UK media monitor: Deir Yassin coverage trumps peace talks

In show of "unadulterated hostility," British paper ‘Independent’ gives short shrift to proximity talks.

May 12, 2010 08:38
4 minute read.
Deir Yassin

Deir Yassin color 311. (photo credit: Sarit Uziely)


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LONDON - A British newspaper has been accused of “unadulterated hostility” toward Israel by a media monitor organization after it ran a two-page story about the 1948 killings at Deir Yassin on Monday and gave short shrift to the start of the proximity talks.

The London based media watchdog organization Just Journalism has questioned why the Independent gave prominence to a story on Deir Yassin – titled “A massacre of Arabs masked by a state of national amnesia” – while relegating a report on the restarting of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians to a small column.

“Yesterday’s Israel-focused coverage in Britain’s Independent newspaper provides a perfect illustration of the unadulterated hostility of the publication towards the Jewish state, that is as pointless as it is relentless,” Just Journalism said in a briefing.

“On the day following the first diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 17 months, the newspaper produced a two-page spread on the Deir Yassin massacre, complete with large photo of forlorn Palestinian children taken over half a century ago. A small column reporting the restarting of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is squeezed in at the end, but the main point has already been made,” it added.

Describing Deir Yassin in the opening of the story, the reporter, Jerusalem-based Catrina Stewart, says: “More than one unwitting visitor to Jerusalem has fallen prey to the bizarre delusion that they are the Messiah. Usually, they are whisked off to the serene surroundings of Kfar Shaul psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of the city, where they are gently nursed back to health.

“It is an interesting irony that the patients at Kfar Shaul recuperate from such variations on amnesia on the very spot that Israel has sought to erase from its collective memory,” Stewart said.

Citing a recent survey in the Daily Telegraph newspaper showing that one-fifth of British teenagers believe that Winston Churchill was a fictional character, Just Journalism questioned Stewart’s decision to claim that Israel suffers from “national amnesia” after basing her findings on the responses of two Israeli teenagers she questioned on the history of the incident.

“This belaboured observation might indeed earn the title of ‘ironic’ were it not for the fact that Deir Yassin is the most cited historic massacre of Arabs by Jews in Mandate Palestine. It is a favorite reference of Israel’s detractors and it’s also been ripped open by Israeli historians themselves, in particular Benny Morris.

“Regarding the claim that Israel suffers from “national amnesia,” it’s a pity that the journalist chose to demonstrate her point by testing the knowledge of two Israeli teenagers who said they had ‘never heard of it.’ Setting aside the fact that teenagers the world over are not a demographic likely to master their own nation’s history, the Israeli teenagers might have been even less likely to remember a massacre which took place 62 years ago when so many have been perpetrated since,” Just Journalism said.

“Some examples include the Hamas/Islamic Jihad bombing of the Sbarro pizza joint in Jerusalem in 2001, where 15 Israelis were ripped to shreds in broad daylight; or in the Hamas hotel bombing in Netanya in 2002, where 30 civilians met a similar fate. Would Stewart find it as morally persuasive to canvas Palestinian teenagers on their recall of the Sbarro or Passover massacres?” Just Journalism’s content manager Carmel Gould said.

“Every Israeli journalist, politician and university professor has heard of Deir Yassin and the vast majority know recognise it as an ignoble episode in their history. The very fact that Haaretz is supporting an Israeli arts student in her bid to get the archive documents released is a perfect illustration of the level of awareness of the issue in Israel,” Gould added.

The media monitor also questioned why the Independent was keen to pen the story now, 62 years after the incident took place.

“The only identifiable trigger for the ‘news’ piece seems to be the fact that Israeli daily Haaretz is petitioning the High Court to release undisclosed documents pertaining to the case,” Just Journalism said. “As for the timing of the publication of this article, it is almost as if the Independent wants the talks between Israel and the Palestinians to fail.”

In a special election edition last week, the Independent set out its philosophy saying, “We believe that all too much of the ‘news’ that floods modern life is misleading: either because it is ‘spun’ at source or because it is twisted by journalists to suit editorial or proprietorial agendas.

 “We promise to seek and disseminate the truth that lies behind the headlines of other news brands. We are fallible, but our aspiration is always to equip our readers with an accurate and enlightening picture of what is going on in the world.”

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