Will Guardian/Telegraph update B’Tselem fire stories to note arson likely not the cause? (Update)

The Jerusalem Fire Department is now saying that a fire which broke out Sunday night at the offices of the NGO B’Tselem “was likely caused by a short-circuit and not arson, which was initially suspected.”  As Ynet noted, the fire “raised concerns” by some “of a deliberate, politically motivated attack on the group’s headquarters” by right-wing extremists.

Indeed, the Guardian and Telegraph both published stories based on the initial speculation of a politically motivated arson, both using the fire to buttress the narrative of incitement against human rights defenders by the government and right wing groups

The Guardian published a report by Reuters (Fire breaks out at Jerusalem offices of human rights group, Jan. 11) which feature the following quote by a B’Tselem spokespeson:

A spokeswoman for the group said the blaze had caused extensive damage.

“A fire broke out at B’Tselem’s office in Jerusalem this evening. None of our staff were in the building,” she said.

“Initial reports published by the media indicate that police suspect arson. If it is discovered that this was an arson attack, it must be seen in the context of the wave of government incitement and smear campaigns against Israel’s human rights groups, and B’Tselem in particular.”

But she said the fire would not stop the organisation’s work of documenting and exposing human rights abuses under the occupation.

The article ended thusly:

Vandalism attacks, including torchings, by suspected far-right Israeli groups have caused damage to Palestinian property and mosques and churches.

Two Israelis were charged last week over the death of a Palestinian baby and his parents in the West Bank last year after their home was set on fire.

Israel’s right-wing government has proposed legislation to limit foreign donations from governments and private benefactors to B’Tselem and many other Israeli NGOs, something that could severely restrict the organisation’s ability to operate.

In addition to the misleading narrative concerning the possible political significance of the fire, the Guardian misleads readers in their characterization of the proposed NGO legislation – a bill which would in fact only require greater transparency of NGOs which receive a significant amount of funds from the EU. 

However, The Telegraph published a story by Raf Sanchez (Suspected arson attack damages offices of Israeli human rights group, Jan. 11) which was even more tendentious, based almost entirely on speculation that the fire was the result of arson. The strap line immediately reveals the desired narrative.

Headquarters of B’Tselem badly damaged by flames in what would be a major escalation to weeks of mounting hostility by against Israeli human rights NGOs

After 3 paragraphs introducing the story, 11 of the remaining 12 paragraphs contextualize the fire as possibly part of an “escalation” against human rights groups.

If politically motivated arson is confirmed as the cause of the blaze, it would be a major escalation to weeks of mounting hostility by Right-wing groups against Israeli human rights NGOs.

A Right-wing video made last month accused several prominent Israeli human rights campaigners of being “foreign agents” who side with Palestinian terrorists against Israel.

The director of B’Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, was one of those named in the video and he was described as “a planted agent of the European Union”. The European Union is a major funder of B’Tselem.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “If it is discovered that this was an arson attack, it must be seen in the context of the wave of government incitement and smear campaigns against Israel’s human rights groups, and B’Tselem in particular.”

This week, a prominent Left-wing Israeli activist was caught on camera saying he tried to help Palestinian security forces arrest and kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews. He was reportedly accompanied by a Palestinian member of B’Tselem.

The tension has been rising as Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, debates a controversial bill that would put new regulations on NGOs which receive significant funding from foreign governments.

The bill was proposed by Israel’s Right-wing justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, who argues it is will increase transparency and protect Israeli democracy from interference by foreign governments.

Critics argue the bill is designed to stifle dissent and will disproportionately impact Left-wing groups who are dependent on European countries and the EU for their funding.

The bill would force NGOs to declare their funding sources in all meetings and correspondence with legislators and their representative would have to wear special labels during visits to the Knesset.

The Foreign Office said it “has concerns about a number of elements in the proposed NGO Bill”.

“We are concerned that focussing only on NGOs receiving a majority of funding from foreign Governments would unfairly stigmatise these organisations, who represent legitimate voices in – and contribute to – Israel’s active and vibrant democracy,” a spokeswoman said.

Right-wing Israeli groups also receive funding from abroad but their donations tend to come from wealthy individuals rather than governments, meaning they would be unaffected by the proposed bill.

Following the fire department report suggesting that arson was likely not the cause, we tweeted Raf Sanchez the following:


We’ll update you if either the Telegraph or Guardian update their reports.

