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November 9, 2017 1:14 pm

How the UK Media Recently Smeared Israel

avatar by Simon Plosker

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The Guardian newspaper’s London offices. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

What would you say if a senior member of your government — responsible for dispensing your country’s substantial international aid budget — went on a private vacation to a foreign country, and discussed the possibility of sending some of those funds to a foreign military?

You’d probably be quite concerned.

And what if that foreign military was one that was consistently portrayed in the media as a brutal occupier of someone else’s land, and responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women and children?

Wouldn’t you be outraged?

That’s the reaction that too many British media outlets stoked when reporting on a developing political controversy involving Priti Patel, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development.

This was The Guardian’s headline:

“UK international development secretary wanted to send aid money to Israeli army, No 10 confirms”

Writing in The Independent, columnist Matthew Norman summed up those feelings:

“…she suddenly advocated giving foreign aid to — wait for it, wait for it; it’s worth the wait — the Israeli army.

Nowhere did Norman bother to mention what the foreign aid to Israel was actually for; and it was only in the sixth paragraph that Guardian readers learned that any proposed aid money would have gone to the IDF’s incredible field hospital on the Golan Heights, which is treating thousands of injured Syrians.

And that’s not all.

Would you be horrified if you found out that a politician was seeking ways to assist humanitarian efforts on behalf of victims of Syria’s civil war?

You probably would be — if you thought that the field hospital was specifically set up to treat terrorists and extremists. Cue The Times of London (paywall):

“Priti Patel sought cash for Golan Heights hospital treating Syrian jihadists”

And just to make it clear, the Times’ story stated:

“Priti Patel wanted to send British aid money to support an Israeli army programme treating wounded Syrian jihadists, including al-Qaeda fighters, in the occupied Golan Heights.”

Of course, the IDF’s program is not specifically geared towards the treatment of Al Qaeda, ISIS or any other unsavory groups that may be operating in the region. The reality is that all Syrians, including women and children, are treated without regard for their political, religious or military affiliations. Israel doesn’t ask and they don’t tell.

The Times also claimed that the majority of those Syrians treated since 2013 were “rebels,” despite an IDF spokesman confirming that most patients seen today are not fighters but civilians who are there because they are ill.

Headline abuse wasn’t only confined to The Guardian (which subsequently amended its headline following complaints from HonestReporting). The Telegraph and Independent both came up with similar efforts at clickbait, specifically designed to reel in a readership brought up on sensationalism when it comes to anything to do with Israel.

Priti Patel somehow managed to fit in a dozen or so meetings with senior politicians, companies and non-governmental organizations during her 13-day vacation in Israel. That she did so apparently without properly following UK political protocols was turned into a major story.

One can ask whether this political controversy would have raged with quite the same intensity were any other country involved. However, given Patel’s own apology and subsequent resignation, it appears that Israel has become “collateral damage” in someone else’s fight.

Nonetheless, this didn’t stop the Times from promoting an online poll:

How can it be that Israel becomes part of a simplistic good-bad dichotomy? As with so much media coverage involving Israel today, nuance is not part of the conversation. Surely it should be possible to acknowledge both that Patel may have ignored ministerial protocol, and that Israel is a close ally of the UK.

Sadly a quick glance at too many of the comments under the stories confirms the worst. Antisemites don’t need an excuse to promote hate when it comes to any Israel-related story. In this case, a general public fed up with the “establishment” and their politicians is exposed to unfounded insinuations of Israeli machinations and a lack of transparency.

The mixture is toxic — and for this, the British media can take a substantial amount of the blame irrespective of Priti Patel’s political fate.

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