Comment is free, but can be dangerous

The Guardian blog gives a prestigious platform to enemies of Israel and friends of the BNP

Among Britain’s newspapers, The Guardian enjoys the lead on the web, although it is closely pursued by rivals. Among the intriguing features of the Guardian site is the Comment is Free blog, open to all-comers, including its own staff, who think they have something sensible to say.

This is raw opinion, often dashed off in a moment of anger or insight, without the need to go through the painful process of winning the support of editors in the print editions. On any single day there is no shortage of CiF material of Jewish interest.

Take last Monday (April 28). There in all his glory was one of the grandees of British Jewry, Greville Janner, with an intervention on the London mayoral elections and why it was critical that the BNP be defeated.

He recalled how his late father, Barnett Janner, MP for Whitechapel in the 1930s, had opposed the blackshirts.

“Anti-Fascists — from ardent socialists to Irish Catholics, from honourable freedom fighters to the local Jewish population” joined forces to prevent Oswald Mosley and his thugs from marching through East London, Janner writes. His call to arms for Londoners was to vote “decency”.

Another Jewish leader given a run-out on CiF was Lord Levy, following publication of excerpts from his memoir in The Mail on Sunday. Guardian political doyen Michael White was not as excited about the MoS disclosures of Carole Caplin’s frequent massages for PM Blair. He was more interested in the revelations concerning “Jack (husband of Hattie) Dromey”, Labour’s treasurer at the time of cash-for-questions.

White also found it curious that Levy was out of sorts when Gordon Brown’s “moneybags” Sir Ronnie Cohen was moved in to help Levy out.

When it comes to The Guardian, the Middle East is never far away. Israel, it turns out, is the third favourite topic in the CiF archive, with 769 articles, against 1,611 for the USA and 858 for Iraq. Indeed, all MidEast entries attract special attention. A blog on Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas was current top of the pops with 176 comments. The majority were friendly to the much maligned former President.

A currently posted CiF on Israel-Syrian contacts on the Golan also aroused passions. Writer Richard Silverstein suggests that Israel and Syria have just presented George Bush with a golden opportunity to provide a legacy for his presidency. The problem, he argued, is that the two countries are negotiating by press release or third parties.

On a day when Israel was being vilified in news reports for the alleged killing of a Palestinian mother and four children in the Gaza Strip, there was a more reassuring CiF contribution from Seth Freedman on a project bringing together Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren. Freedman joined the group in the village of Ein Rafa where the Israeli pre-teens visited a mosque. On another visit to West Jerusalem, the Muslim kids “chatted away happily” to their Jewish peers before they entered a synagogue.

In a similar peace-loving vein, there was also a piece from a Muslim writer, Ziauddin Sardar, using parables from the Old Testament “and therefore the Torah to provide illustrations for Muslims of the pitfalls of power”.

Much of the objectionable material does not appear in the original postings. It is the thread of responses which are the problem. The Guardian seeks to police them for obscenities and racism, but as long as the language stays within bounds, the enemies of Israel and friends of the BNP do have their say unobstructed.

Freedom of speech is a great British contribution to civilisation. But it seems more startling on CiF than at Hyde Park Corner.

    Last updated: 11:21am, June 4 2008