Australian Jews boycott 'anti-Israel' newspaper

By Dan Goldberg, September 2, 2010

Incensed Jewish leaders in Melbourne have severed ties with the city's major broadsheet newspaper, accusing it of "clear and consistent vilification of the world's only Jewish state".

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle and Zionist Council of Victoria president Dr Danny Lamm issued a joint statement last week accusing The Age newspaper of pursuing a continued "war of words against Israel".

Both leaders of Victoria's top Jewish bodies said they had addressed the newspaper's "strident line" against Israel on several occasions with Paul Ramadge, The Age's editor-in-chief, but to no avail. But in an August 24 email to the pair, Mr Ramadge said because the issues in the Middle East are "too complex", the newspaper will never be able to "report in a way that pleases both sides all of the time".

While the pair said there was no one incident that triggered the severing of ties, the paper's coverage of the Mavi Marmara's attempt to break the blockade of Gaza in May was the final straw. The newspaper had a correspondent and a photographer aboard the flotilla when the Israeli navy intercepted the Mavi Marmara on May 31, leading to the deaths of nine activists. A subsequent front-page article in The Age on June 4 said the Israeli naval commandos "hunted like hyenas" before "tightening the noose" - language described by the organisations as "incendiary".

Mr Ramadge defended his staff, saying that they "reported what happened accurately, fairly and to the best of their abilities".

In their statement, Mr Searle and Dr Lamm said the problem dated back to Mr Ramadge's predecessor, Andrew Jaspan, the founding editor of Glasgow's Sunday Herald, adding that The Age's alleged bias had also had the "hopefully unintended by-product of legitimising antisemitism in this country".

The pair said although Mr Ramadge makes all the right noises in public, his attitude "bespeaks scant respect for the Jewish community.

"We believe that The Age's record speaks for itself. Quite simply The Age is not a friend of our community."

Last year, a London-based columnist who blamed Israel for the terror attacks in New York, London and Bali was temporarily suspended by the newspaper. Michael Backman's January 17, 2009 column triggered outrage from Australian Jewish leaders, who blasted it as "primitive antisemitism". The paper published an apology.

Last updated: 2:34pm, September 2 2010