Telegraph exploits Aegean Airlines flight row to suggest widespread Israeli racism

The facts so far seem beyond dispute.

One Palestinian resident of Israel and one Arab citizen of Israel were both removed from an Athens to Tel Aviv Aegean Airlines flight after dozens of Jewish Israeli passengers insisted, evidently without good cause, that they presented a security threat. 

To their credit, the Guardian published an AFP report on the incident which simply relied on the known facts.

However, some media outlets took the more predictable route.

The Telegraph’s Nick Squires (the paper’s Rome correspondent) evidently believed a straight-forward reporting of the row wouldn’t really make for a compelling story.

No, the story needed to fit into existing media narratives imputing widespread Israeli racism against Arabs to give it life.

Squires’ Jan. 6 report didn’t waste much time before jumping to the conclusion.

Palestinian authorities have demanded an investigation after a Palestinian and an Arab-Israeli were removed from a plane departing Greece after Jewish Israeli passengers insisted that they presented a security threat.

Palestinians said the incident was reminiscent of apartheid, while civil rights groups said it was a consequence of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, inciting hatred against the Arab Israeli community

So, the ‘debate’ framed by the Telegraph reporter is whether the incident suggests full-out apartheid or ‘merely’ Israeli “incitement” against its Arab community.

Then, after a few paragraphs in which Squires explains what happened on board the flight, we get the requisite quotes from completely ‘objective’ and ‘reliable’ sources – Amnesty International, Saeb Erekat and an MP from Meretz, an Israeli political party risibly characterized by Squires as a “centre-left”.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called the decision to eject them “unjust and disgraceful.” He referred to both men as Palestinians.

“We are outraged by how two Palestinians were treated with discrimination and prejudice at the hands of the Aegean cabin crew prior to the departure of last Sunday’s flight,” he said in a statement.

“We call upon the Greek government to take strong action against this racist act, including compensation for the two Palestinian passengers.

“This appalling behaviour by the Israeli passengers is reminiscent of the worst years of the South African apartheid,” he said.

Yonatan Gher, the head of Amnesty International in Israel, said the incident was an example of how the Israeli government had incited distrust and ill-feeling towards Arab Israelis, particularly in the wake of a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv last week by an Arab Israeli gunman.

“People should not be surprised by such shameful acts when the prime minister stands at the forefront of incitement and the racist narrative against an entire sector of society, during the last election and now as well,” Mr Gher said.

Michal Rozin, an MP with the secular, centre-Left Meretz party, said: “The prime minister and his ministers sow fear and hate through slander and incitement, and this is the result.

“The government must understand that marking Israeli-Arab citizens as potential terrorists leads to the loss of morals and values that endangers our future as a society.”

The suggestions by Gher, Erekat and Rozin that Israeli incitement was responsible for the behavior of the passengers were likely based on completely baseless claims advanced by some (including in Haaretz) that Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech in Tel Aviv following the Tel Aviv shooting attack was racist or incited against Arabs.

Indeed, if you read the speech in its entirety, it would be difficult to determine precisely at what point the Israeli prime minister uttered a word that could be construed as racist or representing “incitement” against Arabs.

If Telegraph editors wished to publish an op-ed by Squires imputing Israeli racism based on the behavior of a small number of its citizens, that of course would be their right.  

However, let’s be clear: the piece in question wasn’t supposed to be an op-ed, or even an analysis, but ‘straight news’.

In contextualizing the incident solely by relying on hyperbolic quotes from an anti-Israel NGO, the chief Palestinian spokesperson (known for his complicated relationship with the truth) and a marginal political party know for its hostility to the prime minister, Squires fails spectacularly in his duty to provide readers with a fair, accurate and non-tendentious report.

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