UPDATE: The Guardian and Telegraph recently updated their report to include the initial conclusions of the Fire Department. 

25 replies »

  1. The Guardian and Telegraph could never bring themselves to openly admit that something is not Israel’s fault. I predict two possible scenarios that they will publish. 1. The building had originally been wired years ago by a Mossad agent who used special Israeli fiber-optic technology with bio-electrical timing material that was set to go off at the right moment. 2. Israel specially trained flies that infiltrated the wiring and caused it to short. The Guardian and Telegraph will have provided animal rights activists with this crucial information. Fly-abuse is of course the fault of “The Occupation.”

      • If you would read Adam’s blog regularly, you would find quite a few times that he has caught the Telegraph in disseminating disinformation.

  2. OT (but not really): Just saw some news about supplies being sent to starving Syrians. Weird how I haven’t heard one NGO or read one article in the Western Press indicating the need to break down barriers to feed these people. Not leading up to this supply shipment; not in the report about the supply shipment.

    Another example of how the Real Human Experience means so very little when it can’t somehow be blamed on the Jews. Miranda and Webster should take note.

    I haven’t seen such starving people in Gaza, have you? Meanwhile, Israel continues to save Syrian lives despite the declared war against her citizens by the Syrian government.

    See, what’s wrong with the Palestinians isn’t so much their lot in life or their religion or even their desire for self-rule. What’s wrong with the Palestinians are the people who support them, and encourage them to fight to their deaths rather than learn to live with (gasp) teh Joos.

    • “what’s wrong with the Palestinians isn’t so much their lot in life or their religion or even their desire for self-rule” – I suggest that their declared intention to wipe Israel off the map (sometimes even Jews off the face of the earth) is even more wrong that the people who support them.

      • I see your notion, and feel that not all Palestinians feel this way (even if 77% of them do). I will now raise you the suggestion that if the outside world didn’t aid and abet this type of racist banter, and hold a safety net for these people up as an example of Poor Victims of Crool Joos, there wouldn’t be a need to destroy the lone Jewish state for sake of making their own Palestinian state an otherwise success.

        • Well, there ISN’T a need, but I know what you mean.
          Maybe. I am not convinced. Difficult to know, and we can’t run a controlled experiment.
          If they (OK, a mere 77% of them) aren’t profoundly antisemitic all on their own, would they really be keen to become antisemitic at the behest of the outside world? Personally, I doubt it. The signs were unmistakably there at a very early point in time. 1929?

          • Look at their own means of castigating the Jewish state. If the world wanted to call out the Palestinian leadership and 77% of its people as Racists Incapable of Self Control, would they then fall prey to the calls for UN resolutions, ICC cases, and public outcries of Apartheid?

                • koufaxmitzvah,

                  I think I know what you mean: That if the “world” stopped indulging Palestinian Arab bad behavior, and instead kept calling them out on it, they would in turn start to feel compelled to moderate.

                  • Hey Jeff. Sort of like that. I was actually trying to ask the question that, IF the world really cared about peace for Jews, WOULD they hold the Palestinian leaders and “nation” liable as they attempt to do with Israel. In other words, would boycotts of Arab products lead to peace in the Middle East as these guys are trying to achieve by boycotting Israeli goods. Same goes with the UN resolutions and on-campus demonstrations…. If they really were effective means, would any of these headed in the other direction (with just as much vigor) successfully guarantee Israel’s peace and existence?

                    I had started drafted the response and then was called away, and never quite finished it.

                    All in all, not a response as much as another open ended question re the hypocrisy of people like Webster.

      • So what you’re saying is that Arabs can never be the boss, especially if teh Joo is the boss first? Do you think it goes against the nature of Free Men to have Jewish bosses?

          • That’s right koufaxmitvah, you have to appreciate the anti-Semite’s position in all this. The very notion of a Jew being someone’s boss gives Stephen nightmares. This question consumes Stephen to such a great extent that other questions such as human nature can no longer even be entertained.

          • Your freedom isn’t expressed by lashing out at Israel and her supporters online?

            What is the point of a Free Palestine if Freedom has nothing to do with it? Why Steve-a-rino, that sounds like you are seeking a Free Palestine (from Jews) which, ironically, you would have had in 2000 and 2008 since ALL Jews were going to kicked out of the new Palestinian state.

            But alas. Peace isn’t your prerogative. You’re just spoiled.