The journalistic abdication: While fire continues to ravage Israel, Guardian Israel correspondents are AWOL

At the time of this post, fires were still raging in the following Israeli towns: Bet Oren, the area between Ussafiya and Hik Creek, the Bar-Chai wildlife reserve, Nir Etzion, and Ein Hod. Ground and air units were tackling the blazes, but officials were saying that efforts to put out the Carmel fires will likely last another week.  Ten-thousand acres (40,000 dunams) have burned so far in the fire that killed 41 people and left many others injured.  PM Netanyahu is still calling world leaders seeking more firefighting planes – as the severity of the fire is well beyond the capacity of the small nation to handle it.

The Guardian’s lack of coverage on the fire, which Prime Minister Netanyahu has described as “catastrophic”, is quite glaring.

Harriet Sherwood, the paper’s Jerusalem Correspondent, who apparently is just across the border in Egypt, has filed two stories since the blaze began – one on what she characterizes as the anti-Arab racism of “extremist” rabbis in Safed, and another about shark attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Guardian’s Rachel Shabi is also, quite notably, missing in action.

Further, the Guardian made the editorial decision to publish  a piece today about (British Labour Party Shadow Foreign Secretary) Yvette Cooper’s remarks that the UK should step up pressure on Israel to stop building “illegal” settlements in the West Bank by pressing for greater Europe-wide labeling of food exported from the “occupied territories”.  Cooper called on the government to persuade the EU to introduce labelling that would identify goods produced by Israeli settlers.

The paper’s entire coverage of the crisis has consisted of two pieces – one perfunctory dispatch from correspondent, Haroon Siddique, based in London, and an AP piece they ran entitled, “Israel Forest Fire: European fire fighting planes fly in to help.”

The AP piece, despite its innocuous sounding title, clearly had another agenda.  The story pivoted from a straight news story to critical polemic at this paragraph, which followed a passage commenting on Israel’s inability to contain the blaze without outside assistance:

“The sense of helplessness prompted outrage among Israelis”

Of course, its less than clear what the basis is for such a claim.  The stories coming from the Israeli media are focused quite naturally on the fire, and on concerns by those who live, or have friends or family, in or near the effected regions.

But, it continues:

“Aluf Benn, a columnist for the Haaretz daily, said the country’s inability to control the flames proved it was not ready for a massive attack by the likes of Iran. He compared the fire to the fiasco of 1973, when Israel was caught off guard by a surprise military attack from Egypt and Syria.”

The piece then ends on an especially ugly note:

“Maariv columnist Ben Caspit noted that a country that carries out chilling military operations, leads the world in hi-tech and whose powerful economy emerged unscathed from the global crisis, is also the country “whose fire-trucks date back to the previous century, and a country that therefore finds itself caught, standing before the flames, with its pants down”.

The Guardian’s Schadenfreude in citing Caspit’s last phrase is simply palpable. While it’s not surprising that a columnist for Ha’aretz would provide such a quote, there is no evidence presented that anyone outside of the Israeli journalistic elite shares his view.

While, of course, Israel will, after the blaze is brought under control, assess its fire fighting capacity and attempt to make necessary improvements, the nation’s priorities right now consist of bringing the fire under control, protecting communities in its path, and housing those displaced by the blaze.

Glaringly absent from their coverage are the kind of human interest stories they excel at regarding Palestinian suffering.  Where are the stories on location near the path on the blaze?  Where are interviews with victims – those displaced as a result of the fire, as well as the family and friends of those killed?  Also missing are stories of how the settler communities are offering to house and feed families of those displaced by the blaze.

The world’s leading liberal voice has an ideological tick which seems to render them simply unable to cast Israel as anything other than a Goliath inflicting harm on vulnerable populations or as a giant with “its pants down” – a political myopia on full display in their coverage (or, rather, lack of coverage) of the worst fire in the Jewish state’s history.

