The anatomy of a Guardian smear against Israel

A Guardian report on Dec. 16th had all the ingredients of a classic Guardian smear.

1. Palestinians level a wild accusation against Israel with little or no actual evidence.

2. The Guardian publishes the allegation with a dramatic headline, downplays even the most emphatic Israeli denials, and fails to conduct any independent research which could prove or disprove the allegation.

3.  The Guardian further contextualizes the baseless story in a manner consistent with a broader narrative of Israeli racism or villainy.

The dramatic title, Palestinian envoy’s wife ‘forced back to Jerusalem during cancer treatment’, in a report written by the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, parrots an accusation by Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Envoy to the UK, which seems, by all available evidence, to be without merit.

Borger writes:

Israeli authorities made the wife of the Palestinian ambassador in London interrupt a course of chemotherapy in order to return to Jerusalem or risk losing her residency rights, a trip that hastened her death from cancer, her family claim.

Samira Hassassian was infected by a virus on her plane journey back to London in May and died three months later, aged 57. Her husband, Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian envoy to the UK since 2005, said the Israeli government had extended her Jerusalem identity papers in 2010 for a year after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009, but refused to grant a second extension this year, although the disease had by then metastasized to her bones and she was several weeks into intensive chemotherapy.

“They forced her to go back,” Hassassian said. “The doctors had told me she had maybe until the end of the year, so this trip just expedited the process, but it also caused her pain and suffering.”

As far as she was concerned, she was not going to die. She saw herself as battling with cancer. But to force her to go back or lose her rights was inhuman,” Hassassian said. [emphasis mine]

Later in the essay we’re informed that the Israeli embassy in London denied that Hassassian had been refused a second extension.

“If there is a health issue there is no question that she would have had to travel. There is no such policy. It is the strangest allegation I think I’ve ever heard,” the spokesperson said.

Borger continues:

Samira Hassassian’s London oncologist, Professor Paul Ellis, wrote a medical opinion to support her appeal for an extension on March 29, saying: “She is right in the middle of very intensive treatment and it is definitely not a good time for her to travel. There is the potential for significant infection and she is also extremely disabled by fatigue and nausea.”

Again, the Israeli embassy responds:

The embassy spokesman confirmed that a copy of Ellis’s letter was in interior ministry files but said it had been unnecessary as an extension was not in doubt.

So, the Guardian published the allegation that Hassassian’s Jerusalem residency was in doubt despite the emphatic and unequivocal denial by Israeli officials, and the fact that there is no corroborating evidence that Samira Hassassian’s extension was ever in question.

The claim includes the allegation that Hassassian was “infected by a virus on her plane journey back to London in May and died three months later”, implying the the infection was caused by her flight, and hastened her death.   

However, Hassassian was an end stage cancer patient who had been informed that, at most, she had until the end of the year to live, and so her death in late August was consistent with her tragically grim diagnosis. 

Further, an experienced health professional explained to me the following:

“No-one can prove where or when she caught the infection.  She could have been infected on the plane, before the flight or after the flight. We don’t know what sort of infection they’re claiming, but different pathogens have differing incubation periods which are measured in days – not hours – so to pinpoint the contracting of an infection to the specific 4-5 hour time it takes to fly from London to Tel Aviv is speculative to say the least.”

The real reason for Hassassian’s trip to Israel, according to the Israeli spokesperson (and confirmed to me by a reliable Israeli official) was to seek a second opinion on her condition from doctors at Hadassah Hospital.  And, indeed, Hassassian’s husband, in the Guardian report, acknowledged that she had received care during the course of her illness by doctors in Jerusalem. 

However, Borger, not content with advancing such a scurrilous charge, then pivots to the third and final Guardian method of contextualizing a story in a way to impute the most malicious motives not only to the Israeli antagonists in the tale, but to Israel more broadly.  In this case the question of Hassassin’s residency status is woven into a predictable narrative of ethnic cleansing.

Palestinians and Israeli civil rights groups describe the bureaucracy surrounding residency rights as a weaponin Israel’s efforts to reduce the Palestinian population of the fiercely contested city and undermine future challenges to its sovereignty there.

If Borger had decided to check, he would have discovered that the suggestion that there’s been anything resembling a reduction in the Palestinian population of Jerusalem is patently false.

According to statistics provided by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies:

  • Between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan controlled all of East Jerusalem, the Arab population of East Jerusalem increased by only 860 people.
  • By contrast, the Muslim Arab population of Jerusalem increased from 68,000 people to 275,000 people between 1967 and 2009, with the city under Israeli jurisdiction – ie an increase of 207,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem.
  • Between 1967 and 2009, the Jewish population of Jerusalem grew from 197,000 people to 497,000 people
  • A simple calculation therefore shows that during the period 1967 to 2009, the Jewish population of Jerusalem increased by 245% while the Arab population of Jerusalem grew by 380% . 

So, if there has been a coordinated Israeli effort to reduce the Arab population of Jerusalem, it has failed miserably. Since the entire city of Jerusalem has been under Israeli control the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown significantly faster than the Jewish population. This is the opposite of Israel ‘judaising’ the city, or ‘squeezing the Arabs out’.

At the end of the day, what we have are the following allegations:

  • Israelis cruelly forced a terminally ill Palestinian cancer patient to travel back to Israel to maintain her Jerusalem residency.
  • The trip caused an infection that hastened her death.  
  • And, finally, the trip was necessitated as part of a broader Israeli effort to “reduce the Palestinian population” of Jerusalem.

The first two allegations are leveled with no reliable evidence, while the final charge is contradicted by raw population data.

Finally, I was told by a reliable source that the Israeli officials who were in contact (over a period of many weeks) with the Guardian over these allegations were shocked that, despite their emphatic denials of the charges leveled by the Palestinian Envoy, and the paucity of empirical evidence, the story was still published.

However, those of us intimately familiar with the Guardian’s continuing assault on Israeli’s legitimacy are not in the least bit surprised.

The Guardian’s bias and dishonesty when reporting about Israel is immune to such quaint notions as fairness, proportion, context, or decency.  

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