The racism of no expectations: The Guardian’s coverage of the Palestinians (A six month review)

Who are the Palestinians?

If Israelis represent the most obsessively and disproportionately covered national group on the pages of the Guardian, the Palestinians represent their antithesis.

While every conceivable flaw in Israeli society is reported ad nauseam in the news section (and ‘Comment is Free’) there is an egregious dearth of critical coverage of Palestinian politics, culture and society.  Instead, the familiar facile moral binarism, which posits Palestinians as victims of Israeli villainy, overwhelmingly frames the coverage.

The questions which are almost never asked by Guardian reporters and commentators include:

  • What is the Palestinians’ guiding moral ethos? 
  • Which political principles and traditions would inform a future Palestinian state? 
  • If the Palestinians achieve political independence, how will they treat their citizens? Will the state be truly democratic? What rights will be guaranteed for political, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities?

The last six months of coverage of Palestinian society by the Guardian (consistent, it seems, with coverage prior to the period under examination) provides almost no insight into these vital questions.

In short, the Guardian’s Palestinians are abstractions (void of any flaws, nuance or complexity) and protagonists – morally juxtaposed with their Israeli antagonists.  The Palestinians never act. They are always acted upon.

The Palestinian page of the Guardian, in 183 stories and commentaries going back six months, from November 22nd 2011 to May 21st 2012, reveals a few patterns:

  • Most stories on the ‘Palestinian’ page are merely cross posted from the ‘Israel’ page, and often have little to do with Palestinians, their society, or government. This is especially curious in light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians are governed by Palestinians: all of Gaza, and in Areas A (civilly and militarily) and B (civilly) of the West Bank.
  • The number of stories or commentaries devoted to critiquing or analyzing government policies in Gaza or the PA: 7 out of 183  (here,  here, here, here, here, here, here)
  • Number of stories focused on acts or attempted acts of terrorism against Israelis: 0 out of 183  (In fairness, there were several stories reporting on the barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza in March, but none were framed as terrorists attacks against Israeli civilians as such, and all emphasized Israel’s retaliatory attacks and the resulting Palestinian casualties.)

In addition to the Guardian’s institutional hostility to Israel, while contextualizing the Guardian over the last two years – and consistent with the results of this review – I have often been struck by their reporters’ stunning lack of intellectual curiosity concerning the actual values, mores, politics, culture, and ethics of living, breathing Palestinians.

The corollary of this professional abdication (their cognitive blind spot) is that such journalists often completely fail to assign to the people living in the Palestinians territories the moral agency generally associated with those deemed as genuine equals.

A more exquisite expression of racism would be difficult to find. 

(Note: Here are screen shots of all the headlines, with story captions, in the six-month period covered in this report.)

18 replies »

  1. Very researched article.

    If only the Guardian had journalists that do their home work rather than print every second “hear say” coming their way.

  2. After years of analysis it is clear to me that Israel’s foes and their supporters have hit on a very deliberate, effective but simple propaganda approach to undermine Israel in the eyes of the world. It is one that is exemplified in this article. It is to always, always, always focus on the negative aspects in any situation regarding Israel and never say anything that can be construed as positive. Conversely, when it comes to the Palestinians (or in this context, any foe of Israel) just do the opposite.

    • Norman, there is also the use of the Big Lie which, if repeated often enough to a target audience which is hardly cutting edge intellectually, becomes a specious “truth”. The Guardian is expert at this.

      Adam, I doubt that any Guardian journalist would be intelligent enough to ask and answer honestly the questions you pose above.

      For there would be little or no moral ethos underpinning a Palestinian state because the energies of its leaders are taken up with corruption and keeping their people down, and the people themselves are frozen in belligerent self-pity, aided and abetted by their useful idiot sympathisers around the world. They have no incentive for change. As they see it there is a lot to be gained, and not only in the billions wasted on them in aid, by being perpetual victims and hating rather than thinking about how they might improve their lot and working and collaborating in order to do that.

      The political principles and traditions of any Palestinian state would be little different from any other Islamist one. The leaders would leech off their people so “principle” is hardly the correct word. The traditions would be Islamist because their energies would still be ploughed into destroying the Jewish state which, they believe belongs to the Muslim waqf and must be reclaimed for Islam. This obsession is not due only to Jew-hatred per se, it is also about the shame of defeat brought about by Jewish power and might and, yes, good sense and intelligence.

      And as for “If the Palestinians achieve political independence, how will they treat their citizens? Will the state be truly democratic? What rights will be guaranteed for political, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities?”

      It would depend what you mean by “democratic.” Any Palestinian state would be an Islamist one, and Islamism is opposed to secular democracy as we see it. Women would be treated as they are elsewhere in the Muslim world. And the last sentence above is a no-brainer really – although there homosexuality, for example, is widespread throughout the Arab/Muslim world, you can bet your boots that gays, religious and ethnic minorities (if they ever survive, that is), and political opponents will be silenced.

      A good article.

