These are two of the stories we ran, and almost a week after the rest of the world’s media gained access to the documents – all of which are now publicly available – no one has found a major story that we missed. We were led, in other words, by the source material. It is no surprise that the majority of the stories concern the PLO, as most of the documents come from the PLO’s negotiations unit.
The Guardian made clear that the documents did not represent the entirety of paperwork related to the peace process. But few, surely, would argue that unless one receives every document about the peace process you should publish none at all.
The JC also expressed outrage that we ran an article by Osama Hamdan of Hamas in the comment pages. But to publish a wide range of opinion pieces, as the Guardian does, does not endorse each of those opinions.
That’s as true now as it was back at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles when the Guardian published articles by leading members of the Irish republican movement.
In fact Hamdan was only one of a number of people with widely differing views that we commissioned on the Palestine Papers. Yes, we had Karma Nabulsi of Fatah and the Guardian’s Seumas Milne criticising the PA, but we also had Ha’aretz editor-at-large Aluf Benn, former CIA officer Robert Grenier, the PLO’s Saeb Erekat and Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland (who appeared twice), all defending the concessions offered by the PA.
Finally, is the Guardian at the heart of a “nexus” that is attempting to delegitimise Israel? No. As many JC readers will know, the Guardian supported the idea of Israel long before the state was even founded and for decades has consistently argued for the two-state solution that would allow Israel to live in peace and security. To quote last week’s Guardian leader: “A two-state solution remains the only show in town. It is still achievable despite the agony of these revelations.”
As that same editorial explained: “To say how and where this [peace] deal fell short is not to undermine the goal. It is the only way left of rescuing it.” I hope readers of the JC will agree.
January 27, 2011
As a general rule, it ill behoves one newspaper to attack another. But there are exceptions to every rule. The Guardian’s behaviour this week, even by its own often disreputable standards over Israel, has been simply shocking.
In collaboration with Al Jazeera, it has presented a series of leaked memos written by Palestinian Authority negotiators with Israel. Not presented them so much as lobbed them, doused with petrol, into a tinderbox – and hoped for a result. There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops.
What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave. Make no mistake: the Guardian’s presentation was, as David Landau puts it, “intended to poison the Palestinians against their leaders”. And to poison the world against Israel. Take the quote from Saeb Erekat, in which he was reported to have made an offer to Israel of “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history”. This was used to attack the Israelis for their intransigence.
“Israel spurned Palestinian offer of biggest Yerushalayim in history” ran the headline. Nowhere was the preceding sentence from Erekat to be seen: “Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”
Erekat himself was acknowledging the Israelis’ desire for a solution. But because such a view does not fit with the Guardian’s agenda, his words were brazenly distorted. The paper’s editorial then attacked the Palestinian negotiators for being “craven”, arguing that their apparent willingness to make concessions was a betrayal of the Palestinian people.
So it was hardly surprising, although still shameful, that on Wednesday it gave its main comment space to Hamas to threaten “practical measures” to “regain the initiative”.
Hamas’ practical measures need no elaboration. The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives.
Stung by our criticism last week of its spin on the leaked papers from the Palestinian peace negotiating team, the Guardian has defended itself, calling our presentation “hostile.”
But in its riposte the paper simply ignores the major areas of complaint against it, of “distortion, bias, agenda, spin and breathtaking arrogance”. These criticisms were made in our leader last week, “Guardian’s shame.”
Charlie English, the Guardian’s international news editor, rejects the charge that the paper is at the heart of a “nexus” which is attempting to delegitimise Israel. One has to wonder if he reads his own newspaper. But it is even worse: its agenda ecompasses not just Israel but also the Palestinian Authority, which the paper seems to have set out to destroy with its skewed presentation of the leaks.
Alongside the Guardian’s apologia, we publish an extract from a BICOM paper (full version on www.thejc.com), drawn up with help from Israeli and Palestinian officials, which puts the leaks in their proper context. It shows that the JC’s accusations last week were, if anything, understated.