Israeli envoy in Guardian row

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 11, 2008
Azzam Tamimi, at heart of a row between embassy and newspaper

Azzam Tamimi, at heart of a row between embassy and newspaper

The Guardian has refused to publish a letter from the press counsellor of the Israeli Embassy complaining that the writer of a comment article had not been properly identified as Hamas’ de facto London representative. The newspaper called the Israeli diplomat’s description “highly defamatory”.

On November 21, the Guardian ran a comment piece entitled “End the Siege of Gaza” by the Palestinian academic Azzam Tamimi, arguing that Israel, and not Hamas, was to blame for the recent escalation around the Gaza Strip and the humanitarian conditions within.

Mr Tamimi was described as “Director of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought, author of Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, and has advised Hamas on media strategy.”

After the article appeared, the Israeli Embassy press attaché in London, Lior Ben -Dor, wrote to the Guardian.

He said: “It is truly lamentable that the Guardian chose to give Tamimi such a prestigious platform. It is even more lamentable that the paper did not inform the readers who Tamimi really is and what he represents.”

Mr Ben-Dor went on to say that Tamimi “is de facto Hamas’s spokesperson and representative in London”.

The Guardian’s letters editor, Nigel Willmott, refused to print the Israeli diplomat’s letter, saying that the accusations were based on hearsay and “highly defamatory”.

Mr Ben-Dor wrote again, with more quotes from Tamimi, including his reply on BBC’s Hardtalk programme when asked if he would be a suicide bomber: “I would do it... if I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not? Sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity.”

But Mr Willmott insisted: “We certainly could not take your hearsay report of conversation as evidence and clarifying the context of the Hardtalk interview would take more time than we have, I’m afraid.”

Elisabeth Ribbans, managing editor of the Guardian, said: “The letters editor receives hundreds of submissions every day and is not obliged to publish any letter, nor in fact give any reasons for not doing so.

“The bottom line is that the descriptions of Azzam Tamimi were defamatory and we think that it’s clear to any journalist why that is.

“That’s why we didn’t publish them. We wrote that he was an adviser for Hamas, but we don’t really say what the writer advocates, we simply described his relationship to Hamas.”

Last updated: 2:03pm, December 11 2008



Fri, 12/12/2008 - 12:22

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It is scarcely surprising that the Guardian should refuse to print the letter. Facing up to the fall-out of its support of Islamist terror must be difficult for it.

I am no lawyer, but I find it difficult to believe that linking Tamimi with Hamas in London is defamatory, particularly since he is on record as supporting Hamas' policy of suicide murder of Israelis and saying that he would be a suicide bomber himself "if he could."

Why should anyone believe the Guardian? Why is it closing ranks to protect such a person? Perhaps Tamimi should be encouraged to make a statement confirming that he has severed ties with Hamas, for the avoidance of all doubt in this matter.

Wilmott seems particularly resistant to reality, perhaps because Tamimi is a pet writer for the rabidly anti-Israel Comment is Free (but it isn't), where denial of the validity of Israel's statehood seems to be a vital pre-requisite for all but a few of its regular authors.

Clap Hammer

Sat, 12/13/2008 - 11:25

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As always in The Guardian, 'Comment Is Free' except when it comes to rebutting anti-Zionism and antisemitism.