Who gets banned on "Comment is Free"?

This is a guest post by AKUS
Today Matt Seaton wrote in response to Robin Shepherd’s blog entry, Guardian website contributor says that recalcitrant Israeli settlers should be “slaughtered” in latest example of a new phenomenon in Great Britain:

But as you blur the distinction here between above the line contributors and below the line commenters, I am not clear which you are referring to. In the case of the former, the idea that any contributor is ‘banned’ for expressing pro-Israeli sentiments is manifest nonsense; in the case of the latter, moderators do not exercise any such political or editorial judgment, merely a technical one – so if pro-Israel posts have been deleted, it will simply have been because they were themselves abusive or, possibly, because they referred to an earlier comment which was deleted (this is standard moderation procedure).
As for contributors being ‘frequently banned merely for voicing politely worded comments which oppose the demonisation of Israel’, I would love to be presented with a single instance (since I note you do not offer one). As you and I have discussed, you yourself have an open invitation to contribute to Cif.

Taking the second paragraph first, in fact Seaton appears to be deliberately trying to blur the distinction between “contributor” and “commenter” in the world of “Comment is Free” to wriggle out of acknowledging the truth of Shepherd’s statements about banning and deletions, which can be attested to by myriads of pro-Israeli posters, and I am quite sure, very few anti-Israeli posters.
For clarity: In CiF-speak, a “contributor” is one who “contributes” an article, also referred to as writing “above the line”, while a “commenter” is one who posts a comment, in response to the article that the “contributor” wrote, also referred to as writing “below the line”. WilliamBapthorpe is, of course, a “commenter”, writing “below the line”, as Robin Shepherd made abundantly clear he understands.
Seaton’s comment about banning “contributors” may be an ingenuous attempt to side-step Shepherd’s accusation but is simply not true of those posting “below the line”. It is clearly the Guardian’s strategy, similar to that of the apartheid-era South African government, to simply “ban” pro-Israeli voices which it no longer wants to hear on its site. The WilliamBapthorpe issue is not whether his comment was deleted – we can all see that that happened – but why has he not been banned, when pro-Israeli posters have been banned for far less – or nothing? Seaton also says:

There is, further, nothing ‘revealing’ about the fact that William Bapthorpe (the commenter concerned) has not been instantly banned. Our standard moderation procedure places all offenders against our community guidelines indefinitely on probation, where they lose posting rights, prior to any further action – whether that is subsequent banning or retrusting.

WilliamBapthorpe, far from losing posting rights, is merrily posting away, perhaps not completely within “the circle of trust” (pace, “Meet the Fokkers”), and perhaps still “premoderated” till some Guardian moderator has read and approved his comments. Nevertheless, I maintain that had any poster used the word “Arab” or “Muslim” in place of “Jew” in an identical comment, he or she would have been banned instantly. Today, January 12th, WilliamBapthorpe has fifteen comments on CiF, not including any that may have been “disappeared”, another Guardian tactic for removing whatever they find offensive without a trace. However, as many can attest, as can I from personal experience, it can take hours for a pro-Israeli poster’s premoderated comment to appear if it ever does, making it almost impossible to post 15 comments in a day.
Since Matt Seaton says:

“As for contributors being ‘frequently banned merely for voicing politely worded comments which oppose the demonisation of Israel’, I would love to be presented with a single instance”,

I thought I would provide one example, and not allow him to get away with obfustication regarding “contributor” vs. “commenter” to avoid the perfectly correct accusation by Shepherd regarding their policy of banning.
I am that example. As frequent readers of both CiF Watch and CiF know (there have been calls on CiF itself to have me reinstated, even by some who are very opposed to my views), I was banned on September 2, 2009.
This happened instantly while commenting on the article Why a boycott of Israel is wrong by Rivka Carmi, which she wrote in response to Neve Gordon’s heavily criticized article proposing a boycott of Israel (excluding, of course, a boycott of himself and his articles for the Guardian). Rivka Carmi is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel, where Neve, for lack of a better word, teaches.
Those “banned” are never informed as to the reason for their banning, so I have to try to recall the events as best as I can. I was at work at the time, absolutely appalled by the cyber-mobbing attack on Ms Carmi orchestrated by the anti-Israeli crowd on the thread following her article. At work I was unable to keep a record of my comments, which were all deleted (as were, later, some of the most offensive that I was complaining about). However, I was banned after writing my third (now deleted) or fourth or other (now “disappeared”) comment that was something to the effect of:

“The words of the mob attacking Ms Carmi are reminiscent of the cries of the crowds baying for blood around the guillotine in Paris”.

If you doubt the truth of my comment, take a look through the comments that remain on the thread. Roughly speaking, 90% include attacks on Israel and attacks on Ms Carmi and her opinions, in a manner that would not be tolerated for an instant if the author was one of the Guardian’s stable of Israel-bashing writers. The deletions of comments are so extensive one must assume they were removed because they were supportive of her and opposed to the attacks launched on Israel – or, perhaps, as vile as I pointed out. In addition, the excessively large number of recommendations approving the comments critical of Israel and Ms Carmi give you an idea of what the thread was like before being cleaned up.
But be that as it may – which is the comment that should result in banning?

“The words of the mob attacking Ms Carmi are reminiscent of the crowds baying for blood around the guillotine in Paris”.


“Sadly, there’s only one way to deal with these religiously motivated maniacs who think their superstitious beliefs trump international law. 1. We ask them to leave their squats, kindly. 2. If they don’t, we force them to [leave] at gunpoint. 3. If they still refuse, they must be slaughtered, every last man woman and child.”

Since in my view, it is the latter, I can only assume that the two cases are illustrative of the Guardian’s view on what is appropriate to say in a column – i.e., it is inappropriate to defend the author of an article against cyber-mobbing – but it is appropriate to call for the murder of 300,000 Jews – every last man, woman and child.

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