Revisiting the day when Tom Gross escorted Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger around Israel

We just came across a fascinating post by the prolific Tom Gross describing his experience in 2001 escorting Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (and Ian Katz) around Israel and the Palestinian territories.
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What especially stands out is how much worse their coverage was during the early 2000s compared to today – which says a lot in light of the egregious institutional anti-Israel bias we’ve been exposing since our blog’s launch in 2009.
Gross begins:

LAST May, I escorted the editor of London’s Guardian newspaper, Alan Rusbridger, and his features editor, Ian Katz, round West Jerusalem and into Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem. It was Rusbridger’s first trip to Israel. His paper had been singled out by critics of press coverage of Israel – even in the context of highly selective and biased reporting across virtually the entire European media – as one of the most unfair. [Ian Katz is now editor of BBC’s Newsnight.] 

Unlike many other journalists who have climbed aboard the anti-Israeli bandwagon over the last months without having ever even been to Israel, Rusbridger – to his credit – took five days off work to see the situation for himself. He is, after all, heir to the great C.P. Scott, editor of The Guardian for 57 years, who (in Rusbridger’s words) “fought tirelessly alongside Chaim Weizmann for the creation of the state of Israel.” (Indeed it was Scott who introduced Weizmann to Arthur Balfour).
A few days before our meeting, the Guardian’s chief Jerusalem correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg, had been presented with Britain’s prestigious Edgar Wallace Trophy by Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. In a front-page announcement, The Guardian said that the London Press Club had decided to award her the prize, for her “courageous and objective journalism.”
Even though the prize is meant to cover reporting in general, and has no particular connection with the Middle East, the runner-up was another media crusader against Israel, Robert Fisk, of the Independent newspaper. Goldenberg’s news report in the Guardian on the morning the prize was announced, was titled “Mutilated Children of a Crippled Palestine,” which gives a flavor of the kind of writing which had so impressed her fellow journalists.

Guardian, May 1, 2001
Guardian, May 1, 2001

See our post (published last year) which fisked Goldenberg’s appalling 2001 report on the al-Dura incident.

Rusbridger, Katz and I crossed by car into Bethlehem. It wasn’t clear whether it was safe to go there that morning. The mutilated bodies of two 13-year-old Israeli boys had been found in a nearby cave just hours earlier, and tension was high. My car had Israeli, not Palestinian, license plates, and over the previous weeks several motorists had been shot dead for just such an offence.

The boys murdered in the cave were Yosef Ish Ran and Koby Mandell.

Two Israeli soldiers, aged about 18, were standing guard on the Israeli side of the border. When we showed our journalist identity cards and asked if we could cross, one of them said in English “But of course if you are journalists you must come in.” Then he added, with a wry smile, “You are the bodyguard of democracy, after all.” Rusbridger jotted down the soldier’s observation in his notebook.
“Is it safe to go in this morning?” I asked the soldier. “Yes, the Palestinians don’t start shooting until lunchtime these days,” he replied. Katz was worried: “You mean they have shooting here!”
We were pressed for time, so our foray into Bethlehem was a short one. But it was long enough for Rusbridger and Katz – a contemporary of mine at Oxford who told me that he hadn’t been to Israel “since his bar mitzvah” – to see with their own eyes that the Israeli soldiers were courteous and polite to Palestinians. They saw that Palestinians were allowed to cross the checkpoint by both car and foot in a matter of seconds. And they saw by contrast how the same soldiers were refusing religious Jews, who wished to go and pray at the nearby holy site of Rachel’s Tomb, entry to Bethlehem.
On our drive down one of Bethlehem’s main streets, we passed Palestinian-owned cars of a similar standard to those we had just seen being driven by Israelis in Jerusalem. Rusbridger and Katz also had a chance to observe that the local Arab shops were well stocked. And when we drove back out from Bethlehem into Israel, they could see that Palestinians were allowed to pass quickly – in about the same time it takes an average Israeli to enter a Tel Aviv shopping mall or movie theatre, as his bags are searched for explosive devices. At the same time the religious Jews we had seen before were still on the other side of the road, still pleading with the soldiers to be allowed entry to Bethlehem.
“BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL”
Two weeks later, Rusbridger wrote about his trip in a cover story for the Spectator magazine in London. The Spectator was an unexpected choice. It is owned by Conrad Black, one of the few prominent non-Jews in the West to have openly denounced media coverage of Israel. “The BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel,” Black had written in The Spectator a few weeks earlier, “and wittingly or not, are stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism.”

