April 23, 2007

Guardian's barely veiled antisemitism allegation against NUJ

I hadn't realised that the Guardian had editorialised on the NUJ's call to boycott Israel until I saw today's letters. The editorial is atrocious. It could have been written by one of the Engage crew. Cop this:
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.
What's that word? Ah, yes, "exceptionalism." In the context it reads like a code word for antisemitism. Still, as should always be the case, the bad editorial has generated some good responses:
You suggest that, in voting to boycott Israel, the NUJ has strayed too far from its legitimate business. We do not think such arguments apply to our grave concerns as doctors about the health-related impact of Israeli policy on Palestinian society. Persistent violations of medical ethics have accompanied Israel's occupation. The Israeli Defence Force has systematically flouted the fourth Geneva convention guaranteeing a civilian population unfettered access to medical services and immunity for medical staff. Ambulances are fired on (hundreds of cases) and their personnel killed. Desperately ill people, and newborn babies, die at checkpoints because soldiers bar the way to hospital. The public-health infrastructure, including water and electricity supplies, is wilfully bombed, and the passage of essential medicines like anti-cancer drugs and kidney dialysis fluids blocked. In the West Bank, the apartheid wall has destroyed any coherence in the primary health system. UN rapporteurs have described Gaza as a humanitarian catastrophe, with 25% of children clinically malnourished.

The Israeli Medical Association has a duty to protest about war crimes of this kind, but has refused to do so. Appeals to the World Medical Association and the British Medical Association have also been rebuffed. Eighteen leading Palestinian health organisations have appealled to fellow professionals abroad to recognise how the IMA has forfeited its right to membership of the international medical community. We are calling for a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association and its expulsion from the WMA. There is a precedent for this: the expulsion of the Medical Association of South Africa during the apartheid era. A boycott is an ethical and moral imperative when conventional channels do not function, for otherwise we are merely turning away.
Dr Derek Summerfield, Professor Colin Green, Dr Ghada Karmi, Dr David Halpin, Dr Pauline Cutting And 125 other doctors
That appeared on Saturday, the day after the editorial. These appear today:
In your leader disapproving of the NUJ resolution urging a boycott of Israeli goods (Neither balanced nor fair, April 20), you do not deny its central and devastating charge: Israel's "savage pre-planned attack on Lebanon". Is it exceptionalist (or anti-semitic?) to regard that naked aggression as appalling and to be publicly condemned in any way one can? Perhaps we can now do without the whining mantra that Hizbullah "started it". There is the newer whine that Hizbullah is being rearmed by Iran; are we to believe that Israel has not thoroughly rearmed, aided by the US, with British companies in support? How will the next atrocious war on Lebanon be blamed on the other side? Or is it just possible that Israel will respect the UN on the border?
Judith Kazantzis
Lewes, East Sussex

The Guardian's position in its leader on the NUJ's annual delegate meeting requires challenging. You claim the NUJ should only take a stand on unsavoury actions when these concern journalism and that it should only do so if it does so against all other states guilty of similar actions. Both claims were regularly trotted out during the anti-apartheid struggle. The first is a non-sequitur, the second a sure recipe for never taking action against any unsavoury regime. The reality is that Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is particularly vulnerable to sanctions by the west and that despite acting towards the Arabs in Palestine as did Europeans towards Africans under apartheid, the west has yet to take action against it. Why not?
Walter Hain

Your leader makes an invalid comparison: whereas in various countries journalists have endangered themselves and sometimes paid with their lives to unearth politically sensitive truths, Israel stands alone in basing its actions on entirely ethnic/racial criteria. The true comparison is apartheid South Africa, which was also boycotted by the NUJ. We Jews should be particularly sensitive to the injustice and suffering caused by racism/anti-semitism.
Hanna Braun
There were a couple of letters supporting the editorial, one on Saturday and one today. Curiously, neither were from Engage as far as I know. They'd be expected to dominate the letters page on an issue like that but perhaps they were busy writing their Comment is free pieces and directing the editor there as to what may be published and what may not.

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