The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood: Amplifying the voice of radical anti-Israel NGOs

On November 3rd Harriet Sherwood produced a fairly sensational article on the Guardian’s World News section headlined:

The article is based entirely upon accusations made in a report produced by two highly political NGOs – Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI).

Sherwood used extensive quotes from the report and paraphrased parts of its content throughout her article despite the fact that the report itself is in fact based in its entirety upon the subjective accounts of Palestinian detainees.  The report itself can be read here.

Sherwood allocated a mere single paragraph to right of reply from the other side of the story, reproducing a generalised quote from a government spokesman, but failing to have secured a reply from the Israeli Prison Service. She apparently did not seek a response from the Israeli Medical Association which is mentioned extensively in the report.

Moreover, Sherwood failed at any point in the article to address the important subject of the political aims of both PHR-I and PCATI and how those aims may have influenced the production and content of the report.  Equally, she neglected to report the fact that both organisations have in the past employed the language of human rights abuses in order to advance their political agenda.

In addition, Sherwood failed completely to make any mention of the very relevant dispute between PHR-I and the Israel Medical Association (IMA) over the former’s president and founder having signed a petition calling for the ousting of the IMA president from his then additional post as head of the World Medical Association.

Had she investigated the subject properly, she would have discovered that PHR-I and PCATI have produced prior reports on the subject of torture in which they also accused the IMA of complicity and that those reports have been employed by elements intent upon advancing the cause of delegitimisation of Israel by means of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Most prominent among these is perhaps Derek Summerfield who began his intensive campaign for academic boycott of Israeli doctors (et alibi – regrettably for the profession – on the pages of the British Medical Journal) long ago.

Derek Summerfield

In 2003 PHR-I’s Hadas Ziv suggested in ‘The Lancet’ that “the IMA is merely an executive arm of the Israeli establishment”; a position which reflects PHR-I’s politicization of complex medical and human rights issues. For example, another subject of intensive PHR-I campaigning is that of the supposed abuse of the right of free passage for Palestinian ambulances.  However, as the IMA pointed out in a 2007 reply to one of Summerfield’s many campaigns, the reality is somewhat more complicated.

“For instance, on March 26 2002, Ahmed Jibril, a Tanzim operative and ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) was arrested while driving an ambulance belonging to the PRC in which were found an explosives belt and explosives under the stretcher on which lay a sick Palestinian child. Nidal Abd al Fatah Abdallah Nidal, an ambulance driver from Qalqilya employed by UNWRA, admitted to using the ambulance to transport weapons and explosives for Hamas. And Waffa Idris, a PRC employee, perpetrated the suicide bombing on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem in January 2002. She was dispatched by a PRC ambulance driver who is also a Tanzim operative, and she was assisted by another PRC employee. It is also believed she may have traveled in a PRC vehicle, and used PRC documents to go through IDF checkpoints. Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents.”

PHR-I has in the past – among other things – published an inflammatory pamphlet, co-sponsored an exhibition of drawings by Palestinian children entitled “Childhood Under Fire” and collaborated with such partisan organisations as Machsom Watch and Adalah.

PHR-I co-sponsored exhibition of children’s drawings a year after Cast Lead, called “Childhood Under Fire.” The drawings included images depicting Israel soldiers intentionally firing on civilians.

It clearly does not limit its activities to human rights issues per se, but exploits the subject for political goals. The same is unfortunately true of PCATI.

One therefore is faced with a choice between several conclusions.

Either Harriet Sherwood has been extremely lazy in failing to investigate the possible background to the report she so extensively quotes and has therefore presented her readers with only half a story or she is knowingly acting as an amplifier for politically motivated NGOs which are notorious for their delegitimisation of Israel through use of lawfare and BDS. A third possibility is of course a combination of the two: the PHR-I/PCATI report dovetails conveniently with both Sherwood’s own stereotypes concerning Israel and those of her Guardian editors and audience, making any further investigation on her part an inconvenience rather than a professional obligation. 

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