Foot in Mouth Disease at Comment is Free

CiF is obsessively anti-Israel, has hosted Palestinian supporters of suicide terror above the line and gives column inches to their supporters below it, as well as British Islamists, and has accrued its very own coterie of Theobald-Jews, all of whom purvey and perpetrate the image of Israel as the unique “evil” in the world.

From its inception CiF has insisted that discussion is freely allowed and that it is not biased against Israel.  However, quickly it became evident that CiF states one agenda publicly whilst actively pursuing quite another.  In the past month most of its articles have focused negatively on Israel alone and have been magnets for antisemitic comment below the line.

Editors of a blog should, in theory at least, leave the conduct of discussions to the commenters themselves, and should intervene only as a very last resort.  True, it was to be expected, given the idiosyncratic nature of the moderation, that at least one CiF moderator would evidentially cast all semblance of neutrality to the winds, but was Bella Mackie solely to blame?  She must have thought she could get away with it after CiF’s commissioning editor Brian Whitaker set a completely new precedent which drove a coach and horses through any pretence of CiF editor neutrality when he intimated that pro-Israel commenters of CiF were in the pay of the Israeli government.   He must really be prone to believing conspiracy theories. After all, as commissioning editor, he likely commissioned and perhaps even encouraged Peter Oborne’s pre-emptive swipe at the “powerful” Israel lobby before the Dispatches programme made Oborne look foolish.

Whitaker’s inability to do the typing equivalent of buttoning his lip seems to have set rather a bizarre precedent on CiF.  All the editors seem to have contracted CiF-Variant Foot in Mouth disease:

We get Georgina Henry trying valiantly to bail out CiF’s wished-for reputation for good taste with the equivalent of a sieve, by her frankly risible response to readers’ complaints about the “choir of ethical cretins” blooper on the Michael Lerner thread:


21 Oct 2009, 12:34PM


Thanks to those of you who have raised the issue of Michael Lerner’s use of the phrase “choir of ethical cretins”. The intention was clearly not to offend in that he was using it in its colloquial sense, and in a general way. But I have asked the editor of the Guardian’s style guide (where the word is currently not mentioned) whether guidance should be included on its use. Since we’ve taken the point on board, perhaps the thread could now concentrate on debating the merits of his argument.

(Note, once again,  the curious implacable and arrogant belief that, just because she tells us that calling people “ethical cretins” was “clearly” not intended to offend then we will not be offended and this can be brushed under the CiF carpet.  She does not seem to apprehend that to call someone a cretin in a “colloquial” sense is as insulting as to call that person a cretin in any other sense!  She knows that she has offended because she elaborates the excuse with a reference to the Guardian’s style guide, in the vain hope that this will really throw us off the scent).

Matt Seaton seems compelled to interfere on the threads, too!  Here he is on his white charger defending the indefensible in the shape of Tony Lerman:

In his post below, Seaton sets out a rather confusing duality of roles –  as a CiF editor “.. to try to exercise impartial and balanced judgment over our comment coverage…” (emphasis mine) and what he calls a “staffer joining a discussion below the line, where really we comment in a personal capacity…”

mattseaton’s comment 20 Nov 09, 12:59pm

@ pretzelberg:

20 Nov 2009, 12:31PM

Matt Seaton is a bigwig at CiF and appears to be supervising this thread. Nowt wrong with that.

But when he uses terms like “courageous” in reference to the article by Anshel Pfeffer, then I do have my doubts re. his impartiality.
There’s nothing wrong as such with praising the article – but doing so within said supervisory capacity is a bit dodgy IMO.

Bigwig here. Well, I don’t think I am here in a supervisory role, as you put it. This sounds terribly pompous (but then I am a bigwig, so I can’t help it), but I draw a distinction between my responsibility as Cif editor to try to exercise impartial and balanced judgment over our comment coverage and the role of a staffer joining a discussion below the line, where really we comment in a personal capacity. In short, different roles, different standards applied.

You’re welcome, of course, to disagree with my remarks here, but I’d like to be clear: if you do, it’s because you regard my comments as dodgy, not because it’s dodgy for me to have made them.

I called that Pfeffer article ‘courageous’ advisedly, and partly because I think it’s instructive to see that, given the flak Tony Lerman catches here in the UK, that Pfeffer can make comparable arguments in Israel itself. Of course, Pfeffer probably gets some stick too…

Seaton actually admits above to different roles and different standards applied, but I cannot trust any of the CiF editors to keep the boundaries between the roles.   Whitaker has shown that he cannot, and Seaton gives no indication that he realises the difficulties such situations may present. By commenting at all he is pushing those boundaries.

