Guardian/Reuters suggests Palestinian terrorists weren’t buried by Israel with proper dignity

The first sentence in the 2nd passage of a Reuters/Guardian story about Israel’s decision to return the bodies of 80 Palestinian suicide bombers who murdered dozens of Israelis to the PA, Israel returns bodies of Palestinian militants, May 31, is remarkable.  

The report begins:

Israel has transferred to Palestinian authorities the bodies of dozens of Palestinian militants, saying it hoped the move would help restart peace efforts.”

Now, here’s the second passage:

“The militants had been buried, some of them for decades, in a desolate Israeli military cemetery for “enemy combatants” in the occupied West Bank. They included several suicide bombers.” [emphasis added]

These murderers of innocent Jews evidently weren’t afforded the dignity owed to them.  

And, if the narrative needed any further moral framing, here’s the photo accompanying the text.

Viewing the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber (Samer Hammed), you’d almost think they were mourning an innocent victim, rather than the cold-blooded killer who blew himself up near Tel Aviv’s central bus station in March 2006 in hopes of murdering as many Israelis as possible.

Ten civilians died in the blast.

Does the family of Samer Hammed carry with them any hint of remorse over the unimaginable grief Hammed’s cruelty wrought?  

Did Reuters or the Guardian even consider illustrating their story with a photo such as this?

At the funeral for David Shaulov, (one of Hammed’s victims), his mother, Irena, left of center, embraced his grief stricken pregnant wife, Radmila

David Shaulov

Guardian critic’s review of Israeli ‘Merchant of Venice’ includes predictable Palestinian fixation

H/T Snoopy the Goon

 “…what was this audience thinking [watching the Israeli production of ‘Merchant of Venice’]?  If it is simply an antisemitic play, why would we be watching it, why is the Israeli National Theatre performing it?  And if it is a comedy, why aren’t the jokes funny, and why does Shakespeare offer us a puerile game show rather than some of his usual genius? I don’t think this audience really cared much. It was there to face down those who said that Israeli actors should be excluded from the global community of culture, while actors from all the other states which had been invited to the Globe were celebrated in a festival of the Olympic city’s multiculturalism.” David Hirsh

Guardian Theater critic Lyn Gardner doesn’t hide her contempt for the Jewish state, and seems to possess a rather large blind spot when it comes to antisemitism.

Her Guardian 2009 year-end review, “The year in theater: Lyn Gardner’s best of 2009″, included, in the category of “Things to celebrate”, Caryl Churchill’s hideous play, Seven Jewish Children.

As the prolific Anthony Julius wrote, in a letter published in the Guardian, in 2011:

In Trials of the Diaspora, I argue that Caryl Churchill‘splay Seven Jewish Children is antisemitic…

I had in mind the following lines, among others. “Tell her we killed the babies by mistake / Don’t tell her anything about the army.” “Tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.” “Tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.” “Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people.”

In this play, Jews confess to lying to their own children and killing Palestinian children. They also confess to something close to a project of genocide. And they freely acknowledge the source of their misanthropy to be Judaism itself. [emphasis added]

Three of the six passages in Gardner’s May 29th Guardian review of  the performance, by Israel’s National Habima Theater, of ‘Merchant of Venice’ (at The Globe in London) was devoted, in some manner, to Palestinians or pro-Palestinian activists who seek the exclusion of Israeli artists.

Here’s Gardner’s opening passage:

“The final image of this production by Israeli company Habima is a stark one. Small and crushed, as if weighed down by history itself, Jacob Cohen’s broken Shylock – a man who has lost daughter, fortune and home – is seen, suitcase in hand, walking away from Venice, an eternal wandering Jew. But it was impossible not to think of other displaced people, too, most particularly the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

No, of course I don’t expect Gardner to see Shylock and think of the 900,000 indigenous Jews displaced from Arab lands following Israel’s rebirth in 1948, but her passage did cause me to wonder about the following:  In the context of the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival (37 plays in 37 languages), which includes plays in, for instance, Turkish, Mandarin, and Urdu (the language of Pakistan), did her mind drift to the national aspirations of the Kurds in Turkey, the ethnically cleansed Tibetans, or the millions of Hindus and Sikhs displaced by Pakistan’s independence? 

Moreover, no doubt, Lyn Gardner would insist it’s the Jewish state she objects to, and not Jews as such.  

Yet, remember, Gardner was not only undisturbed by Carly Churchill’s Judeophobic agitprop – a work of “art” possessing tropes impugning the very essence of a people and its faith – but, indeed, celebrated the play as a theatric tour de force.

Similarly, in Gardner’s take on a Jewish performance of ‘Merchant of Venice’ (in Hebrew) which, as David Hirsh explained, is, in part, a “story of Shylock, a Jewish money-lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated”, evokes not, for her, the ugly spectacle of antisemitic abuse, nor the antisemitic stereotype represented by Shylock himself, but, rather, the plight of “displaced Palestinians”.

When Jews are pricked it is Palestinians who, in the eyes of many within the British “intelligentsia” and “cultured” class, now bleed. 

6 Secrets of Media Objectivity: What are the principles of fair news coverage?

The following was produced by HonestReporting, and is posted at CiF Watch with their expressed permission.

