“A leftist in the fight against left-wing hypocrisy” (Die Welt profile of Tom Gross)

September 17, 2019

(Photo of Tom Gross by ‘Die Welt’ photographer Amin Akhtar)


The following article was published in Die Welt, a leading German newspaper, on page 2 of the print edition, and online in German here:




A leftist in the fight against left-wing hypocrisy
By Alan Posener
Die Welt
September 17, 2019

Tom Gross is one of the most influential journalists when it comes to the Middle East. As a Jew, he does not always have an easy time. And he is also often confronted with tendentious or prejudicial coverage of Israel. A portrait by Alan Posener.


Tom Gross shows up at our meeting wearing a T-shirt. (It is a hot August afternoon.) “Is this too informal?” he asks the Welt’s photographer. “I am a very informal type.” The photographer prefers something more formal. To his relief, Gross has brought a shirt as a precaution in his backpack.

Gross is probably the most influential man that most Germans have never heard of. Anyone who has anything to say in connection to the Middle East reads his newsletter: politicians, intelligence officials, diplomats, media types. His emails, which arrive at irregular intervals, are always a kind of lucky bag.

Often, but by no means always, they concern Israel and anti-Semitism: hate speech by Iranian mullahs or by British Labor politicians; corrections to reports in influential Western media, such as the British BBC or the New York Times. But his newsletter also contains reports and analysis from across the wider region. Gross is valued by human rights activists and is watched and reluctantly respected by the powerful.

Gross compiles his “dispatches” that he sends to his contacts around the world, puts them together and adds precise commentary of his own. He has been called a “one-man army”. No one has done more to counter stereotypes and caricatures about Israel with facts, facts and more facts -- and also to make the Muslim world’s democratic forces heard in the West.

Tom Gross lives modestly, works as a freelance journalist and supplements his meager earnings with a small inheritance to secure the economic and political independence of his newsletter.

Influential organizations have shown interest in formally adopting Gross’s newsletter as their own, but Gross doesn’t want to be compromised by having to bend to other people’s agendas and continues writing his newsletter as a one-man operation on his laptop, while sitting at the kitchen table in his adopted hometowns of Prague and Tel Aviv, or traveling to the Gulf States or Turkey, Washington or Berlin to cultivate contacts and meet opinion-makers.


His maternal grandparents were German Jews who had to flee the Nazis. With his grandmother Vera, Tom Gross travels while he was a young teenager on separate trips to Prague and then to East Berlin, back when they were still behind the Iron Curtain. These experiences help shape him for life. Later, when he studied politics and philosophy at the elite University of Oxford, he was alarmed at the rose-tinted attitude towards communism by the left-wing establishment (including by academics and fellow students at Oxford). Later, in the Middles East, he discovers that the “peace process industry” is no less rose-tinted than the various Palestinian “liberation organizations”.

Gross comes from a literary family. Descended from Polish-Jewish immigrants, his late father John Gross was described as the best-read man in Britain and was an internationally renowned literary critic. His mother Miriam Gross was the grande dame of the British literary pages. His sister Susanna is a literary editor. As a child, the greats of London’s literary life went in and out of his parental home, including George Orwell’s widow Sonia (who was also Tom Gross’s godmother), the playwright Harold Pinter and the publisher Lord George Weidenfeld.

While Gross was a student, Weidenfeld introduced him to the Czech dissident circle of Václav Havel, who Gross visited on another trip to Prague shortly before the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989. When Gross returned to live in Prague in 1993, Havel is president. But instead of courting his now influential Czech friends, Gross challenges them over the plight of the country’s Roma. Gross becomes a passionate advocate for the rights of the Roma, who are discriminated against at that time by some former freedom fighters as much as they were by the communists.

The episode is typical of Tom Gross. Like his hero George Orwell, he doesn’t adhere to prevailing liberal orthodoxies when it comes to justice. What most repels him about mafia organizations like the PLO, Fatah or Hamas is their betrayal of the Palestinian Arabs they claim to represent and their hopes for a dignified and self-determined life in peace.

In Prague, Gross writes for international newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post, which offers him a job in Israel in 1996, even though he does not speak Hebrew at the time. In Israel, too, he proves his ability to highlight inconvenient facts. At a time when no other mainstream Western media was willing to write about this, Gross writes in an article for the New York Daily News that ex-terrorist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat is using his prize money and other western charitable donations to finance summer camps for young people, which glorify jihad and train suicide bombers.


However, the “News” is only willing to publish the report if at least 50 percent of the article is devoted to the alleged comparable indoctrination in Israeli schools. Even as Arafat launches the “Second Intifada” shortly thereafter, and Arafat’s al-Aqsa brigades carry out more suicide bomb attacks than Hamas, liberal and left-wing circles in the West do not want to move away from the image of Arafat as the Prince of Peace.

By then, even the conservative British paper the “Telegraph” is floating on the anti-Israeli wave. At the beginning of the Intifada, Gross writes correctly that the violence had broken out “after then opposition leader and now prime minister Ariel Sharon had visited the Temple Mount, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews.” The editors at the Telegraph in London change Gross’ copy so that Sharon is now “General Sharon” while Ehud Barak, mentioned in the same article, is not General Barak. “The Temple Mount” is changed to “the Al-Aqsa Mosque” (which Sharon did not visit), and the Temple Mount is said by the Telegraph to be “holy to the Muslims” but not to the Jews. When Gross complains about this incorrect information inserted into his article, his editor in London says to him: “You are only upset because you are a Jew.”

Gross starts to recognize that behind the biased reporting are anti-Israel and sometimes anti-Semitic prejudices of many in the media, which in turn reinforce anti-Semitic sentiments in their readership. Meanwhile, Jewish publishers, editors and journalists often bend over backwards to be critical of Israel, to avoid exposing themselves to accusations of siding with the Jewish state. Deep is the fear of many Jews to be considered disloyal to the country in which they live.

Prejudices exist on many topics, says Gross, but the anti-Israel attitude of many media (and of some left-wingers in general) is often in “a class of its own”. In 1999, Gross begins to document and correct the falsehoods, omissions, and biased reports – the term “fake news” does not exist at that time yet – in emails he sends to friends and colleagues. Several years later this will become his newsletter and associated website “Mideast Media Analysis”.

You’d think the almost 20 years as a “one man army” pouring over often prejudicial reporting would have embittered Tom Gross. Service to the truth does not become easier in this age of antisocial media. But when we meet, Gross seems relaxed. He’s just an informal guy. An independent spirit. A man who shares many of the views and philosophy of the liberal-left, but has dedicated his life to fighting left-wing lies and hypocrisy. He is unpretentious, and is comfortable working in a T-shirt. But take a shirt to an interview in any case. You never know.



For those interested, here is an interview on BBC Arabic TV, in which I am asked about possible formulations for the new Israeli government. My comments start at 1 minute, 52 seconds into this clip.



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