And here Seaton is defending Tony Lerman again, this time in reply to SantaMoniker:

mattseaton’s comment 20 Nov 09, 1:12pm

@ SantaMoniker:

20 Nov 2009, 12:41PM

I’ve been reading up a bit about Mr. Lerman on that other site – you know the one – CW – and its appears that Mr. Lerman is using the Guardian as a way to continue his fight against his dismissal from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research. Hence his attack on Jonathan Boyd’s article in CiF: [… etc]

SantaMoniker, that’s old news… and, in this context, a fairly pathetic smear. I can tell you that Lerman who, as you may not have noticed, contributed an introduction to the pamphlet authored by Oborne and James that accompanied the programme and which was published by OpenDemocracy (here). So his article on this was proposed and accepted long before Jonathan Boyd’s, which we gladly took unsolicited. Lerman, of course, then — at our behest — took in the arguments of Cesarani and Boyd in his article. But you and that ‘other place’ have got it entirely upside and back to front, I’m afraid.

Imputing false motives to Lerman really is the last resort of those would rather avoid discussing the issues and answering his arguments.

(Of course Seaton would hardly tell us if SantaMoniker had been right, would he?)

And here he is again on the Lerman thread in reply to TomWonacott:


20 Nov 2009, 2:22PM

Staff Staff

@ TomWonacott:

20 Nov 2009, 1:35PM

The goal of the “documentary” on the Jewish lobby in Britain was simple.

To be fair, the documentary carefully observed the distinction between, on the one hand, the British Jewish community with its many strands of opinion and, on the other, the British ‘Israel lobby’. We here prefer to qualify the latter phrase by calling it the ‘pro-Israel lobby’ (as it is a lobby for Israel, not of it). But in any case, the programme specifically avoided calling the object of its scrutiny a ‘Jewish lobby’.

It’s not just pernicketiness. To say, as you do, that —

The documentary perpetuates myths about Jewish power and influence

is a reasonable contention, and very much at the heart of the discussion on all these threads. But to claim the programme’s declared subject was a ‘Jewish lobby’ is, in effect, to label it as an antisemitic project from the outset.

The glaringly obvious difficulty with this from Seaton, (and he doesn’t make clear whether he is wearing his CiF Editor’s hat or he is commenting as a staffer below the line) is that he is either very ignorant or is obviously trying to pull a fast one.  That the article did not distinguish sufficiently clearly between the “Jewish” lobby and the “Israel” lobby is crystallised by the ease of the conflation of the two in the the following post, which is still on line.  I would wager that the poster Raskalnikov was not the only one who was easily “confused.”   Note the reference to the “Jewish lobby”:


20 Nov 2009, 9:31AM

I can understand al the fuss and bluster relating to being ‘found out’. No one likes the stones to be turner over because of what might crawl out. But to raise the cry of ‘Anti-semitism’, is ridiculous. I have watched programmes and read about the work of lobbies in the political process and not felt in any way that it was all a matter of distrortion and conspiracy on the part of the people presenting/writing on the subject.

I watched the Channel 4 programme about the work of the Jewish Lobby in British politics and felt ashamed of our politicians in the manner in which they seemed to be btowbeaten and seduced by cash into support for the state of Isreal’s policies. Something like this needed to be exposed, particularly in the present climate of revulsion against the Britsh political process, so that it can be eliminated. Where is the democratic process in all this miasma of expenses, paid advocacy and the ‘public interest’?

I would challenge anyone to accuse me of anti-semitism I am most certainly not. What I would say though is I do not agree with the policies pursued by the state of Israel and I would like our political elite to take into consideration the views of it’s own electorate on this subject and not cave in to threats, bluster and cash in relation to the interests of another country.

Let me repeat, I am not and never will be anti-semitic, but I do object to our political process being used in the interests of another country.

Irrespective of  this last failed attempt by Seaton, what do these few examples of many where CiF Editors interfere below the line, tell us about CiF’s impartiality, or rather the lack of it?   Elsewhere on this blog, I wrote about the ways in which I believe that CiF infringes the Code of Conduct of the NUJ (and that I assumed that all the editors are members).

There is not, as yet, an equivalent Code of Conduct for blog editors but when and if one is written, I hope that included in it is strong emphasis on the necessity for blog editors to retain impartiality and neutrality when they themselves comment on the articles they commission.  Part of this neutrality and impartiality must necessarily comprise leaving thread authors to fend for themselves rather than rushing in to defend them from real or imagined insult.

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