Process over progress: West’s infatuation with ‘buying time’ over ‘resolve’ to prevent nuclear Iran

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, an Anglo-Israeli freelance writer

As the Guardian’s Julian Borger recently reported (Iran nuclear talks: Settling for confusion in Baghdad, hoping for clarity in Moscow, May 29th) Iran and six of the world’s major powers agreed to settle on confusion at the latest round of negotiations in Baghdad and which adjourned on May 24th with no sign of progress.

The focal point of the talks was the international community’s call on Tehran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which is a short technical step away from highly enriched uranium that can be weaponized.

The Iranians have responded with calls of their own for an immediate easing of the increasingly painful economic sanctions which have been imposed on them.

And so the endless whirling diplomatic pirouette continues; accompanied as always by rosy prognostications, fervent wishes and dramatic – albeit brief – flowerings of optimism.  How long have Iranian and Western diplomats been filling their dance cards with high level quibbling on the issue of Tehran’s nuclear program?  Here’s a cursory list of U.N. sanctions leveled against the Islamic Republic of Iran:

  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1803 – passed on March 3, 2008. It extended the asset freezes and called upon states to monitor the activities of Iranian banks, inspect Iranian ships and aircraft, and to monitor the movement of individuals involved with the program through their territory.
  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 – passed on June 9 2010. It banned Iran from participating in any activities related to ballistic missiles, tightened the arms embargo, and recommended that states inspect Iranian cargo, prevent the provision of financial services used for sensitive nuclear activities and closely watch Iranian individuals and entities when dealing with them…

It’s a wonder of modern day statecraft that such bold resolutions haven’t managed to persuade Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Mullah regime to give up their pursuit and development of the bomb.

And the short list above doesn’t include the bilateral sanctions leveled by the European Union, United States and other countries against Iran.

Fortunately, U.S. President Barack Obama has reacted to Tehran’s repeated evasions regarding nuclear weaponization with strong talk, saying that the world is “unified around Iran’s misbehavior in this area.

Date of quote: February 9, 2010.

Two years later, on March 14, 2012, Obama again unsheathed the proverbial saber and gave it a good rattle, stating that that the window for dealing with its nuclear program through diplomatic channels is “shrinking.”

Albert Einstein once said that insanity can be defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As such, is Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, just slightly mentally deficient? Perish the thought. Rather, the meat and marrow of any deal is, unfortunately, secondary to the political spinning at play whenever a perceived breakthrough on inspections is proclaimed.

If the true goal of these talks is to resolve the polarizing issue of Iran’s nuclear program in one of the world’s most volatile regions – and not to simply claim faint diplomatic victories that usually revolve around the tortured cliché of “agreeing to keep talking” – Iran’s race to convert enriched uranium to bomb-grade fuel can be significantly slowed in a number of ways.  While the country is already nuclear capable, a nuclear-armed Iran is not inevitable.

In general a concerted, synchronized implementation of the following policies could help prevent Iran from crossing the line from weapons capability to weapons production: Containment, Deterrence, Intrusive Inspections and Engagement (since the main purpose of the first three courses of action is to persuade Iran to negotiate).

Should these diplomatic overtures fail there’s the option of using military force to halt or reverse nuclear proliferation. Since Israel has more to fear from a nuclear Iran than the United States, it may need to resort to force to curtail Iran’s capabilities if diplomacy fails. The Israeli Air force possesses the capability to destroy even well-hardened targets in Iran with some degree of confidence.

Possible attack routes include flying over the Mediterranean, refueling from airborne tankers and then continuing east over Turkey to Iran, or having IAF planes fly southeast, over Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and then continuing northeast across Iraq. A third option would involve Israeli forces flying southeast and then east along the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Persian Gulf and then north, refueling along the way.

To resolve this crisis diplomatically, Tehran will need to be convinced of Western resolve to halt  its nuclear program. Such a breakthrough will only occur as a result of tougher sanctions and stiffer demands than those presented in the two rounds of talks conducted Baghdad. While a diplomatic, peaceful resolution is ideal, it may not be achievable in light of the Iranian people’s — reformers and conservatives alike — strong support for enrichment.

National pride in the technical prowess embodied in Iran’s nuclear program is at the core of this support.

For now, the dance continues. The third attempt in three months to answer international worries that Iran’s atomic energy program may be a cover for secret weapons work is scheduled to take place next month in Moscow.

How appropriate that the next round of graceful, flowing, ethereal diplomatic doublespeak  that aims to bring us “peace in our time” will be held at the home of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Guardian reader’s analysis of Jews’ pathos

Below the line of Peter Beaumont’s ‘Comment is Free’ piece on May 29th, The Houla massacre shows how killing can become normal, there was this off-topic comment, on Israeli Jews’ sad moral and political pathos, by a reader using the moniker herodot, which hasn’t been deleted by CiF moderators.

There’s so much here in so little text. Here’s a breakdown. 

  • Jewish genetic superiority: Jews, fortunate enough to carry the intelligence gene, were fortunate enough to possess the highest IQ in the world.
  • Jewish descent into brutality and violence: Alas, Jews wasted their precious intellectual gifts by succumbing to the vice of violence, and becoming a permanent tribe of warriors, Goliath chasing the Palestinian David – Arab “adolescents” whose sole crime is to rebelliously throw stones.
  • Condescension: In fairness, however, there are still a few good Jews left, “God bless their souls”, who rebel against the prevailing Semitic aggression and still enchant the world by delighting in more cerebral pursuits.
A trenchant and probing analysis of Jews’ fall from moral and intellectual grace, all in a remarkably thrifty 159 words!  

