This is cross posted from Jonathan Hoffman’s blog on the the JC website
The story so far: In last week’s JC, Professor Geoffrey Alderman revealed that Matt Seaton, editor of Guardian “Comment Is Free” (CIF), had given him a ‘gun at head’ ultimatum: choose between writing for CiFWatch (the brilliant forensic website that keeps tabs on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias on CIF) and CIF. In addition Alderman related that he was being premoderated by CIF (in CIFspeak “premoderating” is pretty much a synonym for “banning”). Further, he wrote “the fact is that the anti-Zionist contributions to CiF far outweigh the pro-Zionist ones”. Of the articles published on CIF he wrote “slowly but surely, CIF … has become a platform for the crudest propaganda that can only have been intended to foster a hatred of the Jewish state.“
Matt Seaton promptly demanded the “right of reply” in the JC. Quite why – when he has his own newspaper in which to “reply” – is unclear. It suggests an Editor who is profoundly unsure of his ground. Today his reply was published, but the JC gave Alderman the chance of a rejoinder.
Matt Seaton justified the premoderation by the risible claim that Professor Alderman had compared Palestinians to Nazis. A word of background: the comment in question was in the thread below an article by Seth Freedman on 22 January about the connection between Israel’s rescue work in Haiti and its alleged lack of concern for the Palestinians in Gaza. Alderman’s comment was deleted but in his rejoinder, he says that Seaton’s assertion is both “incorrect and mischievous”: he entered a debate on the balance between compassion for fellow human beings and the need to fight an enemy, arguing that “the fact that Nazis were human beings did not deter the wartime allies from destroying the Nazi state. I made an analogy, not a comparison”.
Professor Alderman writes “it strikes me now that the CIF team may simply not have understood this distinction”.
This is much too charitable. I have been monitoring antisemitism and anti-Israel bias on CIF for three years. In July 2008 I wrote the first analysis of this profoundly distasteful feature of The Guardian and submitted it to the UK Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism and the US State Department. When you post on CIF to try to correct the lies about Israel there, there is an unpleasant “cybermob” that will then twist your words, omitting context and key phrases and even alleging ‘Islamophobia’ where there is none (now known as the “Dizaei Strategy”).
So it is the voice of experience speaking when I say that this is precisely the technique that Matt Seaton is using in his claim about Alderman. How disappointing – but how telling an indication of editorial insecurity. When you dance with chimney-sweeps…
Now to CiFWatch. CiFWatch.com began its CIF-monitoring last August, building on my 2008 study. It has been extremely successful. It is widely cited across the blogosphere and I know that it is bookmarked by many. Matt Seaton has told me he reads it. Its articles regularly attract 50+ comments and some go over 100. I myself have written for it (cripes that means I am banned from CIF too: Alderman and I will just have to start a “salle de refusés”). The wonderful ‘IsraeliNurse’ writes for it as do AKUS and Mitnaged, both refugees from CIF. So good is CiFWatch that Seaton can find no substantive criticism. But he cannot come out and say the truth about why Alderman was given the “gun at head ultimatum“ – namely, that CIF editorial policy is to do everything possible to suppress voices that challenge the “CIF Israel view” – because that would be a bit close to denying ‘free speech’ (oh sod the faux politeness: It WOULD be denying free speech). So he has to resort to an ‘ad hominem’ (or whatever the accusative form is of the Latin for “website”): “CiFWatch is not an objective media monitoring organisation, but a site run by anonymous activists dedicated to representing CIF as anti-Jewish.”
Gulp. Talk about “argument by assertion”.
First compare Seaton’s verdict with Alderman’s: “The evidence for the demonisation of Israel on CIF is overwhelming. CiFWatch has meticulously calalogued it.” Of course Matt Seaton would accuse CiFWatch of not being “objective” but the fact is that he cannot find a single substantive criticism of it. As for “anonymous”: it is not true that the articles on CiFWatch are all ‘anonymous’. I – for one – post in my name. So did Professor Alderman. So do many others. Combating falsehoods about Israel and antisemitism can be a lonely, thankless task with adverse repercussions in some professions (eg teaching and parts of the media). That is presumably why many of the wonderful “activist” CiFWatchers choose to use aliases. The “About Us” page on CiFWatch.com explains more of their reasoning.
Finally Matt Seaton disputes Professor Alderman’s charge of editorial bias in the Israel-related articles that CIF publishes. There is no question that Alderman is right. In my own study I noted
“the history of CIF is that articles have been commissioned above all from writers to whom the Jewish character of Israel is either unimportant or undesirable, such as Inayat Bunglawala, Jimmy Carter, John Chalcraft, Mick Dumper, Seth Freedman, George Galloway,Tony Greenstein, Soumaya Ghannoushi, Ghada Karmi, Brian Klug, Seumas Milne, Karma Nabulsi, Avi Shlaim, Richard Silverstein, Jonathan Steele. (There are other contributers such as Petra Marquardt-Bigman, Daniel Levy and Jonathan Spyer who are committed to the Jewish State but they are very much in the minority).”
It is not just Professor Alderman and I who have noted editorial bias. Denis MacEoin more recently (March 2009) catalogued it in his terrific letter to one of the Guardian editors.
The Guardian has even given space to known supporters and even leaders of Hamas and Hizbollah.
Let’s look at the period since the start of December 2009. Looking at the articles on CIF in the categories “Israel” and Gaza”, I count 29 articles that are hostile to Israel or minimise or denigrate antisemitism (vide the debate on the film “Defamation”). They include well-known Israel-bashers such as Tony Lerman, Seth Freedman, Ben White, Seamus Milne, Daniel Machover, Jimmy Carter, Victoria Brittain, Nicholas Blincoe and Neve Gordon. There are 18 articles that are balanced. Not pro-Israel – balanced …. a “pro-Israel” article would have been one about the amazing work done by the Israelis in Haiti for example – without the forced comparison with the people who voted in the genocidal Hamas – or about the Israeli economic miracle as told in the new book “Start Up Nation”.
So 29 hostile, 18 balanced, 0 positive….
No, Matt Seaton. The evidence proves you wrong and Professor Alderman right on all three counts. “Methinks the Editor doth protest too much”.
Instead of tying yourself in knots trying to defend the indefensible, how about addressing the genuine concerns voiced by Professor Alderman, by CiFWatch, by Denis MacEoin, by me – and by countless others?