Nukes & Apartheid: The Guardian’s Double Libel

The Guardian claims an exclusive with a front page story: “Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons” accompanied by a number of related articles, including “Israel and apartheid: a marriage of convenience and military might“. These articles are based on a new book by American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky.

The latter headline is revealing in that it fits with a long-standing pattern of Guardian efforts to promote the Israel apartheid analogy. Notice how this headline sells the image of Israeli association with a particular ideology rather than the South African state itself. Indeed, Chris McGreal, the journalist behind these latest articles, was also responsible for a lengthy two-part diatribe comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa back in 2006.

[See HonestReporting’s Hot Topics: The Apartheid State Libel for more on why the Israel apartheid analogy is false and Mitchell Bard’s Myths & Facts for more on the issues surrounding Israel’s purported nuclear capabilities.]

At that time McGreal was based in Israel before moving on to cover Washington for The Guardian, where he is currently stationed. Had he wanted to get some official Israeli reaction to his story before publishing, McGreal cannot claim that he didn’t know where to turn. Instead it was left to the Israeli press to do so.

“We regret that the newspaper did not find it right to ask for an official response and examine the facts with official Israeli sources,” President Shimon Peres’s office explained to the Jerusalem Post.

Additional sources added that “there is no doubt these papers that allegedly document a nuclear missiles sales deal are completely fabricated.”

Responding to Ha’aretz, Peres spokeswoman  Ayelet Frisch said: “There is no truth to the Guardian report.”

“We regret that the newspaper did not seek a comment from the president’s office. If it had done so, it would have discovered that the story is wrong and baseless,” she added.

Reacting to these comments, The Guardian updated the online version of the story to include Israeli denials but, of course, this came too late for the original print version.

McGreal evidently prefers to rely upon statements by former South African naval commander, Dieter Gerhardt – jailed in 1983 for spying for the Soviet Union. Is a convicted Soviet spy really a reliable source?

Even the BBC, not exactly a friend of Israel, reports on this story:

But the evidence contained in the report could be argued to be circumstantial, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tim Franks says.

A previously declassified memo written by South Africa’s military Chief of Staff laid out the benefits to South Africa of acquiring Israel’s Jericho ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads attached.

That memo was written on the same day as the meetings which Mr Peres now denies took place.

While one can judge whether or not Israel should have maintained a relationship with apartheid South Africa, it is worth noting that many other Western nations also did so for reasons of trade and Cold War politics, including Britain and the US, while at the same time denouncing apartheid. (Israel also strongly condemned it.) So, while other countries rightly or wrongly exercised realpolitik in their dealings with apartheid South Africa, once again, it is only Israel that is judged by a different standard in the court of media opinion for doing exactly the same.

The Guardian’s Obsession with ‘Israeli Apartheid’

The Guardian constantly proves its open disdain towards the State of Israel, using its influence to push the growing demonisation campaign against Israel in the UK – part of a strategy to undermine Israel’s very legitimacy.

As if to prove that its agenda is less to do with the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons and more about associating Israel with apartheid, the “More on this story” box with links to related articles includes – “More on Israel’s apartheid links” – which actually links directly to The Guardian’s general Israel news page.

In addition, is it a coincidence that on the very same day as the South Africa nuclear story, The Guardian also publishes a comment piece by Gary Younge entitled “Israel’s complicity in apartheid crimes undermines its attack on Goldstone“.

The Guardian needs to ask itself – is this series of articles solely focused on proving that Israel possesses a nuclear weapons capability? Or is this simply another tool to smear Israel by association with a discredited and evil ideology? Based on Chris McGreal and his employer’s previous form, we think we know the answer.

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Update: 25 May

The Guardian has since published an editorial on the issue as well as Shimon Peres’s denials of nuclear arms sales to apartheid South Africa.

Other media have also picked up the story, yet, unlike The Guardian, have included questions over the veracity of the story. Reuters reports:

Waldo Stumpf, the former head of South Africa’s Nuclear Energy Corporation, who led the project to dismantle the country’s nuclear weapons program, said he doubted Israel or South Africa would have contemplated a deal seriously.

“To even consider the possible international transfer of nuclear devices … in the political climate post the 1974 Indian ‘peaceful’ explosion, would have had very serious international complications,” he said, referring to India’s first nuclear test blast.

The New York Times also says:

In an interview with the South African Press Association, Pik Botha, who served as South Africa’s foreign minister in the waning years of apartheid, also questioned the article’s claims. “I doubt it very much,” said Mr. Botha, who is not related to P. W. Botha. “I doubt whether such an offer was ever made. I think I would have known about it.”

Also see CiF Watch’s analysis of The Guardian’s article.

Update: 27 May

A CiF Watch reader performs an forensic analysis of the documentary evidence used by McGreal in his story, including revealing how McGreal accepts handwritten “corrections” to the documents in some cases, rejects others and adds in his own contributions.

See Parts 1 and 2.