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood: Reinforcing her reader’s stereotypes about Israeli Jews

H/T Dave

Fresh from her blatant lie about the number of Palestinians in Gaza disabled by IDF military operations (which even the Guardian acknowledged has absolutely no basis), Harriet Sherwood turned to the issue of recent tensions in Tel Aviv over the influx of illegal migrants in her article titled “Levinsky Park Migrants live in fear after Tel Aviv race riots” of May 29th, which builds on a familiar Guardian narrative: Israeli racism.

The theme of Sherwood’s report is made clear by the following text early in her report:

“Beneath the restless boredom [of migrants’ lives], there is a new mood: wariness. Since an anti-migrant demonstration last week turned ugly and violent, these men – many of whom fled in fear from their homes in sub-Saharan Africa – are fearful once again. The display of naked racism in what is routinely described as a diverse and liberal city also shocked many Israelis.” [emphasis added]

“…dark-skinned men were threatened.” 

Sherwood continues by describing the experience of illegal African migrants:

“Once on Israeli territory [a trip often facilitated by Bedouin smugglers who force the African migrants to pay exorbitant fees], migrants are detained while their identity and country of origin is checked. Most are then given “conditional release” and put on buses to Tel Aviv, where they are dropped in Levinsky park and left to fend for themselves.”

In fact, although such migrants of course encounter many difficulties, there are quite a few Israeli NGOs (Amutot עמותות) which provide them with much-needed services, such as: African Refugee Development Center, Aid Organization for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Hotline for Migrant Workers, Kav LaOved, Mesila, and Physicians for Human Rights.

Sherwood continues:

“According to Israel’s population and immigration authority, 62,000 people have crossed the southern border since 2006. “

No context is provided by Sherwood as to what precisely caused the influx. 

According to a New York Times report from 2011:

“The influx of Africans [to Israel] began in 2005 after the Egyptian police attacked Sudanese refugees who were camped out in Cairo and demanded asylum. More than 20 people were [murdered], and word spread that Israel would provide them a better welcome and more job opportunities.”

Here is the original account of the Egyptian racist brutality, per a NYT report on Dec. 30, 2005:

“Egyptian riot police rushed into a crowd of unarmed Sudanese migrants early this morning, killing at least 23 people, including small children, after the group refused to leave a public park it had occupied for three months hoping to pressure United Nations officials to relocate them. [emphasis added]

They started hitting our heads with the sticks and dragging us,” said Napoleon Robert Lado, a leader of the group. “They dragged me when I was trying to help a woman who fainted to stand up. They dragged me and I was stepping over the old people and women and children. I was screaming and trying to step away, but could not.”

By nightfall, Muhammad Khalaf, head of the area’s emergency department, said there were 23 dead, 7 of them children, 8 elderly, and 7 more women. Human rights organizations said that others died after being taken to police camps and being denied immediate access to health care.”

A Sudanese woman is beaten by Egyptian riot police.

Back to Sherwood: this is by far the most gratuitous quote in her report:

“Many in [Tel Aviv’s] Levinsky park simply feel they have swapped one kind of oppression [in Sudan] for another [in Israel]. “They don’t like black people in Israel,” said Aldheer Ahmed, 45, from Darfur.” [emphasis added]

A reporter can contextualize and frame a story in a myriad of ways. Essentially, a “straight” news story is laden with editorial decisions about which quotes to use, how to turn phrases, which photograph best illustrates the story, how precisely to word the headline, which facts to highlight, etc. – all of which lead the reader to the desired narrative.

Quite simply, Harriet Sherwood chose to use that quote from one Sudanese migrant – which serves to advance her desired theme of Israeli racism – and chose to bury any exculpatory evidence which could serve to accurately contextualize the incident.  Mr. Ahmed is a black Sudanese and was quite possibly fleeing persecution at the hands of (anti-black) racist Arab Sudanese in the North, just as his fellow countrymen had fled brutality at the hands of racist Arabs in Egypt, where many had originally attempted to flee to safety.  

But the broader story about Israel’s record on the issue of race – one never reported in the Guardian – is that you’d be hard pressed to find a country which risked so much to rescue thousands of Africans from danger (Ethiopian Jews, during Israeli orchestrated, large-scale secret air-lifts in 1984, 1985 and 1991). Thousands more were brought to Israel in other ways including government-run covert operations, exchanges for arms and open immigration.

Today the Ethiopian community in Israel numbers nearly 120,000.

New immigrants reach Israel during Operation Solomon in 1991

Similarly, the suggestion that Israel doesn’t like dark people would come as news to the roughly half of Israeli Jews who are ‘Jews of color’ – that is Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, South and Central America. Israel is not, and never has been, a “white” country.

Jews have come to modern Israel from 103 countries and speak more than 70 different languages. In my ulpan class (intensive Hebrew) alone, there were Jews from Ethiopia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, the UK, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.

In addition, other nationalities represented in this global melting pot of Israel are Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Libya, Syria, India, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Canada, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, and many others.

