Frosty US-Israeli relations and a very public and direct rebuke by Britain for alleged cloning of UK passports by Israel’s Mossad have created a storm of negative headlines in recent days.
Some (but not all) British media took particular glee in reporting the expulsion of a diplomat from Israel’s embassy in London. The Guardian even liveblogged the event as it unfolded while an editorial referred to Israel as “an arrogant nation that has overreached itself”, thus smearing more than just Israel’s government but also its entire population.
Some took advantage of Israel being hauled over the coals to justify their own failings. In December 2009, The Guardian’s Associate Editor Michael White made the following comment during a discussion on BBC Radio London’s Breakfast Show concerning the physical vulnerability of political leaders:
In Israel they murder each other a great deal. The Israeli Defense Forces murder people because they don’t like their political style and what they’ve got to say and it only means that people more extreme come in and take their place.
The BBC responded by arguing that White’s comments were his own while The Guardian declined to comment at all, judging that White had made these remarks on the BBC and not in his newspaper. From White himself we heard nothing. Until now.
On The Guardian’s Comment is Free site, White writes about the Dubai passport affair and goes on to detail how he “got into Israeli hot water” with the above comments:
I’ve occasionally made versions of that point in print or on radio for years. I sometimes add (though not on this occasion): “The trouble is with killing political opponents, you never know when you’ve just killed Nelson Mandela. Apartheid South Africa was wise in that respect.”
I can see that my phrasing was clumsy here. The Mossad is not the same as the army, though there are strong links between them. I imagine sensible critics would also say that they assassinate killers most famously the squad that murdered the Israeli Olympic team at Munich in 1972 not mere political opponents.
I expect that interpretation would be disputed too. But most reasonable people listening to BBC London that morning would probably have grasped the idea I sought to make in the context of the Berlusconi attack.
We are certainly not convinced that most reasonable people would probably have grasped the idea that White sought to make and we believe that his phrasing was much more than clumsy. In addition, using an alleged Mossad assassination to justify his outrageous comments is simply disingenous.
Does White really believe that claiming that “the Israeli Defense Forces murder people because they don’t like their political style and what they’ve got to say” is in any way comparable to the alleged killing of a known terrorist?
White refers to the complaints received by The Guardian and the BBC:
That detail confirms my suspicion that this was a monitoring job; a phrase picked up, wrenched from context and circulated among supporters eager to give anyone a hard time for being “unfair” to Israel.
Indeed, the bulk of the complaints were generated after HonestReporting exposed White’s comments to a wider audience, which is perfectly legitimate. However, having published the entire segment of White’s interview, we did not wrench anything from context and find it hard to believe that White is prepared to use this as a means of defense.
Instead of misusing current events to take some form of illegitimate moral high ground, perhaps Michael White could simply have apologized and admitted that his original comments were wrong and unacceptable.
But perhaps it is too much to expect anyone from The Guardian to openly take responsibility for biased or anti-Israel coverage.