Guardian editor condemns U.K. journalists’ call to boycott Israel

April 18, 2007

* “Israeli melons have AIDS”
* BBC postpones its “Weddings and Beheadings” “comedy”
* Hate-filled UK journalist: Israel probably murdered Alan Johnston



1. Israeli Holocaust survivor named as hero of Va. Tech shootings
2. Guardian editor condemns UK journalists’ call to boycott Israel
3. Published on The New York Times letters page
4. 200,000 Turks call for secular state guarantee
5. Israeli photographer wins Pulitzer Prize for picture of settler
6. BBC: “Weddings and Beheadings” postponed
7. Hate-filled UK journalist: Israel probably murdered Alan Johnston
8. Reporter’s captors want $5m. ransom
9. Obsession with Alan Johnston: what about Parnaz Azima?
10. “Death to America” on the BBC
11. Holland says no to Hamas
12. Israelis shot: almost no reporting outside Israel
13. Palestinian guards beat journalists
14. Christian bookstore, Internet cafes bombed in Gaza
15. “Israeli melons have AIDS”
16. DiCaprio to be daddy-o
17. “Guardian editor condemns U.K. journalists’ call to boycott Israel” (Ha’aretz, April 18, 2007)
18. “UK reporters in Israel ignore boycott” (Jerusalem Post, April 17, 2007)
19. “Brothers and sisters, I’m off” (By Michael Gove, UK Times, April 18, 2007)

[Note by Tom Gross]


A Romanian-born Holocaust survivor has been widely praised for his heroic role during the massacre at Virginia Tech university on Monday, when South Korean-born native Cho Seung-hui shot 32 people dead.

Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, an Israeli who taught engineering at Virginia Tech, used his body to block the door, allowing himself to be repeatedly shot while giving time for other students to escape by opening windows and jumping out.

Many of Librescu’s students have sent thankful e-mails to his wife, and to his son in Israel, explaining how he gave his life to save their lives. By coincidence, he was murdered on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

His body is being returned to Israel for burial. Even papers usually hostile to anything Israeli have praised Librescu. For example, the front page of the Independent of London (the paper of Robert Fisk) says today: “The Hero: Brilliant professor who escaped Holocaust died saving his students.”


This is a follow-up to: For first time, British journalists officially vote to boycott Israeli goods (April 14, 2007).

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the (London) Guardian, has condemned the British journalists’ resolution. “The Guardian disapproves of these kinds of boycotts and does not think they serve a useful purpose. It was a misguided motion,” he said.

For more on Rusbridger, and his comparisons between Israel and “apartheid,” see “New Prejudices for Old”.

Another “senior British journalist” told Ha’aretz that the motion was “an embarrassment for us all.” For more, see the first article attached below.

The second article below, from the Jerusalem Post, reports that the motion is “being ignored by Israel-based UK journalists.” The Sky News Jerusalem bureau chief told the Post: “I can speak for everyone working for Sky News [here] and none of us will be boycotting any time in the near future.” I am among the journalists quoted in this article.

The third article below is by celebrated British commentator Michael Gove, a founder member of this email list seven years ago, who says today in the London Times that he will now quit the journalists’ union.

The union has a membership of nearly 40,000 British journalists, who work in all the leading media outlets in the UK. The last time they made such a politically controversial move was in 1986, when its delegate conference sent a “telegram of condolence” to Colonel Muammar Gadhafi after the U.S. bombing of Libya.


This is a rare occasion when The New York Times publishes a letter that hits the nail on the head:

New York Times
April 12, 2007
Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

David Brooks reports that “moderate Arab reformers” have traced the problems in Iraq, Iran and other Middle East hot spots to a country roughly the size of Massachusetts that dominates the affairs of its Arab neighbors and operates a puppet government in Washington as well.

O.K., but what do the hard-liners think?

Michael Smith
Cynthiana, Ky.


There are of course moderates in the Middle East, notably in Turkey and Iran. On Saturday, over 200,000 Turks gathered in the country’s capital, Ankara, to voice their opposition to the possibility that the ruling Justice and Development Party will select Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be its candidate for president. The protestors said they feared Erdogan’s Muslim background and the Islamist nature of his party could push modern Turkey away from its secular origins if he is elected. Modern Turkey was established a century ago as a secular state by its founding father Kamal Ataturk.


Oded Balilty, an Israeli photographer working for the Associated Press, won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography on Monday. Balilty’s prize-winning photo shows a lone Jewish settler trying to resist eviction from the West Bank settlement outpost of Amona by Israeli security forces on Feb. 1, 2006. About 200 Jewish settlers were wounded during the demolition of nine Jewish homes at the site.

The photo can be viewed here.


Has the BBC been mugged by reality? With claims by Palestinian Islamic terrorists in Gaza that they have executed BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, the BBC appears to be toughening up on its usual almost sympathetic attitude to Muslim terrorism.

BBC radio was planning to broadcast tomorrow what the BBC had described as a comedy, titled “Weddings and Beheadings,” about an Iraqi cameraman who earns his income filming the beheadings of hostages.

Apparently now that one of their own has possibly been beheaded, the BBC no longer finds the subject funny, and the BBC Radio web site now says the “broadcast has been postponed.” (See:

But will this sudden reality check prove merely temporary, as a similar reality check did after the London transport bombings of 2005? (See:

(For more on “Weddings and Beheadings” see:


This is an update to previous mentions on this list of kidnapped BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston.

Johnston, 44, was abducted by gunmen in Gaza City on March 12 and has not been seen or heard from since then. On Sunday, a Palestinian Islamist group, “The Brigades of Tawheed and Jihad,” said it had killed Johnston to support demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But Palestinian officials have said they could not confirm the claim.

Now Alan Hart, a former reporter for ITN and BBC in the UK, has been the first of the anti-Israeli British media to make the incredible allegation that Israel killed Johnston. Hart writes on his blog:

“Alan was not only the BBC’s man… he was the best and most informed provider of news about the Palestinian side of the story; a story which, in many of its details, is an embarrassment to Israel and those governments, most notably the Bush and Blair regimes, which support Israel’s efforts to break the will of the Palestinians to continue their struggle.

“... There is a case for saying (repeat a case) that the party with most to gain from Alan Johnston’s permanent disappearance was Israel… If Alan Johnston is dead, it’s my hope that the BBC at executive management level will rise above its fear of offending Zionism too much and allow its reporters (Frank Gardner and Jeremy Bowen are second to none) to make a full, thorough and honest investigation.”

Tom Gross adds: Even among the multitude of partisan journalists against Israel, Alan Hart, is one of the most hate-filled. A former correspondent for ITN’s News At Ten and the BBC’s Panorama program, he has never ceased to attack Israel. His latest book is “Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews.”

Hart joins other conspiracy theorists who blame Israel and / or “the Jews” for everything from the Asian Tsunami, to starting the Second World War.


Yesterday, the leading London-based Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Alan Johnston’s captors are demanding $5 million for his release. (This fact has been known to me for over a month but I had been asked to refrain from making it public by British officials. It has now been widely reported this morning in the British and Israeli press.)

This renewed demand for ransom contradicts unconfirmed reports that he has been killed.

As reported previously on this email list / website, last year Fox news paid $2 million to obtain the release of its two kidnapped employees in Gaza. Fox news has vigorously denied paying any ransom, but the fact that $2 million in cash in a suitcase was taken by third parties acting on behalf of Fox news from Israel into Gaza in order to secure their release, has been confirmed to me by both Palestinian and Israeli officials.


While we should all be concerned about Johnston’s well being, the enormous coverage granted to his plight on the BBC, CNN International, al Jazeera and Sky News, contrasts greatly with the almost complete lack of coverage by the BBC and others about an American journalist who is being held against her will in Teheran.

Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima, who has dual American and Iranian nationality, arrived in the Iranian capital on January 25th in order to visit a family member who is sick, and immediately had her passport confiscated.

