Harriet Sherwood’s tastes in anti-Israel propaganda

Just over a week and a half has gone by since Harriet Sherwood returned to Jerusalem after her two month sojourn in Libya. During that time, two of the more important days in the Israeli calendar took place: Memorial Day and Independence Day. Apparently Sherwood saw no necessity in informing her readers (or herself) regarding the background to these two events – both of which go a long way towards helping foreigners understand Israelis as people and the context of Israel within the Middle East.

 Since May 8th, Sherwood has produced twelve articles  (at the time of writing), the majority of which either address Palestinian issues or have a perspective markedly sympathetic to the Palestinian view. Her readers learned how Israel may withhold tax revenues from the new Hamas-Fatah unity government,  heard claims that Israel had revoked residency rights of Palestinians who did not renew visas and were treated to two movie recommendations – one about a Palestinian village and the other concerning collaborators supposedly mistreated by Israel. There is one article about the anti-terrorist security barrier, (although of course, she doesn’t call it that), one about the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation from Palestinian perspectives, and five concerning the various violent Naqba day protests.  

In among all this appeared one article on May 16th which seemingly relates to Israelis. Except that in fact the piece is yet another Sherwood promotion of the radical NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a groups who receives the bulk of its funding (over 2 million NIS in 2009) from the European UnionUKSpain, the NetherlandsNDC (funds from Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark), New Israel FundOxfam, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute

This is far from the first time that CiF writers – including Sherwood – have engaged in providing free publicity for this organisation, as CiF Watch has previously documented, but it is representative of the fact that the only type of Israeli who gets to enjoy a Guardian hug is the sort intent upon damaging Israel’s legitimacy.

Sherwood’s only allusion to the controversy surrounding ‘Breaking the Silence’ comes in one terse paragraph which conspicuously fails to examine both sides of the story, instead presenting the organisation as some sort of harassed martyr.

“Since Breaking the Silence was launched in 2004, it has met with a hostile response from Israel’s political and military establishment, partly targeting the anonymity of some witnesses. There have been attempts to discredit supporters and block funding, and its leaders have been subject to interrogation. Censure increased after it published testimony by soldiers who took part in the war on Gaza in 2008-09.”

As an avid reader of Ha’aretz, Sherwood should know that even that newspaper has recognized ‘Breaking the Silence’ for what it really is:

“…Breaking the Silence, founded in 2004 by veterans of the second intifada, has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a “human rights organization.” Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the “corruption which permeates the military system” is not a neutral observer.”

“The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.”

The Middle East abounds with so-called ‘human rights organisations’ which have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain – in many cases in order to promote political causes. As is the case in the rest of the world, anyone can get up in the morning and decide from here on to present himself as a ‘human rights activist’. Some of the people who do so not only act out of political motivation rather than real concern for human rights; in some cases they are even linked to radical organisations dedicated to agendas which directly oppose that concept.  Such people are responsible for making ‘human rights’ one of the most abused terms in the modern world.

Some might think that Harriet Sherwood is simply naïve; that she takes what she is told at face value and perhaps unwittingly becomes a tool for political propaganda. But Sherwood’s final dispatch from Libya indicates a different reality. There, she was quite capable of being sceptical about, and even critical of, information she judged to be tainted with political motives.   Admittedly, in Israel she is less likely to be exposed to the genre of crude propaganda employed by the Gaddafi regime, but all the same, one would expect a seasoned reporter to be capable of unravelling a politically motivated public relations package, even if it is usually slightly more sophisticated than those she encountered in Libya.

The fact that Sherwood chooses not to look behind the words of organisations such as ‘Breaking the Silence’, and indeed actively  promotes their one-sided political message, in addition to her repeated parroting in her articles of the accepted Palestinian party line or any fiction which advances her political standpoint , should prompt her to ask herself one very important question.

Is she really any different to the Libyan government official Moussa Ibrahim whom she so derides? After all, he too just supplies his clientele with the selected information he thinks they need to know in order to advance the political agenda of whoever pays his wage. 

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