Harriet Sherwood’s Shame: On racism, real and imagined.

In Harriet Sherwood’s nearly three and a half years as the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent – an assignment which includes frequent visits to cities such as Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza City – she hasn’t devoted even one stand-alone story to the disturbingly ubiquitous antisemitism which permeates Palestinians society.  

Photo of Sherwood accompanying her inaugural story as Jerusalem correspondent, July 2, 2010 

In attempting to contextualize the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Sherwood consistently fails to inform her readers of the racist and often violent vitriol directed against Jews – not Israelis, but Jews – by Palestinian political and religious leaders.  Indeed, if Sherwood was at all curious about the disturbing volume of hate and intolerance which inspires much of the ideological energy of Palestinian nationalism, all she – or any journalist sincerely interested in fairly covering the region – would need to do is visit websites of organizations which research and meticulously translate and document this phenomenon.

But, as anyone who’s been following this blog would surely know, Harriet Sherwood cannot fairly be described as a “reporter” in the traditional sense  – as the word typically refers to someone committed to fairly, accurately and dispassionately conveying the full story. As with so many of her colleagues at the Guardian, Sherwood is more akin to an advocate – someone whose agenda-driven reports accurately reflect the increasingly blurred line within the mainstream media between journalism and activism. 

On Dec. 12, Harriet Sherwood saw yet another opportunity to tell a story of Israeli racism, and the mere dearth of evidence supporting such a supposition was not going to temper this narrative.  Her story, ‘Israeli president condemns rejection of Ethiopian born MP [sic] as blood donor‘, didn’t contain any significant errors as such, but as with most tendentious ‘journalism’ which egregiously distorts reality, the devil lies in the particular quotes selected, the sources not interviewed and the vital background and comparative analysis not provided.

The deception begins in the first paragraph:

Israel‘s president, Shimon Peres, has criticised the refusal of the country’s emergency medical services to accept a blood donation from an Ethiopian-born member of parliament on the grounds that it was a “special kind” of blood – a move that has prompted charges of racism.

However, while the MDA (Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) did, on Wednesday, refuse to accept blood from an Ethiopian Jewish lawmaker, Pnina Tamano-Shata, the selective quote attributed to the MDA volunteer in question, which was used again by Sherwood in the third paragraph, is extraordinarily misleading.

It’s only by the fourth paragraph down where Sherwood provides any real context, noting that “the director of the MDA’s blood service, said ministry of health regulations prohibited the use of blood donations from people who had lived for more than a year in countries with a high rate of HIV infection.”

However, this paragraph is all but buried, and only about 90 words in Sherwood’s 490 word story are devoted to providing vital context which balances the sensationalist tone of the accusations.  More typical are the quotes attributed to Israeli MK Uri Ariel, who reportedly said he was “shocked to hear that someone thinks that the blood of … Ethiopian Jews is less red than the blood of the rest of us”, and MK Ahmed Tibi, who concluded that “Israeli society and its systems continue to be infected by the deadly virus of racism…”

Of course, the “virus of racism” has nothing to do with the Israeli policy on blood donations.  As Elder of Ziyon pointed out, “anyone calling Israel racist based on a policy of not accepting blood from some African countries may want to read the American Red Cross guidelines for people they don’t want to donate blood for fear of AIDS”:

You should not donate if you are at risk for contracting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). The following activities would cause you to be at risk:If you were born or have lived in, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, since 1977.

Elder argued that those who “say that Israel is racist for limiting blood donors from countries in Africa, as well as Southeast Asia and the Caribbean” must conclude that “the US must be racist as well.” 

In Canada, Elder added, all potential donors are asked “Were you born in or have you lived in Africa since 1977?

As Martin Ellis, the secretary of the Israel Society of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, wrote recently in response to the row, Israeli blood donors “are screened and tested on the basis of epidemiology and statistical probability of carrying an infection that may be transmitted by blood and thus endanger the lives of recipients, not by color or creed.”

Erik Levis, a spokesperson for American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) told The Algemeiner: “A health-related story…has degenerated – without merit – into a story about alleged racism and discrimination based on ethnicity.”

While the MDA may indeed have cause to update their rules, new policy recommendations should be determined objectively by the probability a donor’s blood will endanger the lives of recipients, not by mindless platitudes and non sequiturs about “equality” and “racism” which have little relevance in determining effective public health policy.  Indeed, evidence abounds attesting to the fact that Israel’s health care system is among the world’s best in both efficiency and efficacy.

Of course, Harriet Sherwood wouldn’t have considered writing a careful, sober and nuanced story comparing health care policies – including blood donation guidelines – in the region, any more than she would consider devoting more coverage to the injurious effects of Palestinian antisemitism and incitement on efforts currently under way to bring about a peace deal.  

Regardless of the facts of the particular story she’s reporting, a narrative affirming her predetermined conclusion of Israeli oppression and Palestinian victimhood is assured. 

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