Yesterday, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi called upon the Iranian authorities to return Azima’s passport.

Azima is a broadcaster with Radio Farda, the Persian-language service run jointly by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America.

President Jeffrey Gedmin (who is a subscriber to this email list) has called on the Iranian authorities to allow Azima to leave “without further delay.”


It is interesting to learn of the personal background of the kind of journalist that the BBC – which as a publicly funded institution is under a British legal requirement to broadcast balanced and impartial news coverage – employs as a leading foreign correspondent.

See, for example, the opening paragraphs here, of its new series “Death to America: Anti-Americanism examined”.

Needless to say, the BBC fails to mention its own central role in stoking anti-Americanism with its highly selective and one-sided reporting in dozens of languages throughout the world.


While other European Union countries are beginning to cooperate with the new Hamas-led Palestinian unity government, despite its extremist positions, the Dutch have announced that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya will be refused entry to participate in a “Palestinians in Europe” conference in Rotterdam on May 5, 2007.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Haniya should not bother to apply for a visa, since his application would be rejected. “We consider Hamas, to which Haniya is affiliated, a terrorist group,” he said.

The Dutch have significantly toughened up their position on Hamas, although the left-wing Dutch Labor Party, a member of the coalition, is urging a rethink of the policy of not speaking with Hamas.

The date chosen for the conference, Saturday 5th May, is particularly significant in Holland as it has been designated “Freedom Day”, marking the 62nd anniversary of the liberation of Holland from Nazi occupation.


Yesterday the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – a constituent part of “moderate” Palestinian President Abbas’s Fatah party – claimed responsibility for a shooting attack in the morning that injured four Israeli civilians in the West Bank, including a 30-year-old pregnant woman and another woman, 25, who were waiting at a hitchhiking post.

Barely any western media bothered to report this.


Yesterday security guards at the Palestinian parliament beat with rifle butts Palestinian journalists who were demonstrating in support of kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, pushing back reporters and beating at least two of them.

About 200 journalists had gathered outside the building, seeking information about Johnston. When journalists tried to enter parliament to talk to lawmakers about the case, the guards violently pushed them back and barred them from entering.

This was reported in places like America and China, for example here in the Miami Herald: “Palestinian Guards Beat Journalists,” (April 17, 2007); and here in the China People’s Daily: “Palestinian police repress BBC reporter solidarity rally,” (April 17, 2007).

But it was almost unreported in Europe. For example, neither the BBC nor the Guardian mentioned this development. No doubt they don’t want to paint the Palestinian Authority in a bad light.


Three explosions in Gaza City at around 3 a.m. on April 15, damaged two Internet cafes and a Christian bookstore. The “vice squad” of Muslim militants called “Swords of Truth,” are believed to be behind the attacks.

Many Christian bibles were burned in the explosion. Some 3,000 Christians live among 1.5 million Muslims in Gaza.

In recent months, about three dozen Internet cafes and shops selling pop music have been attacked in Gaza, with assailants detonating small bombs outside businesses at night, causing damage but no injuries.


“Beware of Israeli melons infected with AIDS arriving in Saudi Arabia!” is the latest rumor being spread by SMS throughout Saudi Arabia.

The text message reads: “The Saudi Interior Ministry warns its citizens of a truck loaded with AIDS-infected melons that Israel brought into the country via a ‘ground corridor.’”

The Saudi Interior Ministry have denied making such an announcement, and the head of the center for chemicals and toxins in Mecca, Dr Ahmad Elias, also stressed that spreading the HIV virus via melons was a scientific impossibility.

Nevertheless, the rumor is continuing to spread like wildfire, according to sources in Saudi Arabia. It has also gained widespread attention in the Arab world and was on the front page of Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the leading Saudi and pan-Arab newspapers.


The UK’s second bestselling newspaper, The Mirror, reports that Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli are expecting a baby in the fall, preceded by June nuptials in Israel. Others have denied the report.