      • As you all know, I am a general supporter of the work this site does, and I agree in principle with this article (I have no love for the Guardian), but for one point: I don’t actually think it is critical to ask what the political and social characteristics of a proposed Palestinian state would be. I think this is an informative question, and one the Guardian should be asking itself and its readers, but not a critical one.

        Let me explain. I am assuming that a two-state solution is the preferred end-point here. If we (by “we” I mean supporters of Israel and her right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people) argue that the Palestinians should only be allowed their state if they promise to be kind, sensitive and liberal in their outlook, we leave ourselves open to the counter-proposal that Jews should only be allowed to self-determine as long as we are kind and nice and liberal within our own borders.

        Let me make it clear that I don’t believe all the stupidity about Israel being an “apartheid state” or being guilty of “ethnic cleansing” etc. On the contrary, I am hugely proud of Israel’s human rights record, and the openness and vitality of her democracy given the huge pressures she has been under for every day of her existence. But I can’t deny that, rightly or wrongly, important elements of the “international community” sees things differently. The UN and EU, in particular, seem convinced that Israel is at the very least on the wrong track, and at the very most, guilty of all sorts of heinous war crimes.

        Now I don’t want Israel’s right to exist to come into question on the basis of any moral judgment about her ethical and moral values. As ever, it is important to keep a distinction between criticism of the decisions and policies of a given Israeli government and criticism of the existence of Israel herself and I think it is important to stress that we – the Jewish people – have the inalienable right to self-determination in our land, whatever the policies or alleged mis-deeds of any given government.

        Similarly, I don’t see that the rights (or wrongs) of the Palestinians’ claim to self-determination should hinge on what they decide to do to each other should they eventually gain statehood. Of course, Israel (and her supporters) are absolutely entitled to demand some guarantees as to the potential state’s foreign policy, but not as to its internal policy.

        I hope you all take this in the spirit in which it is intended – as a constructive point for discussion, not as a rant against CiFW, nor against Israel. Please hold off from voting “very poor” until you have considered what I am trying to say.


        • Thanks for your reply. I completely understand and respect your point.

          However, I do think that how the Palestinians treat each other, and how they govern themselves, is necessarily connected to the question of whether they (in the event of a sovereign Palestinian state) will truly decide to live in peace with their neighboring Jewish state.

          The failure of Oslo and the withdrawal from Gaza were both due to the failure to realize that peace can’t be imposed from above.

          Until the Palestinians nurture a truly liberal culture and political ethos, peace will continue to be merely a chimera.

          • Thanks Adam. I see where you’re coming from – and I too doubt that the current leaders of the Palestinians have anything other than a desire to subsume all of Israel within a new Palestine – but I find it difficult to prescribe a particular set of social policies that must be followed in order to be considered a peace partner.

            Sadat was no liberal democrat, but he proved to be perhaps one of Israel’s best partners in peace ever to exist in the Arab world (to date).

              • Well you know until and until and until and until…..there can be no settlement, we just have to manage the situation until we have taken all the land we want, and well then maybe………

        • Gooner, yours is a thought provoking reply.

          However, I disagree with you about the importance of asking what might be the political and social characteristics of a Palestinian state might be. It could not exist in isolation and its political stance and its treatment of all its people could affect its relationships with its neighbours.

          If, as in my dream world, a state at least of non-belligerence would exist between a new Palestinian state and Israel, the new state would depend heavily on support from her neighbour. What would/should Israel’s moral stance be in relation to an Islamist state, however non-belligerent, which treats its women like chattels and gays and minorities as untermenschen?

          I agree with you that how Palestinians treat each other would be none of Israel’s business in such a scenario, but I believe that it’d a short step indeed to treating their new ally in exactly as they treat their own minorities.

        • GoonerEll can I suggest, if you haven’t already, that you read two books by Paul Collier. “Wars, Guns and Votes” and “The Bottom Billions”.
          In them you will read sound and logical reasons why , what you refer to as internal policy, does have a detrimental effect on the region that a failed state is in. It is not only the failed states citizens that suffer, but citizens in neighbouring countries as well.

  3. I’ve just noticed again the headline that Iceland recognises the Palestinian state.

    Perhaps there’s a (false) hope on the part of Iceland that the Pals will lend them some billions they receive in world aid in return for recognition of statehood.

  4. Given the huge coverage of I/P at the G., more – critical – articles about Palestinian politics would indeed be welcome.

  5. Cifwatch explained it best when describing Sherwood’s reporting on the Munich massacre in 72.

    Sherwood writes:

    “The Munich attack began in the early hours of 5 September 1972, when eight members of the Palestinian military organisation Black September infiltrated the Olympic village, and took 11 members of the Israeli team hostage. The attackers demanded the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners in return for the hostages’ release.

    By just after midnight, all 11 athletes, five attackers and a German police officer were dead.” [emphasis added]

    By midnight, they were dead. Not “killed“ but “dead“. Sherwood fails to distinguish between victim and perpetrator, and offers no further explanation about how the Israeli hostages lost their lives.

    In fact, the Israeli athletes were murdered brutally and quite deliberately by Palestinian Black September terrorists.