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.  

28 replies »

  1. You forgot to mention Iraq. Oh yes, the birth place of Judaism.
    Iraqi Jews are many in Israel.
    A third of Bagdad was Jewish in the 30’s.
    There are fewer than 200 in the whole of Iraq these days.

    • Painting Israel as a ‘white’ nation requires a lot of careful not knowing jack about the history of the Middle East.

    • “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’”

      Wasn’t the Israeli Black Panther movement launched by “Jews of color” precisely to denounced discrimination in Israel?

      • As usual from you Nat, when one makes a much wider point , you seek to demolish it by raising another in a totally different context. Firstly, Adam is not saying that there was,is will be no racism in Israel. There clearly is, even from people who are elected. That is not his point. Overall policy to include people from many backgrounds into Israeli society has long been an Israeli, phenomenon. The result is that Israel is a multi-ethnic, multi religious and multi-national. The Guardian is adept in portraying Israel very much differently to what it is and overall it is untrue.

        Were the riots in Tottenham indicative of what Britain has become? I don’t think that event defines British society. The Black Panther movement was symptomatic of conditions at a particular time. Tent city in Tel-Aviv is symptomatic of other issues and so on.

    • Mister Levick’s assertion that Sudanese asylum seekers came to Israel only after being violently beaten up by the Egyptian police in Cairo is completely inaccurate.

      I once worked in Egypt and can say that Sudanese refugees wanted to reach Israel well before this event, for a simple reason: you earn much more money in Israel than in Egypt, and rumor has it that once in Israel migrants can reach Europemore easily than from Egypt.

  2. Thanks, the list wasn’t meant to be complete. But, I just included Iraq. Many thanks.

  3. What also needs to be mentioned in this particular context is that in 2005 (?) the Cairo police killed +/-20 Sudanese refugees in their camp in downtown Cairo. As I remember even women and children were murdered during a police op to “clear” a tent hamlet set up by the refugees while being held in limbo in Egypt. It was after this massacre in the heart of Cairo by state authorities that the refugees started to appear in Israel. On the way of course they are fleeced, raped and murdered by various Egyptian groups. ( still waiting for Lisa Goldman of +972 fame to do a 16 page story on this. )
    IMO the powers in Cairo deliberately redirect the tens of thousands of refugees towards Israel as a weapon. As we can see the press takes the bait and runs with it.
    An interesting questions nobody asks is how these poor refugees travel through the huge country of Egypt covering hundreds of kilometers ( on foot and public transport ) without being detected? This in a country that is overladen with police and secret police who spend most of their time hunting Jews or performing virginity test’s on the local females. Never mind the obligatory road blocks and travel document inspections which I myself have been subjected to including being asked three times if I were Israeli? I sincerely doubt that one can walk/drive through the Sinai undetected. Especially as a Black African who will be easily ID’d on sight anywhere in the country.

    The entire refugee flow dynamic needs to be looked at from it’s origins in Sudan ( Muslim’s committing genocide in Darfur ) to Ethiopia and Eritrea. One would think that in Egypt’s vast land mass the UNHCR and NGO’s could set up camps that are adequately managed ( as was the case for Libyan refugee’s recently ) and save these poor soul’s from traveling thousands of km’s to the centre of Tel Aviv.

    • I wouldn’t say it’s the “birthplace of Judaism” but it WAS the location where the Bavli Talmud was written.

    • pretzelberg
      Sherwood is antisemitic? Oh please.

      The evidence has been presented and an explaination given.

      What is you alternative hypothesis?

    • Pretz. The difference is obvious. The writer is an Israeli citizen – his wife is not. Every country in the World imposes more restrictions on non-citizens wishing to enter than on its own citizens. Why on Earth should Israel be any different? And before you cry racism – I tried travelling to Israel with a six-foot, blonde, blue-eyed girl from Prague. She was detained, searched and interrogated. They tried to make me fly without her but I refused. This is called security – not racism.

      If the writer’s wife had been an Arab Israeli, she could have flown, lived, worked, voted with her husband freely and unencumbered by the state.

      What does that sound like? Sounds like a free society to me.

      • Great response to Pretz.