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12 replies »

  1. The explanation for all this is simple, and is the reason for CiF Watch – the Guardian is the most anti-Israel English language newspaper in the world. Al-Jazeera (in English, at least) is far more objective in reporting about the middle east.

  2. Adam Levick:
    You are quite wrong to downplay the public mood of frustration and yes, anger, at the administrative and organizational failures of the Fire Brigade Service as revealed by this fire. Virtually every news discussion on all Israeli TV channels, involving not just journalists but professionals and even government ministers, deals with the problem, ranging from the chronic under-funding and under-manning to the failure to have sufficient stockpiles of chemical to inhibit the blaze to the total absence of even one giant sea-water scoop for use by a helicopter. To his credit, the Prime Minister took charge and was instrumental in getting foreign aid quickly on the scene, but his actions, and the heroic efforts of the firefighters were too late to prevent death and damage.

    Many citizens are asking why such an essential service was neglected and tossed pittances in every budget, while vast sums of money were lavished on sacred cows, like settlements, yeshivot and expensive new toys for the armed forces. But then, it seems to have been so for many years. I recall complaints that the IDF could afford the most up-to-date weaponry but apparently had no money for knives and forks in the canteens or special protective clothing for those on security patrols in below-freezing temperatures.

    There will almost certainly be a full enquiry and some heads may even roll. The pity is, that it always requires a tragedy to stir government institutions to get their act together.

  3. not surprising that a columnist for Ha’aretz would provide such a quote,

    The report says he is a Ma’ariv columnist.

  4. Abtalyon – as the old saying goes, there’s a time and a place for everything.

    My feeling is that whilst fire-fighters are still battling the blaze, efforts are better concentrated on the job at hand rather than ‘trial by media’, particularly when some of that trial is obviously a means of padding out extended broadcast time.

    No doubt there will be investigation after the event is over and conclusions will be reached.

    It’s also worth remembering that other Western countries have also encountered difficulties and similar criticisms of their organisation and level of preparedness during disasters – for example the British failure to deal properly with flooding year after year.

    The difference is that in Israel criticism is always far more vocal and public – a combined result of a very free media and 7 million people who are each convinced that they could run the country/army/police/fire-fighters/emergency services better.

    Unfortunately, the foreign media usually does not take into account that aspect of Israeli society, which is probably understandable considering that they come from a mindset in which Gordon Brown received rave reviews in the press just for saying a few sympathetic words on TV to homeless flood victims, many of whom were still homeless a year later.

    That,at least, will not happen in Israel.

  5. IsraeliNurse has judged the situation fairly. The way people talk is the way people always talk in Israel.

    To Israel’s credit is the fact that changes are made when policies are shown to be so grievously lacking. This is a wake-up call preventing even worse future outcomes.

  6. Israelinurse- you are correct; there is a time and a place for everything and in this instance, the time and place coudn’t be more significant for us Israelis.

    The most worrying problem to have emerged from this sorry affair is the exposure to our enemies that they don’t need sophisticated missiles with complicated warheads- good old-fashioned incendiary material is quite sufficient to turn the whole country into a one giant, uncontrollable blaze.

    Instead of agreeing to an additional 3 month freeze on settlement building in exchange for 20 B35 bombers from the USA, Netanyahu and Barak should be negotiating for massive supplies of fire-fighting equipment, including scoops and possibly just one 747 capable of delivering 90000 litres of water.

    I shall counter your platitude with two others:
    1. no time like the present.
    2. strike while the iron is hot- in this instance, literally!

  7. Abtalyon if your message to strike while the iron is hot was meant for our enemies, they were as usual, too muddle-headed and probably enjoying our discomfiture too much to strike.

    After this there will be proper fire-fighting equipment I’m sure.

    Apparently the best equipment couldn’t have stopped this turning into a 4 alarm fire – a combination of extremely dry weather and unfavourable hamsin winds blowing in the wrong direction all taking advantage of some silly & careless behaviour by two schoolboys.

