The Guardian columnist Nathan J. Robinson was fired after criticizing US policy on Israel, or spreading antisemitic fake news on Twitter – it depends on who you ask.
The tweet originally published by Robinson in late December last year read: “Did you know that the US Congress is not actually permitted to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel? It’s the law.”
That tweet was followed by another: “or if not actually the written law then so ingrained in political custom as to functionally be indistinguishable from law.”
But it seems like Robinson’s clarification did not impress The Guardian’s US editor John Mulholland.
In an article published by Robinson on February 10 in the Current Affairs magazine, he shared a screenshot of his email correspondence with Mulholland regarding his tweets, shedding some light on the following turn of events.
“No such law exists. In which case this is, as one might say, fake news,” Mulholland wrote to Robinson.
The email continues: “Given the reckless talk over the last year – and beyond – of how mythical ‘Jewish groups/alliances’ yield power over all forms of US public life I am not clear how this is helpful to public discourse.
“And I am not sure why singling out financial aid to Israel in a tweet and devoid of any context – and without mention of aid to other countries either currently or historically – is a useful addition to public discourse.
“Saying that the only Jewish state controls the most powerful country in the world is clearly antisemitic. The myth of ‘Jewish power’ informs murderous hatred. Delete this and apologize.”
Some people asking for proof of my claim that Guardian editor told me in writing not to tell anyone they were policing my Israel tweets. I already posted in the article, but here's screenshot. Subject line "private and confidential." As in: do not tell anyone we are saying this. pic.twitter.com/in4DFOwUG2— Nathan J Robinson (@NathanJRobinson) February 10, 2021
Robinson quickly replied, saying that he has “no wish to contribute to the mountain of fake news on the Internet,” and deleted the problematic tweets.
“But then a strange thing happened,” Robinson writes in his article. “Over the next few weeks, my editor became curiously non-responsive.”
And on Tuesday, Robinson wrote that he received a phone call from his editor, notifying him that after having a conversation with Mulholland it was decided to discontinue his column for the paper.
Robinson has since taken upon himself the mission of exposing what he sees as unjustified punishment for making “a joke tweet.”
He has also criticized Mulholland for trying to keep their correspondence a secret, referring to the email’s subject line “private and confidential,” which according to Robinson “means he does not want other people to know what he is saying to me.”
Finally, addressing Mulholland’s allegation of him spreading fake news, Robinson wrote that it is “clearly nonsense,” noting that sarcasm is common on Twitter and should be considered as such.
Then, in another tweet, Robinson shared with his followers a statement apparently sent by a Guardian spokesperson that noted that Robinson was never officially employed by the paper and therefore cannot be fired.
The Guardian has released a statement that does not deny they terminated me as a columnist because of my tweet about Israel but instead says that this didn't constitute "firing" me because even though I was officially a columnist they do not have contracts with columnists. pic.twitter.com/FgX1myKpRH— Nathan J Robinson (@NathanJRobinson) February 10, 2021
“The Guardian supports its columnists to express a variety of perspectives on all topics, which are published on the site every day. Mr. Robinson recognized that the tweets in question were ill-considered and it was his decision alone to delete them,” the statement added.
Some have expressed support for Robinson, questioning the decision to fire him, or stop working with him, over his tweets.
I don't know anything about Robinson but this article has the offending two tweets, which do not seem fireable to me (perhaps there is more to the story): https://t.co/ihskG0TUKd pic.twitter.com/81rKQjVl6r— Nicholas A. Christakis (@NAChristakis) February 10, 2021
But while Robinson made it clear that his original tweets were merely meant as a joke, he did hesitate to finish his article with a harsh and unfounded attack, directed both at Israel and at The Guardian.
Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.