        Pretz. Israel is sensitive about security and preventing a Muslim conquest of Israel by stealth. You know as I do that all the inflated examples of perceived Israeli apartheid dragged up by the radical left in support of racist Muslims are simply security concerns and not racially motivated per see. Certainly not as an Arab converting to Judaism becomes Israeli just as a blond Swede converting to Judaism becomes Israeli (Assuming of course, that the conversion is Orthodox – cough).

        There are however some really horrific examples of racism in Israel which includes the Miri Regev comment about ‘cancer’. She is a disgrace but, she is not all of Israel.

        If you called it religious discrimination, there is some base but however I feel about discrimination whatever, Israel needs to defend itself against Muslims trying to return Israel to the Muslim Ummah. If not by failed force of arms, then by stealth using liberal democracy for a very non liberal purpose.

        • Great response to Pretz.

          Although yours was even better, may I add.

          That said, however, the West Bank settlements and preferential treatment to one group there are hardly about security – which was actually my main point.

      • And what does this sound like, eh?

        “Meanwhile on Sunday, Israeli daily Maariv published an interview with Interior Minister Eli Yishai, in which he stated that most of the “Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man.”

        “I will continue the struggle until the end of my term, with no compramises,” Yishai continued, stating that he would use “all the tools to expel the foreigners, until not one infiltrator remains.”


        • Disgust begets disgust. This quotation is being taken up with glee by white supremacist sites whose filthy ideology is anathema to all. Israeli politicians have lost the plot.

    • Pretzelberg says: “Jews resident in the West Bank fly in to Ben Gurion airport. Arabs living there may not. What does that sound like.”

      It sounds like Pretzelberg (and the NYT) being very partisan! It is perhaps worth remembering, that up until the Second Intifada, Arabs from the territories were given permits to cross into Israel daily. The fact that it became increasingly obvious, that without putting up restrictions the daily bloody news from Israel of massacred civilians was not going to change. The Oslo Agreements 1993 and 1995 were looking increasingly unlikely to result in any settlement soon after a history of bloody violence.

      Of course restrictions are going to and continue to result in hardships and israel’s detractors are hell bent to highlight them but to conveniently ignore the predominant causes. It has not gone unnoticed that legal arguments over sovreignty to the territories have been sidelined in favour of humanitarian legal arguments whereby more political capital can be gained in the Arab’s continued efforts to delegitemise Israel through yet other lawfare means. The NYT and you pretzy simply propogate that viewpoint here having swallowed this narrative uncritically.

    • “Jews resident in the West Bank fly in to Ben Gurion airport. Arabs living there may not. What does that sound like?”
      It sounds to me like a facile attempt to impart a racist motivation by the authorities, i.e., one that doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny.

    • If I understand, the issue is that the gentleman’s wife is not an Israeli citizen. Whether marrying him should give her that status is another issue–I tend to think so–but your phrasing suggests that the distinction is being made not on nationality but on ethnicity. Am I wrong to assume her husband could fly into Ben Gurion if he were traveling alone?

  4. Not surprised to see Sherwood lie again.

    In a race riot in Israel, the police try and protect the minorities. In an Egyptian one, the police try to kill them.

    • The Israeli Minister of Interior has just declared that the land belonged to “the white man”. How come the guy was not immediately dismissed?

  5. ‘They don’t like black or dark-skinned men’ in Israel writes Sherwood.
    This ignorant person is a professional British journalist? –
    Sherwood and co., why persecutest thou Israel, apart from the money?

    International politics, I predict, will very soon have this Balaam’s ass of a woman – along with her employers – change her tune.

    • “Sherwood and co., why persecutest thou Israel, apart from the money?”
      Answer: Ideology.

    • ‘They don’t like black or dark-skinned men’ in Israel writes Sherwood.

      She was quoting an individual.

      Remember the mass coverage of Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t like black people”? Those were his words – not those of the journalists covering the story.

    • Well Fairplay, last week on CNN I was footage of Israelis living in the south of Tel Aviv and calling to lynch all black people living around, and the worst is that there were also Israeli ministers saying these migrants should be round up and deported, a terminology which reminded me of Europe in the 40s. It’s very sad to see Israelis, most of whom are generous and tolerant, have their reputation tainted by such extremists.

  6. And you are justifying her habit of being economical with the truth.
    The words of one individual, in Israel or on the Web, are insignificant.