Groups slam 'Guardian' SA nukes story

Watchdog: Distortion and innuendo used to delegitimize Israel.

May 31, 2010 06:32
President Shimon Peres.

President Shimon Peres.. (photo credit: ap)


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LONDON – A number of commentators and media monitors have denounced a purported “exclusive” in The Guardian newspaper last week, which claimed Israel offered to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa in 1975, as a vicious smear that was achieved by selective misreporting of documentation.

Israeli officials have already denied the claims in the article, which was the main front-page article in the British paper.

CIF Watch, which monitors the Guardian “Comment is Free” blog, has questioned the way the author of the piece, Guardian reporter Chris McGreal, used a top-secret document – the minutes of a meeting between senior South African and Israeli officials in March 1975 – to substantiate his claims.

In an analysis, CIF Watch shows that McGreal quoted from a part of the type-written document that was edited by hand soon afterwards – including a sentence that implies nuclear weapons were available – and said that McGreal injected his own opinion to infer that Israel was ready to supply the apartheid regime with nuclear weapons.

The paragraph McGreal used, written by a civil servant, states in its original form, prior to hand-written editing and deletions: “[South African Defense] Minister [P.W.] Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet [said to be the Jericho missile] provide [sic] the correct payload could be provided, Minister Peres said that the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.”

CIF Watch points out that words “provide” and “could be provided” were crossed out in the by-hand edit, and that “provide” was replaced by the words “subject to.” The latter part of the paragraph was also deleted, so that the only part of the paragraph that remained was the first part of the first sentence, which now read: “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload.”

Ignoring the edit and using the entire original draft to back his claim, McGreal, in his Guardian article, asserted, based on the deleted wording: “The ‘three sizes’ are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.”

CIF Watch said that this was McGreal’s own opinion: “The person who ‘believes’ this last sentence is not identified, nor are his qualifications to draw this inference given, nor is any source provided for the inference. Plainly, McGreal does not have enough confidence in it to say “I believe it” and give his grounds.

“The words ‘provide’ and ‘could be provided’ have both been deleted. The latter deletion is crucial and shows that Botha was expressing interest in acquiring ‘Chalets’ [missiles] with a certain payload, not asking for the payload itself to be provided. The sentence which is left can only have one meaning: Botha expressed interest in acquiring a number of Chalets subject to them being capable of carrying the correct payload,” CIF Watch added.

CIF Watch then accused McGreal of adding words to make his argument work.

“In order to enable his meaning to be attributed to the passage, McGreal has to insert the words ‘being available’ into his version of the document’s text. Otherwise, the inference doesn’t get off the ground. The actual sentence reads only: ‘Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload.’ There is no suggestion that the payloads must be ‘available,’ except in the McGreal version, where the words are falsely inserted,” CIF Watch states.

“What this episode demonstrates is the striking manner in which misrepresentation, distortion and innuendo, are all employed in a thinly veiled attempt to delegitimize and demonize Israel,” a CIF spokesman said. “This runs counter to all norms of journalism and when it comes to Israel, the Guardian has become nothing other than a modern-day version of the Soviet era newspapers Pravda and Izvestia.”

The BBC also questioned theGuardian story: “But the evidence contained in the report could be argued to be circumstantial,” BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Franks said.

For his part, the author of the new book on the relationship between Israel and apartheid South Africa that led to the Guardian story – which claimed also to provide “first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons” – has said he was surprised by the newspaper report.

Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, told London-based media monitor Just Journalism last week that he was taken aback by the newspaper’s choice of story.

“I don’t think this is the most explosive or damning revelation in my book, to be frank,” he said. “I wouldn’t have picked this for the front page of a major world newspaper. There are other historical occurrences that I found to be more revealing and interesting.”

“In his interview with us, Polakow-Suransky comes off as far more sensible and nuanced a historian than the Guardian’s write-up of his book would suggest,” Just Journalism’s Michael Weiss said. “He scuttles the notion that modern Israel is morally equivalent to apartheid South Africa, despite the newspaper’s attempt to editorially frame its front-page ‘exclusive’ otherwise.”