Ben Gurion Airport: New immigrants from Yemen arrive in Israel

Journalists have considerable power to dispel or propagate prejudices.  As such, Harriet Sherwood’s reports (and those of many of her Guardian colleagues and ‘Comment is Free’ commentators) continually serve to reinforce facile, lazy, intellectually unserious (often toxic) stereotypes about Israeli Jews.  

If doctors must swear upon a Hippocratic Oath, which demands that they first ‘do no harm’, it seems fair to expect that journalists, whose prose colours the perceptions of their readers, should be expected to avoid “feeding the baffled, frustrated and bewildered [who] seek a grand, simplifying hypothesis that can bring [an] ordered explanation to a confusing world.”

The question regarding to what degree the Guardian’s negative coverage of Israel is informed by antisemitism is an extremely important one, but it is also at times difficult to quantify with the necessary empirical rigor and can sometimes even serve as a distraction from concerns just as vital in understanding the institution’s malign obsession.

What strikes me most about reading the Guardian’s Israel section, especially as a citizen of the state now for over three years, is how little resemblance their reports and commentary bear to the country in which I live; the place I call home. 

No matter how long their stay in the region, reporters like Sherwood necessarily carry their political baggage to each assignment – reporting phenomena in the Jewish state colored by a predetermined binary antagonist-protagonist paradigm.

Antisemitic? At times yes, at times no.

Prejudiced, in the broader sense of the word? Yes. It’s endemic and institutionalized.  

Video: A minute of silence for the victims of Munich Massacre. #justoneminute

In a new campaign (#justoneminute) Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, calls on the International Olympic Committee to dedicate a minute of silence, at this summer’s London Olympic Games, in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972.

To sign the petition please open this link.

And, please go to the JustOneMinute Facebook page.

Richard Millett: Habima’s Merchant of Venice rocks London’s Globe Theatre

Cross posted by the indispensable Richard Millett

I really enjoyed last night’s performance of Habima’s The Merchant of Venice at The Globe on the south bank of the River Thames on a beautiful summer evening in London.

The cast received a prolonged standing ovation at the end (see above). The Globe was the perfect setting with its open roof allowing you to peer into the ever darkening sky as the constant movement of small planes readied you for the inevitable interruptions.

My main concerns were whether I would follow a play in Hebrew and whether the interruptions would ruin the experience, but two small screens kept us nicely updated in English and The Globe’s security knew when to act and when not to.

Security removed protesters swiftly so limiting the disruption but they allowed a very weird protest, where six protesters stood silently on the first balcony for virtually the entire first half with their lips taped up, to proceed.

First protest during last night’s show.

Second protest during last night’s show.

The performance itself brought to the fore the comedy of The Merchant of Venice with a humourous gondola impression each time the action transferred to Venice, reminiscent of a sideways Moonwalk.

Seeing Shylock dispossessed of everything when Antonio’s defence lawyer finds a loophole in his contract with Shylock and watching Shylock forced to convert to Christianity to escape going to prison himself was maybe a Shakespearian premonition of the treatment in store for the Jews of Europe and Arab countries in the centuries to come.

In all there were some 20 protesters. I recognised two of them:

Peter Scott recently tried to have me arrested and charged with harassment for doing nothing more than photographing him for my blog holding a Palestinian flag at an anti-Israel protest. Last night he donned a smart Panama hat. When I noticed him during the interval I pointed him out to security who, again, did nothing.

I went out to get a drink but when I came back two friends said that a man wearing a Panama had just been removed by security after he had approached them to discuss the disturbances. As they were talking to him they noticed he was wearing an electronic recording device on his lapel. Here is Scott during the interval:

I saw the following protester going into The Globe last night and when I called his name he looked round. I then called security but he made haste away from me until he was eventually caught by security and, out of breathe and shaking, gave a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth look.

I felt traumatised that I might have unjustly accused an innocent person and ruined his evening, but just before the interval he did unfurl a banner and was removed by security:

Jonathan Rosenhead about to be removed by Globe security last night.

Meanwhile, the foyer was packed with police dealing with the protesters. In the top left corner here you can spot ubiquitous anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein:

Outside The Globe the Zionist Federation and Stand With Us had arranged a pro-Israel protest. There was also a pen for Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists. One PSC man had donned a mask with a big nose, but swore it wasn’t an anti-Semitic gesture.

I asked some of the PSC  lot whether they saw the recent production of Richard II by the Palestinian theatre company also at The Globe. They said they didn’t as it was a matinée and they had work commitments. They must have conveniently failed to spot the Saturday performance at 7.30pm then; proof, if ever it was needed, that PSC activists don’t give a damn about the Palestinians.

Habima is expecting another packed house tonight and many thanks should be paid to The Globe, its security and the police for allowing the show to go on despite the efforts of those with ignorant views.

Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard described last night’s performance by Habima as “a tricky evening triumphantly negotiated” and The Times said it was “an evening to remember for reasons of art as well as politics”.

Photos from outside The Globe last night:

This is not an anti-Semitic gesture by a PSC comrade, apparently.

Having fun outside The Globe.



My interview published in the London Progressive Journal: On Judaism, Zionism, (& Legos!)

The following represents the most unusual interview I’ve ever given.  While the bulk of the questions themselves were not especially unusual (which included topics such as Zionism, my life in Israel, and Judaism), the methodology employed by my interviewer, Patrizia Bertini (A PhD student at LSE) was, as you’ll see, a bit, let’s just say, experimental.  

