Journalists increasingly insists that their role is not to report fairly and accurately irrespective of their personal political beliefs, but rather to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the powerful’ – in a sense, showing solidarity with those perceived to be powerless and “aggrieved”.
The Palestinians are of course the immutably ‘aggrieved’ party within the media’s Israeli-Palestinian tale.
In this mix, not only do many foreign journalists covering the region feel it is their moral duty to report events though the lens of the Palestinian (victim) narrative, but that they must obfuscate evidence of Palestinian racism, intolerance and extremism.
The Guardian’s coverage of the row over London Mayor Boris Johnson’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories – particularly the manner in which their Jerusalem correspondent covered two incidents surrounding his trip – provides a perfect example of such advocacy journalism.
The first incident we’re focusing upon involves outright discrimination by a Palestinian NGO (Palestine Business Women’s Forum) which was to host the mayor. As the The Jewish Chronicle (The JC) reported, Noga Tarnopolsky, a Jewish Israeli reporter for The JC covering Johnson’s visit, was banned from attending the NGO’s meeting with the mayor simply because she’s Israeli.
Tim Shipman, political editor of the Sunday Times, who was also covering Johnson’s trip, put it well:
“As far as I’m concerned, journalists are citizens of the world and to prevent any reporter from doing their job in an impartial and independent fashion, whatever their nationality, is absurd.”
The second incident involves the subsequent decision by two Palestinian NGOs, including Palestine Business Women’s Forum, to cancel meetings with Johnson due to statements he made on the trip critical of BDS. Johnson’s anti-BDS views caused such an uproar that he was reportedly told that, based on threats of violence against him on social media, his security could be at risk if he went ahead with the meetings.
To sum up: Palestinians violated two fundamental principles of political freedom:
- They denied access to a journalist due to her nationality and/or religious background.
- They responded to Johnson’s contrary political views not by engaging in an argument with him, but by dis-inviting him and creating an atmosphere whereby his physical safety couldn’t be guaranteed.
So, how did the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont – who presumably supports absolute freedom of the press and free speech more broadly – cover the row?
First, he completely ignored the Palestinian discrimination against a Jewish-Israeli reporter.
Additionally, he framed the dis-invitation and threats of violence against Johnson not as an offense against the principles of free speech and a free press, but as a faux pas by mayor known for his “flippancy” and “hyperbolic enthusiasm for Israel”.
Beaumont also conveniently omitted the part of Johnson’s statement to the media where he noted one other fact inconsistent with the Guardian narrative on boycotting the Jewish state. As The Independent, Daily Mail, and other papers noted, Johnson reminded Palestinians that Mahmoud Abbas himself “said very clearly and several times that he was opposed to a boycott of Israel.”
But, of course, this is more than simply one example of a biased journalist covering for Palestinians based on his personal sympathy for their political cause. Rather, it’s a small part of a larger pattern, prevalent in within the opinion elite, of denying Palestinians moral agency and failing to hold them to the same political standards Israelis are held to – a view which demands that Palestinians only exist as passive victims of Israeli oppression and Western arrogance.
Whatever you say about Boris Johnson, his rejection of such a patronizing view of Palestinians almost guaranteed such coverage by the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent.
If Beaumont and other reporters based in the region want to be a political activists that’s of course their right. However, those who read such reports from Israel and the Palestinian territories must understand that what they’re reading is advocacy, not professional journalism as it’s normally understood.