One of the issues often used to discredit Israel is the question of water in Judea and Samaria. For example, on June 23, The New York Times published an article by Diaa Hadid headlined, “[Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas claims Rabbis urged Israel to Poison Palestinians’ Water.”
To be fair, Hadid made it quite clear in the article that the allegations were unsubstantiated. But Abbas received a standing ovation in the EU Parliament for a speech which included these remarks: “A number of rabbis in Israel announced...demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians.
Isn’t that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?” As also reported in the New York Times,
the response from the Prime Minister’s Office was, “Abu Mazen [Abbas] showed his true face in Brussels...someone who spreads a blood libel before the European Parliament is falsely claiming that his hand is extended for peace.”
With this as background, we might have expected that The Jewish Chronicle
, which describes itself as the “world’s oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper,” would be sensitive to spreading lies about the water problem in Judea and Samaria. In fact, it was the exact opposite.
When Abbas made the allegation, the Chronicle kept mum. The Times, by contrast, immediately informed readers that Abbas was “echoing anti-Semitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times.”
Only on June 30, a week after the blood libel, did Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, a regular analyst for the Chronicle, write that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Abbas had retracted the accusation. He added that Abbas “has affirmed that he did not intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish People around the world.” A search of the Chronicle’s website reveals no other item on Abbas’s libel.
Was this a one-time “slip”? No.
On May 2, 2014, the Chronicle published an article by Simon Rocker, the paper’s Judaism editor, headlined, “Board of Deputies treasurer ‘shocked’ by visit to West Bank.”
What shocked the treasurer, who has since resigned? We quote: “Mr. Brass added that the abiding memory of his visit would be ‘the sight of an old rusty car being dumped down the village well, thus preventing the locals from having fresh water.’” His trip to Judea and Samaria had been sponsored by Yachad, an extreme-left anti-occupation group.
His one-day trip to Sussiya was led by a guide from NGO Breaking the Silence, whose campaign to libel Israel has been documented by NGO Monitor and now exposed as unreliable by Channel 10’s Hamakor program.
Brass was shocked by the fact that “just 48 hours after we left, a six-year-old girl from the neighboring village of Atuwani was admitted to hospital with head wounds after being stoned on her way to school.”
Brass bemoaned that this type of behavior goes unchecked by the IDF.
Brass can think what he likes, libel Israel and support Breaking the Silence, although, as a Board of Deputies official he was roundly condemned.
But the Chronicle? Where are its basic ethics? Did it check his “facts”? Did it investigate his claims? Did it seek to balance the story? Or is it a blind supporter of anti-Israel propaganda? The Israeli NGO Mattot Arim thought that perhaps in the aftermath of the Abbas “blood libel” the Chronicle would set the record straight and retract the damning 2014 article. Mattot Arim’s spokesperson, Susie Dym, wrote to Orlando Radice, foreign news editor of the Chronicle, on June 26: “You seem to have run an early version of the well poisoning ‘reports’ that made headlines around the world this past week before being retracted, even by the Palestinians... Would you please consider printing a retraction of the article above, even if belated, in the printed edition of the [Chronicle] and adding the retraction to the linked page?” The response came on June 27.
They only agreed to put a link in the article to a response by Assaf Fassy, the spokesperson of the South Hebron Hills Regional Council.
Fassy’s response was not sought out by the Chronicle; he wrote it on his own initiative when shocked pro-Israel Chronicle readers made him aware of Rocker’s “report.”
Why do Brass’s allegations merit a vetted news report whereas Fassy’s refutations do not? Dym, not satisfied with the answer, went on to ask: “Did the paper ever make any effort at the time, to interview any of the dozen Anglo-Jewish participants other than Mr. Brass, all of whom were present, hence doubtless witnessed the claimed intentional disabling of the village well? ...Did anyone file a complaint with the authorities? Was this followed up? Did Mr Brass or anyone in his entourage snap a photo... it does, after all, take some time for a car to be dumped down the village well – ample time in order to capture the event on film or at least in a still? ...Did the paper verify the name of the six-year-old girl... were hospital records obtained to verify that this actually happened? Did Israel Police or the IDF Spokesperson confirm to the [Chronicle] that the perpetrators of either of the above were ‘settlers’?” Radice’s answer was brief: “My response is as per the previous response – we added a linked line to the original story.”
In other words, the Chronicle seemingly performed not even the most elementary fact-checking before dignifying anti-Israel allegations with news report status.
These two instances are part of a pattern. The Chronicle claims that its “news and opinion pages reflect the wide diversity of Jewish religious, social and political thought from left to right.” Really? Consider the Chronicle’s analysts.
Rocker cannot be identified with the Right. For example, in an article on May 26 this year, he pushed for the idea that it is not sufficient to teach young children to be cheerleaders for Israel. We already mentioned Anshel Pfeffer. Another “analyst” is Gershon Baskin, well known to readers of The Jerusalem Post for his leftwing columns. Uri Dromi, director general of the Jerusalem Press club, a supporter of the two-state “solution,” is also an analyst for the Chronicle.
Another regular columnist is Jonathan Freedland, who in the Chronicle penned a sexist denigration of Israel’s justice minister: “Ayelet Shaked is... simultaneously gorgeous and a racist; she is a stunning bigot. She has a beautiful face, but her soul is ugly.” Melanie Phillips is presumably used in the comments section for the sake of “balance,” but we all know the subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle difference between analysis, which is supposedly objective, and opinion articles, which are not expected to be objective.
Sadly, it would seem that the answer to the question posed in our title is “yes.”
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).