Note that the free wheeling, unstructured nature of some of my answers reflect the unorthodox (though quite interesting) nature of Ms. Bertini’s questions.

I’ll post the interview from the journal as screen shots to provide an accurate sense of the method employed.

One final note: The London Progressive Journal, where the interview was published, is very far left. To Ms. Bertini’s credit, her quite politically charged questions were asked very respectfully, without bias, and published by LPJ largely unedited.

(There are a couple of typos. For instance, contrary to the introduction, I’ve been managing editor at CiF Watch since July of 2010. Also, where it reads, “Arab economic rise”, near the bottom, it should read, “Arab economic boycott”. Finally, the word “hospital” should read “hospitality”. In fairness to Ms. Bertini, though she is quite fluent in English it is not her first language.)

Guardian reader comment of the day: Where Greek neo-Nazis aren’t too concerned with Jews

Flag of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party

Today’s ‘ Comment is Free’ piece “Open Letter: We are all Greek Jews” of May 28th, signed by Benjamin Abtan, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Elie Wiesel, Amélie Nothomb and others called on Europe to reject the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, which entered the Greek parliament this month.

Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos

The letter warns that “the [neo-Nazi Greek Golden Dawn] party is the lineal heir of the German national-socialist party that led Europe and the world into chaos and bloodshed.”

The specter of a resurgent neo-Nazi movement in Europe would seem, at first glance, an anomaly and almost reads as fiction. However, as the open letter notes:

“Greece is not the only country threatened by this revival of Nazi ideology. In Latvia this year, the president of the republic has for the first time supported the annual former Waffen SS march.

In Austria the FPÖ, an extreme right organisation that nurtures Third Reich nostalgia, is favourite in the polls for the next parliamentary elections. In Hungary, the Hungarian Guard Movement, descendant of The Arrow Cross party – the former militia responsible for the extermination of Jews and Gypsies – terrorises Jewish populations and holds direct responsibility for provoking deadly attacks against Roma people.”

The following is a recent interview with Nikos Michaloliakosis – the leader of Greece’s Golden Dawn movement which will occupy 21 seats in the Greek parliament after winning 7% of the vote in the May 6 elections.

While this blog has often argued that Guardian readers are much more comfortable condemning right-wing antisemitism than the Islamist variety, note that the following comment, greatly downplaying even the former, garnered 113 ‘Recommends’. 

Stunning, really: a reader who questions the antisemitic bona fides of an extremist European movement which possesses a swastika-inspired emblem, enforces a  Hitlerian salute, references Mein Kampf, endorses racist ideology, and trades in Holocaust denial.

It makes you wonder what precisely it would take for some Guardian readers to see the hideous Jew hatred squarely in front of their face. 

Feminism, Islamism, the Hijab and ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Nadiya Takolia

Nadiya Takolia: researcher at Engage & ‘Comment is Free’ contributor

As a near absolutist in my belief in freedom of expression, I am very wary about judging people based on religiously inspired customs or attire. As such, women who freely choose to wear the hijab should not be subjected to social opprobrium or political restrictions in free societies. 

However, ‘s essay on ‘Comment is Free’, May 28th, “The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations of women” makes several arguments in defense of her decision, whilst in her 20s, to wear the hijab which seem – based on her broader political views – quite specious.

In fairness, however, the first explanation is the most defensible from a progressive standpoint.

Takolia argues that in a society where a woman’s value seems focused on her sexual charms, the hijab can be seen as a political statement.

Takolia writes:

“From perfume and clothes ads to children’s dolls and X Factor finals, you don’t need to go far to see that the woman/sex combination is everywhere.  It makes many of us feel like a pawn in society’s beauty game – ensuring that gloss in my hair, the glow in my face and trying to attain that (non-existent) perfect figure.”

Takolia emphasizes that her decision to wear the hijab was not religious, but purely political.

However, beyond the narrow (and I think admirable) desire of Takolia not to be objectified, her embrace of the hijab encompasses a more expansive politically progressive mantle: one – as it will become clear – inherently at odds with the broader ideology to which she pledges her allegiance.

Takolia writes of coming across the hijab “as a twentysomething undergraduate, [while] reading feminist literature”.  She later asserts that the hijab is ” political, feminist and empowering.”

Also, Takolia opines:

“[The hijab] is me telling the world that my femininity is not available for public consumption. I am taking control of it, and I don’t want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women.” [emphasis mine]

So, is Nadiya Takolia a progressive woman? Does she rightfully reject misogyny in all its manifestations and oppose political movements which demean and subjugate women?

Sadly, no.

According to her ‘Comment is Free’ bio, Takolia works for an organization called Engage – also known as iEngage (which should NOT be confused with the anti-racist site Engage which campaigns against antisemitism).

What is iEngage?

Well, they claim to help empower and encourage British Muslims within local communities to be more actively involved in British media and politics.

However, Engage’s idea of politically empowering Muslims has a very narrow and decidedly illiberal focus. Indeed, the group puts a significant amount of energy into opposing moderate and liberal Muslims, while defending radical Islamist and decidedly reactionary Muslim organisations.

