Harriet Sherwood’s Jerusalem gossip column

An article by Harriet Sherwood entitled  “Netanyahu flies into turbulence over $127,000 bed on plane“, which appeared in the Guardian on May 12th, once again gives the impression that some of that paper’s correspondents in Israel would perhaps feel more at home scribbling for a gossip column than having to trouble themselves with the heavier geo-political factors at play in the region.

If – like the vast majority of Guardian readers – you are not an Israeli tax-payer, there is no earthly reason why the story of $127,000 spent on in-flight sleeping arrangements for the Israeli Prime Minister should interest you. If you are an Israeli tax-payer, then you would have already heard or read that item of news being dissected from every possible angle by local media organisations for two days prior to the publication of Sherwood’s article.

So what do we learn from Sherwood’s report? Well, we can tell that some kind soul seems to have translated items on the subject from Yediot Aharonot and Channel 10 for Ms. Sherwood, but that she can copy/paste bits from a Jerusalem Post article in English all by herself. We also learn that Sherwood is apparently oblivious to the long-running animosity between Channel 10 – which broke the story – and Israel’s Prime Minister.

In addition, we see that Sherwood’s report on the number of people attending protest rallies against the budget on Saturday night appears to be rather generous. 

“The revelation comes amid growing resentment over an austerity budget proposed by the finance minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who won popular support in January’s election by promising to champion Israel’s financially squeezed middle class. Up to 15,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities on Saturday night in an echo of the massive social justice protests that swept the country two years ago.”

According to Ynet, a total of 12,000 people protested in the country as a whole. Ha’aretz reports 10,000 in Tel Aviv, 400 in Jerusalem, 200 in Haifa and 300 in Ramat Gan, whilst the Times of Israel puts the numbers at 10,000 in Tel Aviv and “hundreds” elsewhere. Yes, 12,000 is technically “up to 15,000”, just as £25 is ‘from £1.99’ but nevertheless, upping the number by 25% of the most generous estimates around is still disingenuous.  

Interestingly for someone apparently so fascinated by Israeli domestic politics, Sherwood did not bother to report on the remarks made by the new Finance Minister relating to the new budget. 

“Addressing allegations that his proposal would hurt his middle-class constituents and deliver yet more hardship to those to whom he’d promised an improvement, he wrote, ”These are fair questions that I would like to answer.” The budget cuts, he continued, were “just the first step,” which would quickly pass, followed by economic reforms that would lower the cost of living and “improve the life of the working man.” […]

 “So yes, the middle class is hurt, I don’t deny that for a minute, but at least this time it’s not the only class whose pockets are targeted,” Lapid said. He urged the public to exercise patience and wait for the reforms that would improve the people’s lives.

“I’ve been finance minister for a month and a half, during which I had to prepare a budget to close a monstrous deficit of NIS 35 billion. But even in the current budget we have created a string of programs that will fundamentally transform the economy. There will be a revolution in housing, in the job market, in the high costs of living. Can all this be accomplished in six weeks? Of course not,” he continued, likening the budget cuts to “an emergency maneuver to stop the bleeding.” “

Were Sherwood based in Luxembourg or Monte Carlo, we might be able to understand the ‘slow news day’ reasons for a six hundred and thirty-eight word article based on a local interest story which will be of little consequence to the majority of its readers. But she isn’t, and there is no such thing as a slow news day in the Middle East. 

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