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.