Righting a capital offense

Making Israel’s case and standing up for what is right does not require a march on Downing Street. Just a simple examination of the facts.

August 12, 2012 20:58
3 minute read.
The Knesset in Jerusalem

Great generic picture of Knesset 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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When HonestReporting filed a complaint with the UK’s Press Complaints Commission in response to The Guardian’s labeling of Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, we did so expecting accuracy and common sense to prevail.

Outrageously, the PCC not only ruled in favor of The Guardian but actually went as far as to unilaterally declare that Tel Aviv was Israel’s legitimate capital, based mainly on the fact that many foreign embassies are located there.

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Institutions not located in Tel Aviv include the Knesset, the Supreme Court, Bank of Israel and most government ministries.

The ruling even ignored Israel’s own declaration of Jerusalem as its eternal capital.

While the Guardian’s original “capital offense” could be viewed as yet another example of the newspaper’s animosity towards Israel, the PCC ruling demonstrated just how far beyond rational discourse any discussion on Israel appears to have gone in the UK.

The PCC offered no recourse for appeal.

On principle, however, we couldn’t let the PCC’s bizarre ruling stand. Risking potentially high legal costs but motivated by our desire to see truth prevail, HonestReporting initiated legal proceedings using some of the best legal professionals with the aim of taking the PCC all the way to a judicial review.

The Guardian has become the world’s third most read newspaper website, with 30.4 million readers in June 2012, according to industry analyst ComScore. The newspaper’s print edition may not be particularly large by UK media standards, but its readers are typically influential liberal and left-leaning elites in politics, academia and other media such as the BBC.

Put simply, the Guardian’s anti-Israel bias has a hugely significant reach and influence that cannot be ignored.

Israel has too often been the victim of “lawfare,” whereby the legal system is employed to delegitimize Israel, abusing concepts of international and humanitarian law.

But lawfare can work both ways.

With a watertight case at our disposal, we worked closely with Trevor Asserson, a distinguished lawyer previously responsible for a number of critical studies of the BBC’s Israel coverage, and his legal team.

And we won.

Avoiding the case reaching a courtroom, the PCC voided its own ruling, effectively forcing the Guardian to admit that it was wrong to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital.

The case continues so that we may drive the final nail into the coffin of the PCC’s original decision by forcing it to issue a concrete ruling stating once and for all that Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital.

While this may not be the panacea we would like regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, sensible readers will draw the correct conclusion. By eliminating Israel’s second city, by default there can be only one place that could be considered the capital.

But our victory raises a troubling question.

Considering that the status of Jerusalem and the importance of accurate reporting on Israel are issues of relative consensus within the UK’s Jewish community, why was HonestReporting the only organization concerned enough to take up the case on Israel’s behalf? No wonder the Guardian, BBC and others feel virtually immune when it comes to reporting with undisguised antipathy towards Israel.

ONLY THREE complaints against the Guardian, including ours, were lodged with the PCC. There were none from any other Jewish or pro-Israel organizations, which must have left the PCC feeling under far less pressure when it deliberated on the issue.

Making Israel’s case and standing up for what is right did not require cross-communal mobilization or a march on Downing Street. Just a simple examination of the facts and a willingness to take action were all that was necessary – yet these were evidently absent from the agendas of the UK’s Jewish leadership.

It’s time for a change. HonestReporting’s success is but a small one in the overall scheme of things. But a victory is a victory and we should savor them when we can.

The Guardian has received a bloody nose this time round. Let’s make sure that it and the PCC know that defenders of proper journalistic standards and Israel will not give a free pass to anti-Israel inaccuracies and delegitimization in the press.

The writer is the managing editor of HonestReporting (www.honestreporting.com), and has a master’s degree in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics.

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