The two have been dating for 15 months, and recently sent the Israeli press into a frenzy when DiCaprio visited the quiet Tel Aviv suburb of Hod Hasharon to meet Rafaeli’s family. The Dan Accadia Herzliya Hotel has been contacted about staging the wedding, according to the Mirror.

* For the Mirror report, see:

* For more on DiCaprio, see: the eleventh note in the dispatch Chirac “secretly urged Israel to topple Assad” (& 28% of Israeli Arabs say Holocaust is a myth) (March 19, 2007).

-- Tom Gross



Guardian editor condemns U.K. journalists’ call to boycott Israel
By Charlotte Halle
April 18, 2007

The editor of the London Guardian on Tuesday condemned as “misguided” a resolution passed by a British journalists’ union last week that called for a boycott of Israeli goods.

“The Guardian disapproves of these kinds of boycotts and does not think they serve a useful purpose. It was a misguided motion,” editor of the British daily Alan Rusbridger told Ha’aretz by telephone last night.

On Friday, at its annual meeting, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK voted for a boycott of Israeli goods in protest of last year’s Lebanon war and Israeli “aggression” in the territories.

The vote, which carried 66 to 54, read: “This ADM [annual delegate meeting] calls for a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions and the TUC [Trades Union Congress] to demand sanctions to be imposed on Israel by the British government,” according to reports in the British press. It followed an earlier motion, which was passed by a larger majority, condemning the “savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon by Israel” last year and the “slaughter of civilians by Israeli troops in Gaza and the IDF’s continued attacks inside Lebanon following the defeat of its army by Hezbollah.”

The union has a membership of nearly 40,000 British journalists, who work in all the leading media outlets in the UK.

“My guess is that the majority of working journalists would feel very uneasy and hostile to the motion which was published in their names,” one senior British journalist told Ha’aretz. “It’s just an embarrassment for us all,” said another.

Members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel discussed Tuesday at their annual general meeting whether to submit a formal response to the NUJ, said the organization’s chairman Simon McGregor-Wood, of ABC News, who is British. “The resolutions seem to go against some of the core ethics of journalism that we are here to protect, such as balance and objectivity. I don’t think any representative body of journalists should be taking a side,” he said.

Much of Tuesday’s FPA meeting was devoted to discussing further demonstrations to protest the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, thought to have been forced from his Gaza apartment by masked men on March 12.

It is not the first time the NUJ has made political moves likely to be out of sync with its membership. In 1986 its delegate conference sent a “telegram of condolence” to Colonel Muammar Gadhafi after the U.S. bombing of Libya, a book about the 100-year-old union recalls.

The British journalists’ union boycott follows a short-lived academic boycott a year ago by Britain’s university lecturers’ union, which was overturned four days after it passed. The Church of England synod has also called for disinvestment from Israel.

Zvi Heifetz, Israel’s ambassador in London, commented on the NUJ motion to Ha’aretz: “It is a shame that an organization that represents journalists threatens to boycott goods from Israel only one day after worrying rumors surfaced about the fate of one of the union’s own members. The timing of this move is also peculiar in light of the recent bi-weekly meetings between PM Olmert and President Abbas and the attempts made by the Arab world and Israel to revive the peace process, based on the Saudi initiative.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: “We obviously view such activity negatively, but I wouldn’t overstate the significance of this event.”



UK reporters in Israel ignore boycott
By Yaniv Salama-Scheer
The Jerusalem Post
April 17, 2007

A motion to boycott Israeli goods that was passed by Britain’s National Union of Journalists on Friday is being ignored by Israel-based UK journalists.

Most British correspondents working in Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not members of the NUJ. One who is, Donald Macintyre of The Independent, said he did not know anything about the union’s actions until he read it in the Israeli media.

“The job of the NUJ is to protect journalists and not adopt political postures, Right or Left,” Macintyre told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “It certainly won’t affect my job or my professional outlook.”

“We are here to report on Israel as well as the Palestinians. If they [the NUJ] want to get involved in Middle East issues, they should join the brave campaign for [kidnapped BBC Gaza correspondent] Alan Johnston by the brave Palestinian journalists supporting him,” he said.