CIF Watch also points to an interview Polakow-Suransky gave to Al-Jazeera last week to demonstrate that there is actually no document that indicates Israel provided or offered to provide nuclear weapons to South Africa.

“No matter how often the Al-Jazeera anchor tries to get him to say it, Polakow-Suransky will only say that South Africa may have approached Israel, but there is no document at all which actually states that Israel offered or agreed to provide nuclear weapons to South Africa,” CIF watch said.

The Guardian article suggests, based on its purported revelations, that Israel can no longer deem itself a “responsible” power or claim that Iran cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons.

“[The revelations] will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a responsible power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted,” McGreal said.

Picking up on McGreal’s claim that Israel’s “monopoly” of nuclear weapons is a “barrier to peace” and stopping Iran from going nuclear a “contradiction,” Robin Shepherd, director of International Affairs at the London think tank Henry Jackson Society, said: “But there is no contradiction, as long as you step outside the blinkered multi-culturalist assumptions which inform the Guardian’s thinking. Israel is a liberal democracy which threatens no one; Iran is an Islamist tyranny which openly calls for Israel’s destruction. Different rules apply because Israel and Iran are constructed as states on different principles. A surgeon wielding a knife in the operating theater is different from a mugger wielding a knife on the street. Both have knives, but one has an infinitely superior claim to be doing so than the other. Again, there is no contradiction,” Shepherd said.

“Talk about killing two birds with one stone: You get to lash out at Israeli ‘hypocrisy’ for having nuclear weapons of its own while simultaneously calling for Iran not to be allowed to acquire them, and you get another opportunity to besmirch the Jewish state’s reputation via a linkage with apartheid South Africa.

“In sum, this is a non-issue designed to abuse Israel’s reputation with dubious evidence and flawed reasoning. It is also a thinly veiled attempt to divert attention from the real security issue in the Middle East: the looming threat of a nuclear armed Iran,” Shepherd said.

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips concurred with the findings of CIF Watch.

“Anyone who actually read McGreal’s latest smear against Israel, which the Guardian ran as its front-page splash, would have seen instantly that the detail of the story didn’t even stand up its own malevolent spin,” Phillips said.

“Purporting to claim, on the basis of a book, that Israel offered to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid-rule South Africa, it actually provided no backup for this at all. In a risible farrago of suppositions, non-sequiturs, leaps of logic and even the throwaway but self-immolatory line that there was no evidence that Israel’s government would indeed have agreed to such a deal, all that it revealed was that the South African regime had come fishing for such weapons with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres. The story reversed this to state that Peres had offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa, for which there was no evidence other than an absurd and incoherent extrapolation of a phrase.”

“... What do truth or logic matter when there now seems to be a real chance of bringing Israel down?” Phillips asked. “For the real purpose of this story is not just to provide yet another airing for McGreal’s animus against Israel and his obsessive fantasy that it is a clone of apartheid South Africa. It is that, with Obama maneuvering to force Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, the Israel-bashing freaks of the Left are slavering at the prospect that Israel may at last be disarmed and thus destroyed,” Philips added.

In 2006, McGreal wrote a two-part feature in the Guardian comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa.

Jerusalem-based media monitor Honest Reporting accused the Guardian being more interested in the apartheid analogy than in proving Israel had nuclear weapons.

“The Guardian constantly proves its open disdain towards the State of Israel, using its influence to push the growing demonization campaign against Israel in the UK, part of a strategy to undermine Israel’s very legitimacy,” Honest Reporting said.

“As if to prove that its agenda is less to do with the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons and more about associating Israel with apartheid, the ‘More on this story’ box [adjacent to the story on the Guardian Web site] with links to related articles includes: ‘More on Israel’s apartheid links’ – which actually links directly to the Guardian’s general Israel news page.

“In addition, is it a coincidence that on the very same day as the South Africa nuclear story, the Guardian also publishes a comment piece by Gary Younge entitled ‘Israel’s complicity in apartheid crimes undermines its attack on Goldstone,’” Honest Reporting said.

On Sunday, the Guardian press office had not responded to queries by press time.

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