Guardian’s Jerusalem reporter wants critics of his coverage to stop their kvetching

It seems not to have occurred to the Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent that those who promote Israel's cause, and submit "relentless complaints", may be making reasonable arguments and could impart information about the region he wasn't aware of or provide perspectives he hadn't previously considered.

If you’re critical of the Guardian’s coverage of Israel, and believe that the media group often gets the facts wrong about the conflict, the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent Oliver Holmes has a message for you: he doesn’t much care about your concerns and would rather not hear from you.

That’s our take-away from his first person account reflecting on his first year in Jerusalem (Reporting from Jerusalem: The focus is always on how the story is told, April 28).

Here are the relevant paragraphs:

I had arrived in Jerusalem a year earlier, taking on one of journalism’s most toxic beats: Israel-Palestine. Covering this place is so contentious that there is a whole book on the Guardian’s history with Israel. Unlike anywhere I’ve ever reported, the focus here is not on what happens, but how that story is told, dragging us journalists into the fight over the narrative.

I was deported from Yemen and shot at in Syria, yet I have never experienced such a determined, day-to-day attempt to influence the independence of our work as I do here.

This is done with online attacks and relentless complaints, and also with smiles. Lobbyists offer to “help” by setting up interviews or trips, but only those that promote their cause. These groups don’t understand how our goals are completely at odds. If they succeed, to make press coverage of Israel glowing, while playing down the country’s failings, then we neglect our goal, which is, of course, to report fairly and objectively.

Tellingly, Holmes’ article cites only examples of Israelis attempting to influence his coverage, not Palestinians.  He ignores the fact that top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat issued a document to foreign journalists telling them how to cover the region, and that Hamas threatens and intimidates journalists who don’t follow their script.

Though he may truly believe he’s reporting “fairly” on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, our analysis to date shows that Holmes has drawn from the standard Guardian playbook – which includes obsessive criticism of every Israeli sin, real and imagined, accompanied by a near total failure to treat Palestinians as moral actors whose decisions impact their political and economic outcomes.  We’ve demonstrated, for instance, that Holmes has adhered to Palestinian talking points on the Great March of Return in portraying the violent rioters entirely as victims, and has amplified and promoted the narrative of BDS activists and other marginal anti-Israel voices. 

Oliver Holmes

Further, whilst it’s unclear what he means when he complains of “online attacks”, if he’s referring to us, it would have been more accurate to describe them as ‘tweets respectfully pointing out his factual errors and omissions’.

Moreover, he seems completely unaware that most British Jews hold the Guardian in utter contempt, anger driven by their history of fanatical hostility towards the only Jewish state – bias and outright vilification that a large majority of Jews believe fuels antisemitism in Britain.  

Finally, it seems not to have occurred to Holmes that those who promote Israel’s cause, and submit “relentless complaints”, may be making reasonable arguments and could impart information about the region he wasn’t aware of, or provide perspectives he hadn’t previously considered. What he frames as shielding himself from attempts to compromise his “independence” strikes us as just a fancy way of putting his fingers in his ears while shouting “I can’t hear you!”.  

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