Per Harry’s Place:

“The nature of iEngage is demonstrated by its support for the East London Mosque, London Muslim Centre and Islamic Forum Europe: three bodies with a worrying history of extreme politics, which have repeatedly hosted hate preachers and supporters of terrorism…[and] attacked, as Islamophobes, any journalist or Muslim who criticises the East London Mosque, the London Muslim Centre or the Islamic Forum Europe.”

“The East London Mosque twice hosted the Al Qaeda-aligned preacher Anwar al-Awlaki at the East London Mosque/London Muslim Centre. Awlaki has been identified by the 9/11 Commission as the spiritual adviser of two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Added Lucy Lips at HP:

“This was the problem with iEngage all along. It is an organisation which is very closely tied to specific Islamist political parties, which both defends those political parties and associated hate preachers, while attacking Muslim liberals in the most personal terms. Indeed, iEngage operates from an office within the Islam Channel: a tv station which has been censured by OFCOM for advocating marital rape [and] violence against women. 

Takolia’s Tweets similarly demonstrate, at the least, an evident sympathy towards Islamists with clear anti-feminist political leanings.

Here’s one of her Tweets about Raed Salah.

In addition to Salah’s documented antisemitic incitement (his reciting of a poem advancing the ancient blood libel, which the UK Immigration Tribunal confirmed he indeed said), the following represents a perfect illustration of Salah’s reactionary views towards women. (Here’s a passage from a 2003 interview with Salah by a Ha’aretz reporter.)

Ha’aretz journalist:  “What is your opinion of the legislation now being discussed in the Knesset, which would grant Muslim women rights similar to those of Jewish women in matters of personal status?”

Raed Salah:  ”That bill is tantamount to a war on Islam. It is an attempt to dictate different, foreign values that are neither Muslim nor Palestinian values.”

On Nadiya Takolia’s Facebook page, the ‘Likes’ include the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC): (For those not on FB, see screenshot of her support for PRC below post)

The Palestinian Return Centre is not only a Hamas-supporting organization [they are believed to transfer funds directly to Hamas], but it also promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and rejects the right of Israel to exist within any borders.  Israeli defense officials characterize the group as nothing less than a direct part of the Hamas movement. Indeed, the PRC advocates the Hamas strategy of violent Jihad.

iEngage’s  demonstrates again how proponents of, or at least apologists for, the most reactionary movements within Islam continue, under the veneer of human rights, to attempt to avoid being held responsible for an adherence to reactionary, racist, and violent political agendas.

Hijab or no hijab, Islamism is inherently and necessarily incompatible with feminism – even broadly understood.  

Lies through statistics: Harriet Sherwood’s master class in shoddy journalism

On May 23rd, we commented on a Guardian report by Harriet Sherwood titled “Palestinian Paralympians visit Jerusalem holy site”, May 21st, about disabled athletes from Gaza (who are going to compete in the Paralympics in London this summer) visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

However, this was anything but a ‘feel good’ story about sport transcending politics or a humanitarian decision by Israel to allow citizens of a state whose government literally seeks their destruction to enter their capital.

Nobody familiar with Sherwood’s crude Israeli caricature could possibly expect the story to be framed in such a morally intuitive fashion.

The narrative pivoted from a sports human interest story to anti-Israel agitprop when Sherwood quoted a paralympian Hatam Zakut who said:

“We consider ourselves representatives of all disabled athletes in Gaza. Thanks to the Israelis, there are a lot of us.”  

Adding to Zakut’s vague charge, Sherwood wrote:

“[In fact] tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are disabled as a result of Israeli military operations.”

As we noted at the time, Sherwood provided no source for this wild figure, of “tens of thousands”.  

We noted additionally:

  • Per a UN report, there were an estimated 600 Palestinians disabled as a result of injuries sustained during Cast Lead.
  • A report by the Gaza Ministry of Public Works and Housing, in August 2009 (seven months after Cast Lead), placed the total figure of all disabled Palestinians in Gaza – for all reasons – at 19,763.  (Another study, by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics puts the total number of Gaza’s disabled at 38,000) [emphasis added].

We concluded that Gaza government statistics do not even attempt to break down the total number of disabled caused by IDF military operations and thus the number which Sherwood cited is both inconceivable and clearly not supported by any available evidence. 

Apparently, following emails to Guardian editors by CiF Watch (and some loyal CiF Watch readers) the Guardian revised Sherwood’s essay and has now added this statement:

“This article was amended on 25 May 2012. The original said “tens of thousands” of Palestinians in Gaza were disabled as a result of Israeli military operations. A 2011 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics survey puts the number of disabled people in Gaza at 38,000, but does not give a breakdown of how many were disabled as a result of Israeli military operations.”

The original passage in Sherwood’s report which claimed that “tens of thousands” of Palestinians are disabled (as a result of Israeli military operations) now reads “thousands“,  a lower number which itself is not, per their own update, based on empirical data.

