Gaza war brings out Indy’s true colours

While much of the media has shown balance over Gaza, the Independent has reverted to type

By Alex Brummer, January 8, 2009

There is something about Middle East conflagrations which causes newspapers and their experts to revert to type. So once again, despite my recent optimism on these pages that a new, more Israel-friendly Independent might emerge under the editorship of Roger Alton, there has been no trace of it: amid all the negative media coverage of Israel’s war against Hamas, the Indy wins the prize for the least balanced.

Indeed, to my surprise and that of other media watchers, there has been a real effort during the Gaza conflict to inject a degree of balance into the reporting. Full marks in particular to the BBC’s Today programme — an agenda setter for much of the press — for trying to understand the hardships of Israeli communities in range of Hamas rocket fire. That is something new and very creditable.

But back to the Independent for a moment. One of the most controversial incidents from the Second Intifada was the publication in 2003 of the infamous Dave Brown cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian baby, with its antisemitic, blood-libel overtones. Brown went on to be named Cartoonist of the Year for his efforts, despite protests from British Jewry.

None of this seems to have constrained Brown. His cartoon of Ehud Olmert bathing in blood, with droplets dripping from his finger tips, while being served soft soap by Gordon Brown and George Bush may prove to be as seminal and damaging an image as the Sharon drawing.

Cartoonists are renowned for their cruelty but Brown’s use of blood-stained images is a direct reference to one of the oldest and most discredited anti-Jewish caricatures.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The paper is, after all, still the home of Robert Fisk, who pronounces from his perch in Lebanon on the crisis, giving scarcely a nod to the suffering of the Israeli communities in Hamas’s rocket range.

In Fisk’s view, Gaza only exists because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon — Askalaan in Arabic — were dispossessed of their lands in 1948 and fled to the beaches of Gaza. In his view the 1.5 million Gazans are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, crammed into the cess-pool of Gaza. His is the same distorted, revisionist history which accompanied the coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary last May.

One used to look to the Telegraph for some enlightened views. But the paper’s MidEast correspondent, Tim Butcher, has been pressed into comment duty and in a “personal view” (ie the paper doesn’t really believe in it) argues that Olmert’s war can only be an electoral boost for Hamas.

Not that Hamas cares that much about human rights or democracy. The Herald Tribune reported from within Gaza on how the city’s Shifa hospital, to which Israel’s bombing raid victims were taken, became the scene of summary executions by Hamas. Injured victims were accused of being Israeli collaborators, taken from their beds, dragged outside and shot. But, of course, not a hint of this horror of Hamas bathed in Fatah blood made it into the UK press.

Fortunately, Israel is not without its defenders. As the media dusted off the language of the 2006 Lebanon war, notably the use of the word “disproportionate”, David Aaronovitch argued in The Times that the word was meaningless. What if, for instance, Israel had chosen to do what Hamas does by indiscriminately firing rockets in the general direction of Gaza City rather than aiming for security targets?

It’s a good point; but once the media has bought into a narrative, it will not be shifted.

Alex Brummer is city editor of the Daily Mail

Last updated: 5:29pm, January 8 2009