A telling omission by the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland

Veteran Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland recently wrote an op-ed lamenting the failure of Israelis and Palestinians to escape the morass of the current conflict (Amid the bloodshed, Palestinians and Israelis are giving up on themselves, April 9).

He opens by noting the 40th anniversary of Israel’s successful raid at Entebbe, and then transitions from the successful hostage rescue operation in 1976 to a recent development in country’s conflict with the Palestinians which, he suggests, is emblematic of Israel’s current moral malaise – the shooting death of a wounded, disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron last month.

The case has sparked huge controversy. Unexpectedly perhaps, the army and the military establishment has been loud and clear in its moral condemnation of the soldier’s conduct. Israel’s defence minister (and former army chief of staff) Moshe Ya’alon delivered an impassioned denunciation of the crime. In parliament he warned of “an army that is becoming bestial”, one “an army that has lost its moral backbone”.

But Israeli public opinion does not quite see it that way. According to one survey, two-thirds of Israelis believe that what the soldier did was “natural” or “responsible”. Some I spoke to urged sympathy or at least leniency: the soldier was under pressure; maybe he thought the wounded Palestinian was wearing a suicide belt. Ultra-nationalist hawks have slammed Ya’alon: online activists from his own Likud party pictured him with a target over his face, no joke in a country whose prime minister was assassinated by a rightwing extremist 20 years ago.

Perhaps anxious not to be on the wrong side of this mood, the current PM, Binyamin Netanyahu, made the rare move of telephoning the killer’s father – so that he might console him in his “distress”.

Though his narrow account of Netanyahu’s call to the soldier’s father is accurate, Freedland fails to tell readers that the prime minister, shortly after a video of the shooting came to light, in fact strongly condemned the shooting as “inconsistent with IDF values”.  These comments were widely reported in the media at the time.  

Freedland’s omission of Netanyahu’s initial condemnation is especially curious given that the Guardian itself noted the comments, in a March 25th report by the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont.  

Here are the relevant passages from Beaumont’s report:

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the soldier’s behaviour was not in keeping with the army’s values, and the defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, said the incident was being treated with “utmost severity”.

“The IDF expects its soldiers to behave with composure and in accordance with the rules of engagement,” Netanyahu said in a statement, adding that the incident did not “represent the values of the IDF”.

Did Freedland not read this report?

To be fair, Netanyahu’s call to the soldier’s father did represent a backtracking of sorts, perhaps (as Freedland suggests) in the face of public opinion.  But, by omitting the prime minister’s initial criticism – and just noting the response of the defense minister and other military leaders – Guardian readers are denied an accurate portrayal of the political reaction to the shooting.

Of course, many Guardian contributors don’t hide their disdain for the current Israeli government, and that is certainly their right.

However, cherry-picking quotes from the leader of that government – which buttresses the desired narrative of an op-ed –  represents exactly the kind of tendentious, misleading and agenda-driven coverage of the conflict which has earned the media group so much deserved notoriety over the years.

25 replies »

    • I am sorry this has not been dealt with properly. Two things – first until a suspected terrorist has been examined by a sapper even if, as in this case, he appears “neutralized” he presents a clear and present danger and in two cases in recent memory failure to abide by standing orders has resulted in deaths. Secondly, as in the UK despite the edited video recording of the scene by B’tselem which is telling by its failure to capture the voices of the people concerned, one is innocent until proven guilty. The soldier is entitled to his day in court. Mr Netanyahu did not so much as backtrack from his original position as clarify that position to the soldier’s family who believed their son had been convicted by Ministers swiftly condemning the act without being in full knowledge of the facts. Feedland knows this too but chooses to concentrate on the feeling of the Israeli public on what should be done when dealing with racially motivated self-destructive terrorists who attack innocent civilians, which I do not doubt is not dissimilar to what the majority of UK citizens would have done.

  1. Defense Minister Ya`alon as well as C-in-C Aizenkot and PM Netanyahu were all too quick to judge the soldier guilty based on one incriminating video film taken by a B’tselem operative. That is, by someone in the hire of European and American financing bodies.

    • were all too quick to judge the soldier guilty based on one incriminating video film taken by a B’tselem operative

      Too many politicians expressing opinions about something that is under judicial consideration can never be good. But the filmed evidence, whatever the source, is very clear. What horrifies me more than the execution of the Palestinian would-be stabber, is that none of the other security personnel around the scene, seem particularly interested. Certainly nobody dashed forward and took the soldiers rifle away from him. Or even asked him any questions. Now I don’t want to judge finally any IDF soldier so soon after a violent event, but I would be very concerned if my grandchildren were in such a combat unit.

      What distinguishes us from the surrounding dysfunctional countries is that in Israel, we are ruled by civil and military law. Not by rabbis and not by a bloodthirsty street mob.

    • @Eliyahu Ben Abraham –

      RE: ” …all too quick to judge the soldier guilty based on one incriminating video film taken by a B’tselem operative”

      Yes, it really is amazing how technologically backward Israel’s army and police are when it comes to recording fatal shootings. You’d think that – at very least – military checkpoints, along with busy places like shopping centres, stations and tourist attractions would have CCTV to match against the videos taken by B’tselem, etc. But nope. In almost all cases, the best they seem able to produce is a knife-on-the-ground snapshot.

      Maybe if Israel diverted just a fraction of the military aid it gets from … er … “European and American financing bodies” into helping it catch up on the filming front, a great leap forward might be achieved.

      • Your argument is fallacious there is a film which unlike the edited B’tselem Pallywood version has sound on which can clearly be heard voices warning of the danger the supposedly neutralised terrorist posed. You must try harder or your Qatari paymasters will terminate your contract and that could be painful.