Is it possible to understand Ben White’s view that the Guardian is biased against Palestinians?

Ben White is a freelance pro-Palestinian activist and writer, and author of “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”.

White, who opposes the continued existence of the Jewish state within any borders, accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, attributes the malicious slurs of colonization, racism and ethnic cleansing to Israel, and has glorified Palestinian ‘martyrdom’.

In a 2002 article titled Is It ‘Possible’ to Understand the Rise in ‘Anti-Semitism’? White stated that “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are”.  He then links the rise of antisemitism with “the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media”.  To get a sense of White’s radicalism, one op-ed he wrote was actually cross-posted at the English website of the military wing of Hamas.

He also used to be a regular contributor to the Guardian.  From 2007 to 2012, he published op-eds at Comment is Free (the Guardian’s opinion page) up to 4 times per year.  His last op-ed there appeared in September of 2012.

white at guardian

We don’t know with any degree of certainty why they stopped publishing his pieces, but his disappearance on their pages overlapped with a broader trend at the Guardian – a significant reduction of extremist voices at Comment is Free.  To give you a sense of how bad it was prior to 2012, a six month study in 2011 by the (now defunct) media watchdog group Just Journalism demonstrated a clear pattern at the Guardian of “promoting the views of those who oppose the very concept of two states for two peoples.”  In fact, three of the Palestinians who contributed op-eds during this period “were either members of Hamas or strongly affiliated with it, and have endorsed terrorist attacks”.

This is the context in which to read White’s latest op-ed, (for the Hamas-friendly Middle East Monitor (MEMO), complaining that the Guardian has been silencing ‘Palestinian voices’.

ben white

Whilst some of White’s analysis is misleading – as it erroneously suggests that op-eds written by commentators born in Israel should necessarily be viewed as pro-Israel – the broader, unintended narrative which can be inferred from his op-ed, that the Guardian has taken a turn away from extremist pro-Palestinian voices (like White himself), is true.  Additionally, the overall quantity of Israel related content published by the Guardian has declined, and they’ve even published a few official editorials about Israel and antisemitism which were surprisingly nuanced and even-handed.

So, why have the Guardian’s editorial decisions regarding Israel shifted slightly?  

White hints at one possibility:

The Guardian is often accused of ‘pro-Palestinian’ bias by Israel and its supporters: over ten months last year, the paper received a complaint from the Israeli embassy in London on average once every 2-3 weeks (in addition to dozens by Israel advocacy groups and ‘monitoring’ websites).

There is, of course, a distinction between the paper’s on the ground reportage, and its op-ed pages. Yet the fact remains that, despite Israel’s anger at how the paper covers the issue, when it comes to the comment pages, Palestinian voices are marginalised.

 Of course, one of the monitoring websites he’s referring to is UK Media Watch.

Though it would be a big mistake to overstate the degree to which the Guardian’s coverage of Israel has improved, we believe it’s undeniable that our insistence on holding them accountable to the accuracy clause of the Editors’ Code, our ‘naming and shaming’ of extremist voices published on their pages and exposes on antisemitic tropes licensed by editors has had a significant impact.  Indeed, our name change from CiF Watch to UK Media Watch in part reflected the success in carrying out our original Guardian focused mission.

To be clear, institutional problems at Guardian Group persist. Their Jerusalem correspondent is still extremely biased, and his reports misleading and tendentious; their insistence upon treating Palestinians as victims only – and related failure to assign moral agency to their leaders and citizens – permeates their coverage; they all but ignore Palestinian extremism and official PA incitement; and, their continuing inability to humanize Israeli terror victims has been evident in their coverage of the latest wave of Palestinian violence.

However, it is possible to understand White’s criticism of the Guardian. Though their brand is still correctly associated with the marginal radical left end of the British political spectrum, pro-Israel media warriors can at least be comforted in the knowledge that their tireless efforts to promote more accurate coverage, combat antisemitism and speak truth to power have paid dividends.

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