But here are the broader points:

  • Sherwood made a completely unsubstantiated claim (without a source) about the number of Gazans disabled as a result of IDF operations, claiming ‘tens of thousands’.
  • We (and CiF Watch readers) called Sherwood out on her shoddy journalism.
  • The Guardian couldn’t back up Sherwood’s claim and dramatically revised her figure downward to ‘thousands’, using – at best – a highly spurious statistical inference based on one report on the number of Palestinians disabled from Cast Lead. In fact, the UN report on the number of Palestinians disabled as the result of Cast Lead (600) cited, which appears to be the statistical basis for the Guardian’s revised figure of “thousands’ disabled by IDF military ops, is, itself, highly questionable. The NGO B’Tselem issued a definitive report in 2012, listing the total number of Palestinians “seriously” injured during the war as 350. While they never used the term “disabled” as such, it would certainly seem intuitive that a “serious” injury would necessarily include those with long-term or permanent disabilities. 
  • The Guardian’s new language admits that “a 2011 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics survey…does not give a breakdown of how many were disabled as a result of Israeli military operations.”
  • The Guardian is essentially admitting that it has no idea how Harriet Sherwood came up with the ‘tens of thousands’ figure in her original report and, further, that the question of how many Palestinians in Gaza are disabled as the result of wars in against Israel is, at best, highly speculative.  

Even by the Guardian’s appalling standards, Sherwood’s May 21st report represents an egregious example of shoddy, unethical advocacy journalism. 

Overview of Guardian coverage of Israel: April 30th to May 27th 2012.

Last month we published a review of the Guardian’s coverage of events in Israel during April, highlighting the subjects it chose to address and – no less important – those it did not. Several readers suggested that this should become a regular exercise, so here is a breakdown of the subjects tackled during the period from April 30th to May 27th 2012. 

During that four-week period, 58 articles appeared on the ‘Israel’ page of the World News section on the Guardian’s website. Two of those actually appear twice, so in fact we are addressing 56 articles, eleven of which also appeared on the ‘Israel’ page of ‘Comment is Free’

Three items dealt with the subject of boycotts against Israeli targets whilst three others were obituaries. One article pertained to literature and one other was a video report in Jon Ronson’s series about ‘astroturfing’. 

Six articles dealt with the Iranian nuclear issue and two pertained to the subject of the British government’s reaction to a hypothetical Israeli military strike on Iran. 

Two articles speculating about early elections in Israel were followed by five articles about the Kadima party’s joining the coalition government. 

One article contained archive material concerning the Manchester Guardian’s coverage of Israel’s declaration of Independence in 1948 whilst four items dealt with the subject of events on Nakba Day 2012. Five articles were published on the subject of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike whilst a further four dealt with subjects which can be classified as carrying a theme of ‘Israeli authorities against Palestinians’. 

Two articles were connected to the subject of the Olympics – one concerning the IOC refusal to mark the Munich terror attack and the other about disabled Palestinian Olympians. Two items related to the Israeli TV series ‘Hatufim’ – one of which still carries the spelling mistake “Israeil” in its by-line. 

Four articles (three of which appeared on the same day) were about the subject of illegal migrants in Israel, one dealt with the subject of the Mavi Marmara flotilla and potential compensation arrangements and two articles can be classified as relating to ‘settlements’ or ‘settlers’. 

Six items appearing on the ‘Israel’ page have little if any connection to Israel, including one about the Hamas clamp-down on the ‘Palfest’ event in Gaza, one about Palestinian Authority actions against Palestinian journalists, one about human rights in Bahrain and another concerning Egypt and Saudi Arabia

So what did the Guardian choose not to report during the same period of time? A partial list includes the following: 

On April 30th a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip fell near the town of Sderot. (source)

On May 1st shots were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli soldiers engaged in routine activities on the Israeli side of the border fence. During the week May 2nd to May 8th, two rockets and one mortar fired from Gaza hit the western Negev.(source)

On May 3rd, two Palestinians carrying knives and explosives were arrested at Tapuach Junction. Later the same night, a Palestinian carrying a knife tried to infiltrate the village of Elon Moreh. 

On May 7th, Israeli soldiers thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons through the Kalandia checkpoint. On the same day, a Palestinian carrying three pipe bombs was apprehended near Tapuach Junction. 

During the week May 9th to May 15th, one rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit the western Negev. On May 10th Egyptian security forces apprehended three vehicles containing weapons – including 40 anti-tank missiles – being smuggled from Libya. (source)

Also on May 10th, two Palestinians carrying pipe bombs and fire bombs were arrested by the Border Police near Tapuach Junction. 

On May 20th a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier at a roadblock. During the preceding month, three Israeli civilians were wounded in stabbing attacks. Information concerning the apprehension of a Ramallah area based terror cell which planned to abduct Israeli civilians was made public, including details of attempted kidnappings: 

“During March 2012 the cell tried to abduct an Israeli several times:

  • The afternoon of March 11, 2012: Members of the cell attacked an Israeli driver on the road between the village of Rantis and Kiryat Sefer (northeast of Ramallah), near Beit Arieh. They blocked the car and tried to drag the driver out, but he escaped.
  • March 12, 2012: Members of the cell attacked an Israeli woman driving along the road to the village of Ma’ale Lavonah in southern Samaria. They blocked the car and used various blunt objects in an attempt to shatter the front windshield. The driver escaped in her car.
  • The night of March 15, 2012: Cell operatives attacked an Israeli woman driving with her infant daughter from Givat Assaf (north of Ramallah) to Beit El. They blocked the car and shattered the front windshield but fled when another Israeli vehicle approached.
  • During March the cell tried to abduct Israeli civilian hitchhikers from the gas station at the village of Mishor Adumim, east of Jerusalem. They stopped their car and one of the Israelis almost got in, but a friend prevented him.”


