Monday, April 23, 2007

NUJ Boycott: "Neither Balanced Nor Fair"

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Guardian newspaper of Britain, which is usually knee-jerk anti-Israel, with an emphasis on "jerk," came out with an editorial criticizing the National Union of Journalists' recent decision to boycott Israel, calling it "a curious business." Indeed, it is curious to lash out at Israel a time when a Palestinian organization is holding British journalist Alan Johnon hostage. Ignoring his fate is part of what unions do as a reluctance to criticize "the Palestinian occupied and oppressed." It is also curious that British journalists in Israel are ignoring the boycott, and there are no signs that anyone will obey or enforce the boycott in any way.

But it's even "curiouser," as Alice in Wonderland might say, that the Guardian criticized the union's action, and that the action might be withdrawn. Perhaps cracks are starting to appear in the relentless anti-Israel rhetoric, that does nothing to help the Palestinians, and a lot to demonize those calling for a boycott of the only country in the region with anything approaching a free press. --Wendy Leibowitz

Neither balanced nor fair

Friday April 20, 2007
The Guardian

The decision of the National Union of Journalists to urge a boycott against Israel is a curious business. The union - currently celebrating its centenary - has a decent enough record of defending press freedom in this country and abroad. At its annual delegate meeting last week it debated a strong resolution condemning the apparent kidnapping of the BBC Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, as well as other motions about the threats to journalists in Ethiopia, Russia and Zimbabwe. Such declarations of concern matter. All recent surveys of journalism around the world show that, in virtually every region, there are determined attempts to suppress the fundamental right to report news; at least 100 journalists died in the course of their work last year. The voice of journalists in Britain deserves to make itself heard and to be taken seriously.

How seriously can one take the same conference's decision (with 66 votes in favour and 54 against) to pass a resolution urging the boycott of all Israeli goods in protest at that country's "savage pre-planned attack on Lebanon"? If it were press freedom in the Middle East that truly concerned delegates, Israel - which has a comparatively open and robust domestic press - would hardly be the obvious starting point. One might, for example, rather focus on Iran, Libya or Syria. If, on the other hand, the journalists' union prefers to busy itself with individual governments' foreign policies then, again, there is no shortage of unsavoury regimes around the world which might merit some form of consumer boycott.

There are a number of reasons why the NUJ boycott motion was misguided - and the exceptionalism of focusing on Israel and its foreign policy is certainly one of them. But there are equally troubling editorial aspects to a motion which strays beyond the reasonable and traditional concerns of a journalists' union. All reporters covering the Israel-Palestine story know that every single word they write will be weighed and scrutinised by both sides for fairness, balance, accuracy, sourcing and general integrity.

This is perhaps the most complex, long-running and intractable international dispute in the world. It is likely that a majority of British journalists covering the story are members of the NUJ. It is doubtful that many of them will have welcomed a motion which will inevitably be seen by some as casting doubts on whether they can truly approach their work in a spirit of fairness and distinterested inquiry. In a statement this week the union's general secretary, Jeremy Dear, pointedly said that it was open to union members to seek to overturn the decision. They would be well advised to do so.

April 20, 2007 4:12 AM
Why should anyone suggest boycotting Israel rather than Syria, Libya or Iran ? Which of the four countries named have not bombed another country, invaded another country, and are not involved in the military occupation of another country ?

If the members of the NUJ feel that this call for a boycott of Israeli goods balances their criticism of the Zimbabwe situation or might help free the BBC's Gaza reporter, for example, I wish them luck and I do hope that it would produce the desired results.

One wonders, though, how this boycott would be practiced by those members operating in Israel. I see a bright future for various international freight companies, working busily to sustain and airlift providing ``kosher'' (not the best of terms) goods for the observing members.

It is exactly this sort of fatuity that brings unions into disrepute - gesture politics at its very worst. An empty gesture at that.

April 20, 2007 8:43 AM
Just when I had thought that I had correctly classified The Guardian as a radical left anti-Israel publication, they turn my opinion upside down with an admirable piece such as this. I wish we could read more items like this that provide The Guardian's readers with a better opportunity to form their own opinions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, rather than being continually fed pro-Palestinian propaganda.

Contrary to what most Gaurdian readers are led to believe, there are two sides to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and readers are entitled to hear the Israel side sometimes too. They are at least entitled to occasionally hear an unbiased and balanced view (neither Palestinian nor Israeli) such as the one expressed in today's Guardian Leader article.

So, is the sun rising in The Guardian at long last?


April 20, 2007 9:02 AM
This exceedingly stupid NUJ decision has another unwelcome effect. We need foreign journalists in conflict zones to report excesses, human right abuses, all the terrible aspects that accompany conflict. Certainly, we need such reporting from Israel and from Palestine. Yet, to be believed, to maintain basic reliability, reporters must exhibit essential impartiality and professionalism. Boycotting one side to a conflict exhibits neither.

Next time a British journalist reports on excesses of occupation, he or she will be open to the allegation of belonging to a trade union whose official policy is biased against Israel. Whether they are right or wrong, they will be dismissed out of hand. And this proves, if any further proof was ever needed, why knee-jerk postures have an ultimate effect in defiance of their avowed intention.

More comments at,,2061803,00.html

No comments: