Israel’s press chief blasts media critics

By James Martin, June 18, 2009
Ring of fire: Lior Ben Dor’s angry parting shot

Ring of fire: Lior Ben Dor’s angry parting shot

Israel’s press spokesman in the UK has fired a parting shot at the British media, declaring that “illegitimate criticism of Israel borders on antisemitism”.

Having arrived in Britain on the heels of the Lebanon war of August 2006, the London embassy’s press attache Lior Ben Dor is now leaving to become number two at Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires — his wife is from Argentina.

In a trenchant interview on the eve of his departure, Mr Ben Dor expressed particular unhappiness about the Guardian and the Independent, as well as elements of the BBC.

“By keeping up its venomous and hostile attitude towards Israel, the Guardian is becoming less and less relevant to the state of Israel and the Israeli Embassy,” he said. “This agenda positions the Guardian on the verge of being a lost cause”.

Before his arrival, Mr Ben Dor was aware of the “constructive dialogue” which existed in the British media. Yet “some media outlets here go beyond what we can expect as legitimate criticism”.

Very often, there were discussions within the embassy as to whether to respond to requests for comment. “Should we be a figleaf, and give them credibility?”

He had recently been approached by a video journalist with the Guardian and asked to respond to two new films on Gaza.

“I refused to comment and told them it was due to the bitter experience with them, and the other three films they had made immediately after the war, without the minimum effort to give a balanced picture.

“I decided not to speak and I co-ordinated this response with Jerusalem. Why should I give them this legitimacy when they prepare a video with a specific agenda and then want me to give two lines at the end?”

But despite the relentless criticism in the press, Mr Ben Dor could report on some victories. He believed he had successfully persuaded mainstream UK broadcasters not to describe the editor of the Al-Quds newspaper, Abdel Bari Atwan, as a “Middle East expert or

As an Arabic speaker, Mr Ben Dor was able to inform broadcasters and news media that Mr Bari Atwan’s analyses in English differed sharply from those written in Al-Quds.

Accordingly, where Mr Bari Atwan is now used as a commentator, he is identified merely as the editor of his paper.

Although believing that the level of criticism against Israel had decreased over recent months, Mr Ben Dor did not demur at the suggestion that Israel’s image in the public mindset was at an all-time low. “We do our best,” he said. “But our first priority is our existence. PR is the second front.”

Last updated: 2:13pm, June 18 2009