Pay close attention to Rusbridger’s words:

Rusbridger began his Spectator article as follows: “In the last, dying days of apartheid I visited South Africa… A couple of weeks ago I made my first trip to another much-written about country, Israel. As with my earlier journey I found a lot that was shocking, but this time I was genuinely surprised. Nothing had prepared me for finding quite so many echoes of the worst days of South Africa in modern Israel.”

The Apartheid lie would later be advanced by Guardian reporters and commentators, including their former Jerusalem correspondents Chris McGreal and Harriet Sherwood.

He went on to give some examples – taken out of context – of shooting incidents, and of Palestinian poverty he had witnessed in what he called the “large prison” of Gaza. He wrote of the “endless humiliating queues waiting to pass through Israeli army checkpoints.” There was no mention of our very different experience crossing into the “occupied West Bank.”
Not content with drawing analogies with South Africa, Rusbridger also made a comparison with Northern Ireland, implying that the situation is worse in Israel because Israelis don’t know what’s going on. He wrote – mistakenly – that “The difference in Israel is that almost no Jewish-Israeli journalists ever report firsthand on life and death on the West Bank or Gaza today… The exceptions – I think there are three – are brave and, by and large, despised by Jewish Israelis.”
He seemed to have forgotten our conversation about the workings of Israeli democracy, in which I had pointed out that every Israeli newspaper – without exception – has regular and comprehensive reporting about life in Gaza, some of it highly critical of Israel; that both national Israeli TV channels have correspondents in Gaza; that senior advisors to Yasser Arafat, and even spokespersons for Hamas, are regularly interviewed on Israeli television and radio; and that Israeli Arabs play a significant role in the Israeli media. Indeed, as I had told Rusbridger, probably the single most influential journalist in Israel, Rafik Halaby, the Director of News at Israel’s state-run Channel One TV, is an Arab.
In his article Rusbridger also made no reference to the many progressive elements of Israeli Jewish society which we had discussed in some detail. I had asked him why, if Israel is “an affront to civilization” – the headline given to a comment piece written by a former British Defense Secretary in The Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, a few days before Rusbridger’s visit – the Jewish state should, for example, have some of the most liberal laws in the world for homosexuals, far more liberal than those in the US and Britain.

affront
Observer headline, May 13, 2001

As for his claim that “nothing had prepared me for finding quite so many echoes of the worst days of South Africa in modern Israel”, it made me wonder, for a moment, how carefully he reads his own paper, given that comparisons between present day Israel and South Africa in the apartheid era have become part of the Guardian’s stock in trade.
Take, for example, Goldenberg’s report of Saturday June 3, 2000. It was headlined, “Palestinians feel the heat as police enforce beach apartheid: With peace looming, Israel is keen to establish areas for Jews only”, and the article itself began: “In these early days of a sweltering summer, the long palm-dotted beaches of Tel Aviv are a natural escape. But if you are a Palestinian, a family day out can mean a night in jail. As Israeli Jews lolled on the sand yesterday, the Tel Aviv police were out in force in a zealous enforcement of beach apartheid… [an] operation to create Jewish-only beaches. Palestinians were arrested near the dolphinarium before they could even set foot on the sand…”

Guardian, June 3, 2000
Guardian, June 3, 2000

As someone who lives in Tel Aviv, and goes to the beach most days, I have never seen anything of the kind. Jews and Arabs mix freely on the beach, and did so when the article was written in June 2000, as any resident of Tel Aviv will confirm. This includes the area around the dolphinarium, site of a deadly Palestinian suicide bomb at a beachfront teenage disco exactly a year after Goldenberg wrote her piece.
About the same time that Rusbridger published his Spectator article, he wrote a massive editorial in The Guardian, running to well over 2,000 words, entitled “Between Heaven and Hell.”
Guardian, May 21, 2000
Guardian, May 21, 2000

A pull quote was reproduced in large type in a box on The Guardian’s front page. It read:
We are forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about how the dream of a sanctuary for the Jewish people in the very land in which their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped has come to be poisoned. The establishment of this sanctuary has been bought at a very high cost in human rights and human lives. It must be apparent that the international community cannot support this cost indefinitely.”

You can read the rest of Gross’s post, here.  
You can continue to read about the Guardian’s hostility towards the Jewish state on these pages.

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