In addition, incidents of rock-throwing at Israeli vehicles continued throughout the month. 

As we saw in the previous review, the Guardian’s coverage of Israel goes out of its way to avoid any mention of the daily threats posed to Israeli civilians. Whilst Guardian readers world-wide may now be familiar with the TV drama ‘Hatufim’ the paper does not inform them about real-life attempts to kidnap Israelis. The same readers now know all about the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, but little or nothing about the type of ongoing terror activities which lead to the arrests of Palestinians.  Whilst the subject of building in towns and villages beyond the ‘green line’ is covered, an attempt by an armed Palestinian to infiltrate one of those villages is ignored. 

Once again, the Israel-related news which Guardian editors elect to avoid telling their readers is no less significant than the stories they do choose to tell.  

Compare and contrast: Guardian coverage of demonstrations in Israel and Greece.

This week we witnessed a much reported demonstration in south Tel Aviv pertaining to the subject of the influx of illegal migrants into one of the poorest areas in Israel. As ever, the situation is significantly more nuanced than the Guardian’s editors would have us believe – as reflected in the commentary of veteran Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yamini on the subject. 

“It was all known. It was all expected. A violent incident was a matter of time. Sentences such as “South Tel Aviv neighbourhoods becoming a pressure cooker” have been written more and more in recent weeks. This week it happened. A justified and legitimate demonstration, which was directed against government neglect, was turned by a few tens of people into a hooligans’ parade. It is a miracle that the events did not end in bloodshed. That could happen.  

This is the hour of the hitch-hikers. From Left and from Right. The former spread tales that if we would only conquer racism, and turn the refugees into new immigrants, they would become honest and contributing citizens. For a small proportion of them – annoying and inciting; mostly anarchists – there is in the background the ideology which wants to crush the state of Israel as the Jewish state. The infiltrators are yet another means by which to achieve that aim. From the Right step up to the line the inciters who suffer from pure racism – including racism against colour – and direct the anger towards the infiltrators themselves. 

And in the background are to be found the residents of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Eilat. They are the victims. Because the infiltrators who arrive here, from the moment of their arrival, raise their standard of living by ten degrees. Even when they are sleeping in public parks. And only the residents of the weak neighbourhoods are paying the price. They alone. Everyone is wise at their expense. The human-rights workers are causing more and more infiltrators to arrive in exactly the same neighbourhoods which are already exploding from the pressure. They don’t pay any price. They load them onto the weak. And the weak are exploding. Just exploding. Their children’s education is worse. The fear on the streets is greater. Quality of life plummets to new lows. And when they try to cry out, they are called racists. And then the activists from the Right arrive, with matches in places already saturated with petrol. Afterwards we all wonder about the explosion.” 

The incidents which took place on the night of May 23rd in south Tel Aviv were the subject of no fewer than three Guardian articles. 

The first, by Conal Urquhart, was headlined “African asylum seekers injured in Tel Aviv race riots”. Only in the ninth paragraph (out of ten) did Urquhart get round to hinting – albeit very superficially – that there may actually be more sides to the story than pure ‘race riots’. 

“Some work illegally and the majority live in the poorest areas of Tel Aviv where they find themselves in competition with working class Israelis mostly from a Middle Eastern or north African background. The sparse greens and parks of south Tel Aviv are dominated by the African migrants who sleep there at night.

The second article dedicated by the Guardian to the subject was Seth Freedman’s polemic (addressed by Adam Levick here). Freedman also employed the term ‘race riots’ and referred to “the level of hate coursing through the veins of Israelis furious at the influx of non-Jewish Africans into their country”. His article closed with the warning that “Israeli opponents of such base racism must act now”: again presenting a one-dimensional view of the story. 

The third article on the subject published on the same day as the previous two came from Harriet Sherwood. It too focused exclusively upon the reprehensible acts of violence which took place and it too failed to provide any information on the broader context of the events or to examine the reasons why the residents of south Tel Aviv (the majority of whom did not participate in the violence) felt compelled to voice their opinions on the streets in the first place. 

But Israel is not the only country struggling with the effects of uncontrollable immigration and Tel Aviv was not the only place in which a demonstration turned violent this week. 

In Patras, Greece, local residents and supporters of the far-Right ‘Golden Dawn’ party – which gained considerable support in the recent Greek elections stormed a factory in which migrants were sheltering on two consecutive days after a local man was allegedly  stabbed and killed by an Afghani immigrant, resulting in clashes between demonstrators and police. 

The Guardian dedicated one article to these incidents. 

In that story there were no ‘race riots’ – instead there were “anti-immigrant protests”. No ‘asaGreek’ was summoned to chastise his countrymen for the “hate coursing through their veins” and nobody was accused of “base racism”. There were no dire warnings about the collapse of Greek democracy and nowhere was it implied that the Greek demonstrators (even those among them who support an extreme-right party) were motivated by a racism which infects their society as a whole. 

The sharp contrast between the style and volume of the Guardian’s reporting on two similar incidents which took place almost at the same time is an excellent indicator of the fact that when it comes to Israel, reporting the actual news is frequently of minor concern. Too often, it is the opportunity which that news may provide to advance an agenda which is seized at the detriment of providing Guardian readers with a ‘fair and balanced’ view of events.