Peter Beaumont’s absurd political analogy regarding Israel and ‘Prisoner X’

Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor at the Observer (sister publication of the Guardian), has already authored, or co-authored, six separate reports (totaling over 5000 words) in less than two days at the Guardian on the row over ‘Prisoner X’.

part 1

part 2

Prisoner X is believed to have been a Mossad agent (reportedly an Australian Israeli dual citizen named Ben Zygier) jailed by Israel because he was about to reveal Mossad secrets to Australian authorities or the media.  He reportedly committed suicide in his cell in 2010.

Due to the secrecy involved in any alleged spy case, there is a relative dearth of verifiable facts regarding Prisoner X’s background and incarceration.  However the absence of such information hasn’t prevented Beaumont from advancing the desired Guardian narrative regarding alleged Israeli violations of human rights and international legal norms.

Though the Observer is supposedly the more moderate of the two Guardian Group publications, Beaumont’s framing of the spy row has included one particularly hysterical political analogy, casually leveled without even an attempt to support its validity.

One of Beaumont’s reports from Feb. 14 includes the following passage:

“The latest revelations come amid a growing outcry over the case in Israel, with some comparing the treatment of Zygier to that meted out in the Soviet Union or Argentina and Chile under their military dictatorships.”

Naturally, Beaumont doesn’t inform us who specifically is making such a comparison, and even a cursory look at the judicial process, and the rights afforded Prisoner X, makes a mockery of the charge.

First, the prisoner’s incarceration was supervised by the Israeli judiciary, the original arrest warrant was issued by the authorized court, and the proceedings were overseen by the most senior Justice Ministry officials. We also now know that Prisoner X was legally represented by a top Israeli lawyer who reported, after meeting with his client, that he was in good health, was considering a plea bargain and didn’t appear to have been mistreated.

After the prisoner was found dead in his cell roughly two years ago, the President of the Rishon Lezion Magistrates Court held a coroner’s inquest into the cause of death and, though it was determined that suicide was the cause, “the Presiding Judge sent the file to the State Attorney’s Office for an evaluation regarding issues of [possible] negligence” by prison authorities.  

Further, the prisoner’s family was notified during the course of his incarceration, and Australian officials knew of the proceedings.

Though Prisoner X likely represented a serious security risk for Israel, he was afforded due process in a manner which certainly seems consistent with democratic norms.

To evoke a comparison with the USSR – where, for instance, several million Soviet “enemies of the state” died (due to overwork, starvation, torture or summary executions) after being sent, without trial, to Gulag camps spread out across the entire country – is beyond parody.

Indeed, it’s likely that the true identity of Beaumont’s unnamed commentators comparing Israel’s handling of the spy case to that of the most repressive totalitarian regimes of the 20th century will prove to be far more elusive and mysterious than the identity of Prisoner X himself.

Britons warned to respect Yom Kippur when visiting Israel this October

The Guardian, in a story about Israel that I simply can’t defend, recently noted:

UK’s Foreign Office has warned Britons holidaying in Israel this Fall that eating in public during Yom Kippur, or conspicuously violating the laws of Shabbat in religious neighborhoods, could land a fine, or imprisonment for repeat offenders. The new guidance says “failure to comply” with local customs “could result in arrest” and that “discretion should be exercised” even in the case of children over 13, pregnant women and nursing mothers. Israeli police have said that non-Jews will receive one warning before arrest.

The Foreign Office advice reads:

“Do not eat in public during the Jewish fast day (including in your car). This is considered highly disrespectful.”

“The majority of eating and drinking establishments will be closed, but you can find some coffee houses with screens that are intended to allow people to eat during the daytime away from public view.”

Its “British Behaviour Abroad” report, based on consular statistics, found that of the 20 countries in the world with the largest British expatriate populations, Britons were more likely to be arrested in Israel than in any other country covered in the report except Thailand.

This is largely because the Israeli laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK,” said the Foreign Office. Last month a British woman living in Jerusalem was fined 350 Shekels – around $100 – for insulting Zionism.

Sean Tipton, from the Association of British Travel Agents, recommended that holidaymakers study the Foreign Office advice.

He said:

“In addition, we will be reminding ABTA members who sell trips to Israel to signpost their customers to this information. However, whilst we fully understand and appreciate the importance of the Jewish high holy days, we would strongly recommend that the Israeli authorities practise these enforcement measures with a degree of sensitivity and discretion so as to avoid causing unwarranted distress to foreign visitors and the risk of significant damage to their tourist industry.”

Major hotels in Israel are also working to help their guests stay within the law. The Jerusalem Tourism board is issuing a new booklet “to communicate to non-Jewish guests the etiquette surrounding such an important religious time”. 

Finally, I neglected a couple of important facts about the Guardian report.  First, the country which the UK Foreign Office issued a warning about was Dubai, and not Israel. Second, the holiday which visitors can be arrested is not Yom Kippur, but the month-long Muslim Holiday of Ramadan. Oh, and of course the Brit mentioned, who was issued the fine, per a previous passage was penalized, not for insulting Zionism, but for insulting Islam on Facebook.

As I was reading that Brits could face arrest, fine and/or imprisonment for violating Muslim religious laws, I was imagining the CiF headlines if such intolerance were suddenly codified in Israel.  

New Israeli laws forcing non-Jews to abide by Jewish rituals signifies a growing tide of religious fascism in the country.

Or

New Israeli laws constraining freedom of religious expression,  the latest in a series of outrageously discriminatory and exclusionary laws enacted over the past year.”

“Human Rights NGOs issue urgent statements condemning new Israeli laws a violation of fundamental human rights, and another in a serious of bills eroding the countries religious tolerance.”

We’d also no doubt have a perfunctory photo of a menacing looking Orthodox Jew, or a quite scary looking Israeli leader to illustrate the malevolence of the prohibitions  - such as this photo of Bibi which accompanied in one of Harriet Sherwood’s hysterical warnings over recent anti-BDS legislation (and that simply chilling rule requiring kindergarten students to sing the national anthem once a week).

Instead, the 500 word report, (filed under the category of UK News) by Guardian’s religious correspondent, , reports the story quite matter-of-factly, as if she was reporting on a warning by Dubai authorities to take precautions in light of the emirate’s extreme Summer heat.  

Indeed, the Guardian report also includes this professional, quite stunning, photo which could have been provided by the Dubai Tourism Board.

Moreover, is there really any doubt that this will be the last report on Dubai’s culture of intolerance?  

No, unlike such stories about Israel, which would likely be reported continually and include straight news stories covering every considerable negative angle of the bill, and CiF commentaries with hyperbolic warnings about Israel’s descent into totalitarianism, Butt’s report likely will represent the last such dispatch on the quite audacious and seemingly illiberal requirement that non-Muslims abide by Muslim laws.

And, whatever gives CiF Watch the nutty idea that the Guardian employs egregious double standards when reporting on the Middle East?