The BBC’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Simon Wilson, said Johnston’s situation was far more important and pressing than the boycott call. “I have a missing journalist in Gaza,” he said. “I have no time for anything else. Besides, [the boycott] is not something we would comment on.”

British TV’s Sky News Jerusalem bureau chief, Yael Lavie, told the Post: “I can speak for everyone working for Sky News [here] and none of us will be boycotting any time in the near future.”

The boycott, approved in a 66-54 vote at the National Union of Journalists’ annual delegates meeting, is intended to protest Israel’s “military adventures” in the Gaza Strip and its “savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon” last summer.

Its language would appear to require that union members here be restricted to the PA territories so they do not contribute to the Israeli economy.

“If that is the case, the boycott is absolutely ridiculous, but I can’t even say if that’s what they are in fact calling for because I haven’t been sent a text of the motion,” a Jerusalem-based British journalist said.

The motion was stoutly defended by the NUJ’s public relations director, Tim Gopsill. He told the Post: “Who can condemn the NUJ’s boycott when the EU and USA are boycotting the Palestinians and leading to worse economic situations for those in the [PA] territories? Members’ sympathies lie with the people in Palestinian areas.”

Gopsill blamed the Palestinian economic situation for Johnston’s kidnapping. “Taking Alan Johnston [captive],” he said, “demonstrates the Palestinians’ desperate way of drawing attention to their problems.”

NUJ member Toby Harnden, the Daily Telegraph’s Washington reporter and a former Jerusalem correspondent, called the boycott “insulting to the intelligence,” adding, “This kind of thing is what gives British trade unions their loony Left image.”

Tom Gross, a former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, said British trade unions had taken a fashionably left-turn in their views over the past few years, echoing the positions taken by the “international Left” in targeting Israel.

“With Britain as the base for influential international media such as the BBC, Financial Times, Economist magazine and Reuters news agency, British media lies about Israel have ramifications far beyond Britain,” he said. “If British journalists really want to boycott Israeli goods, they better give up their desktop and notebook computers and their mobile phones, all of which have components developed and manufactured in Israel.”

Opponents of the boycott have asked in various Web postings why Israel is being targeted by journalists who should be working without restrictions or preconception, and/or why other countries and regimes are not being similarly boycotted. Notably, some critics wrote, despite the Johnston kidnapping, there has been no move to boycott the PA.

Other Web postings, meanwhile, have endorsed the action, some praising it as similar to an NUJ boycott of apartheid-era South Africa.



Brothers and sisters, I’m off
By Michael Gove
The Times (London)
April 18, 2007

I have been a member of a trade union for nearly 20 years now. The union to which I belong, the National Union of Journalists, kept me fed and watered when I was a young trainee and out on strike. I was grateful for the support and camaraderie of its members and appreciated the virtues of solidarity. As time has worn on I’ve kept faith with the union because it kept me going at a difficult time.

With the benefit of hindsight I realise that the strike for which I came out in support was mishandled. Better men and women than I, with much more to lose, lost it in a vain struggle. Yet they made those sacrifices in defence of a principle in which they believed, and they thought that their actions would protect younger journalists like me most. So it would have been more than churlish to fail to respect their sacrifice.

But now, reluctantly, I fear that I will have to part company with the union, even as I continue to respect the men and women who went out on strike, in its name, in Aberdeen nearly two decades ago. Because the NUJ recently passed a motion at its conference calling for a boycott.

This boycott is not of a repressive state that outlaws free expression (of which, sadly, there are still too many) but of one of the few states in the Middle East with a proper free press: Israel.

The NUJ exists to defend, among other virtues, freedom of speech. That virtue is better defended in Israel than in any other nation of the Middle East and it comes under assault daily from forces driven by fanaticism.

Now is a time, for all sorts of reasons, for showing solidarity with those defending democracy in that region, not for passing on the other side of the road. So, with no little sadness, I feel that I have to leave.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.