The traditionally anti-Israel Guardian newspaper angered many of its regular readers by publishing a full-page advertisement on Monday claiming that Hamas were child murderers.
In agreeing to accept the advert, already published in several US newspapers including The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, a spokesman for the Guardian said that its decision followed a “full discussion” within the paper.
It was made clear that acceptance of the text “does not equate to support or endorsement for the views expressed in that advertisement. The Guardian is fully committed to reporting from the Middle East and our coverage will continue to be independent and robust.”
Last week the Times declined to accept the advert, despite being owned by Rupert Murdoch, who counts the Wall Street Journal in his portfolio. A spokesman explained that in reserving the right to reject advertisements, they felt that the opinions being expressed were “too strong” and would “cause concern” among readers.
The advert headed “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago... now it’s Hamas’s turn” was jointly penned by Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
Under a large photograph of a masked Hamas operative wielding a weapon, the advertisement urged British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders to condemn Hamas’s use of children as human shields and demanded that Hamas must reject “child sacrifice.”
Stop the War Coalition – an anti-war organization, who in conjunction with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have organized mass protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza, took action against the advert before it even appeared. On their website they accused the authors of placing “a wildly inaccurate and inflammatory advert from the supporters of Israel branding Palestinians opposing Israel in Gaza as ‘child killers.’” To date the Guardian has received over 250 complaints while the Advertising Standards Authority said on Monday it had received seven complaints about the advert, understood to relate to issues of accuracy, harm and offence. The cost of a full page black and white advert is approximately £50,000. The paper recorded losses of around £30.6 million in 2013.
Colin Shindler, emeritus professor of Israel studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told The Jerusalem Post that unfortunately Boteach had tried to “project an American perspective into a Britain which still perplexes him.” He added that Boteach expected to influence the readers of the main left-wing UK paper with the wisdom of Elie Wiesel who had never uttered a word of criticism of any Israeli government – past or present.
“In all likelihood Boteach has inculcated a stronger pro-Palestinian feeling with this ill-thought through advertisement – and wasted a great deal of money which could have gone to the needy people of Sderot,” Shindler said.
Boteach, in Sderot on a solidarity mission told the Post that the purpose of the advert was “to go on the offensive rather than the defensive.” The story was not Israel harming children – but of Hamas “serving up its children in the form of an ancient barbaric practice of child sacrifice to pursue its murderous goals.”
He said he was shocked at the Times’ decision not to run the advert, despite his offer to modify the text.
Asked why he subsequently chose the Guardian, Boteach said “I know the place, I lived there... and I greatly respect their promotion of freedom of the press and expression.”
Meanwhile the Guardian released an opinion poll on the Gaza war showing that 52 percent thought that Israel’s actions were disproportionate. Just 19% said they thought Israel acted proportionately while 29% said they did not know.
The poll found that the conflict had hardened opinions against Israel, though the findings suggest unease about Hamas’s actions. According to the poll, 41% of voters said their opinion of Israel had worsened; 48% said their opinion remained the same; 2% said their opinion of Israel had improved, while 8% said they didn’t know.
A clear majority (60%) said their opinion of the Palestinians had not changed, while 9% said that their opinion had improved. A fifth of voters (21%) said their opinion of Palestinians had worsened.