  8. Forest fires are extremely difficult to control, it’s a lot more than just equipment and chemicals, its terrain, wind and weather(things beyond human control). In the States 1000’s upon 1000’s of acres can burn in the West before a fire is brought under control(and we’ve got equipment, chemicals and manpower). Fires go on for months, some uncontrolled.

    Sometimes fires are started to try to control fires. (burn away the potential fuel) These fires sometimes go out of control. In California homes have swimming pools with water that doubles to wet down their houses as protection against flying cinders which can cause additional fires. Mother Nature is the fiercest adversary of them all, she doesn’t always cooperate despite our most valiant efforts…..

    Israeli’s should not be too hard on themselves. Better preparations, equipment, chemicals may be required, but fire is still fire—unpredictable.

  9. Gerald Kreeve:
    I’m afraid the days when our enemies were more incompetent than ourselves have passed. Lately, they have all been too busy trying to hold on to power and did not exploit our vulnerability.

    The Marker reports that as far back as 1998 the Ginossar Committee recommended recruiting 600 firemen at an annual cost of NIS 120000, i.e.
    for a total cost of NIS 72 million, a paltry sum then and now, paling into insignificance in comparison with what has been spent on far less essential causes and projects. The NIS 100 million that Eli Yishai boasts at having squeezed out of the Finance Ministry has yet to be spent as it was obtained on condition that the Fire Service underwent organizational reforms.

    Jane Schlitz:
    I do not accept your fatalistic approach. When the fire had just started and was confined to a small area near its origin, a thorough dowsing from the air would have contained then stopped the fire from spreading.

  10. Jane Schlitz:

    You should be aware that there have been many investigations and reports in the last several decades criticising the fire-fighting situation and recommending an increase in the manpower and the purchase of new equipment. All of these reports and recommendations have been ignored by the government. The firemen went on strike last year – only demanding such improvements.

    At the same time we read that of the grants the government allocates to cultural, educational and charitable organisations, 53% – over 1 billion NIS – go to yeshivas, to help keep tens of thousands out of the work force. This is in addition to the billions that subsidize Haredi housing, health services, religious institutions, etc – all at the taxpayers expense. THERE ARE NEVER ANY CUTBACKS IN THESE GRANTS AND SUBSIDIES, no matter what the economic situation is. Add to that the billions spent every year to support and protect the isolated caravans scattered in the West Bank.

    You also don’t realize that fire-fighting is not an isolated case: we have been hearing for years that the flight-control equipment at Ben-Gurion airport is antiquated and dangerous, yet nothing is done. Every year there is at least one near accident and the FAA has downgraded the country’s air safety rating.

    But of course any air disaster will be an’act of God’, punishment for the sins of the secular, so why bother buying new equipment ?

  11. MTC, Abatylon

    I do not subscribe to Gods will, punishment bullsh*t. I have a healthy respect for fire and accept that nature can be more powerful than man. Faith has nothing to do with it. I know people who have actually had to fight fires. They have seen fires jump the line, planes unable to fly, controlled burns burning out of control, small fires ending up more threatening than expected, explosions. What I am saying is that even with everything as it should have been there are still no guarantees….. Fires have their own agenda.

    That being said….

    Israelis should fix what needs to be fixed, do what needs to be done no questions, Unfortunately its sounds like politics as usual only with an Israeli cast of characters.. and maybe now it will be addressed because something bad always has to happen first before action is taken.

    From what you tell me MTC, it’s time for the government (maybe some of the public too?—is it a cultural issue?) to start better funding and valuing their Firefighters and re allocating resources instead of the continuing Orthodox drain of resources…..but my initial comment was emphasizing the power of fire against our best efforts.

  12. The Guardian’s Schadenfreude in citing Caspit’s last phrase is simply palpable.

    Is it really? I think not. It’d be like accusing IsraeliNurse’s reference above to “the British failure to deal properly with flooding year after year” as being a gloating one – an assumption I would likewise disagree with.

    In any case: the Guardian itself didn’t “cite” anybody.