Tom Suarez describes his long struggle with press regulator IPSO to get them to force the Jewish Chronicle to publish even a partial apology for their bad faith allegations of antisemitism. Even though it was only a partial apology it represents a considerable victory to get the notoriously ineffective IPSO to get a recalcitrant publications like the Jewish Chronicle ot admit any misrepresentation.
This article first appeared in Mondoweiss and is reprinted by permission of the author
“Accusing Jews of making accusations of antisemitism in bad faith in order to aid a hidden agenda is a well-established antisemitic slur.” — from the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a British pro-Israeli organization established in August 2014 to counter media fallout from that summer’s “Protective Edge” assault against Gaza.
Israel’s most powerful weapon is the smearing of its critics. This weapon — made from the hijacking of Jewish identity and historic persecution, and launched through Zionist media and organizations — silences opposition and keeps attention away from its crimes in Palestine. If we can defang this weapon, Israel’s arsenal of bombs will be impotent. Israel is keenly aware of this, and so front organizations such as that quoted above have declared that exposing Israel’s exploitation of antisemitism is … antisemitic.
What follows is a summary of one effort to challenge one such media “making accusations of antisemitism in bad faith in order to aid” the “hidden agenda” of Israel, the London-based Jewish Chronicle (JC); and indirectly challenge one such organization, the UK’s Board of Deputies of British Jews.
In April of 2018 I lodged a formal complaint against the JC with Britain’s main media watchdog, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), concerning two JC articles about me, published a year apart:
• Lee Harpin, “Board halt Israel hate author talk”, May 8, 2017
• Ben Weich, “Quakers row as venue is rented out to anti-Zionist”, April 20, 2018
IPSO, to be sure, does not address defamation. Its Code of Practice, rather, addresses “accuracy” and the need to “distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”. These, I thought, were essentially interchangeable for the seven points I wished to challenge.
Although two “Complaints Officers” through whom I communicated were always cordial and helpful, for the better part of a year, my case went nowhere. The JC simply insisted that its sources, two UK pro-Israel activists named Jonathan Hoffman and David Collier, “are considered strong sources by the JC, their insights have proved to be reliable in the past and their [the JC‘s] journalists have no hesitation in seeking their views on such matters.” For “evidence”, the JC would, for example, paste in urls to Zionist blogs with unflattering words about me.
IPSO did nothing to keep the case focused on the facts and not on what seemed to be the JC’s attempts to wear me out. Even when the JC pasted in a link to a 59-page alleged “review” of my book State of Terror by its own sources, Hoffman and Collier — a document which in any event had no bearing whatsoever on the case — I composed a point-by-point rebuttal of allegations cited.
But after eight months, the tone began to change, and JC editor Stephen Pollard offered me a published response. That was all I had wanted, and although they refused to have it in print — only online — I agreed.
This was however short-lived. Pollard insisted on eliminating any mention of IPSO, so that it looked as though the JC had acted on its own initiative; and he forbade any mention of the duo that the paper had boasted as its iron-clad sources, allegedly for fears of “defamation”. I declined, and let the case go to IPSO’s Committee for a formal Decision.
I. Three complaints upheld by IPSO
IPSO ruled in my favor on three points, requiring the JC to publish a correction online and in print:
• The JC had falsely reported that I claimed that Zionist leaders “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”.
• The JC had falsely reported that Jesus Lane (Quakers) Friends Meeting House (Cambridge, UK) had “banned” me.
• The JC had falsely reported that Jesus Lane had said that my talk was “not in line with Quaker values” (2018 only).
II. Four complaints dismissed by IPSO
• The 2017 JC headline referred to me as a hate author, without quotes. The article itself described me as a person “peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories [who] rose to notoriety after an hour-long rant on Jews.” I argued that the JC‘s failure to put the words hate author in quotes in the headline presented an opinion as news; and I argued that it was factually wrong to state that “Jews” had ever been the subject of my statements, whatever one’s opinion of those statements. IPSO ruled (oddly, as it seemed to confirm my point) that the JC‘s reporting “was plainly an expression of the publication’s views of the complainant”.
• After Jonathan Hoffman and the Board of Deputies failed to close down a talk I gave at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI), the JC headline stated that it had precipitated a “Quakers row,” or disagreement among Quakers. I argued that only one Quaker organization was cited by the paper, Jesus Lane Friends Meeting, and it supported my right to speak. BRLSI obviously supported my right to speak as well, and anyway it is not a Quaker institution. Rather, the JC‘s claim of a “Quakers row” over my talk rests posthumously with the name of Edmund Rack, a Quaker who lived in Bath in the eighteenth century. Rack was involved with one of several forerunner organizations to BRLSI. He died in 1797. The Bath Literary and Scientific Institution was established in 1824, and in 1837 it received royal patronage, becoming BRLSI, the organization we know today. Fast-forward to 2018, and the JC quoted one Penny Williamson (unknown to me), who expressed the view that Rack, were he alive, would not want me to speak. IPSO accepted this argument.
• IPSO agreed with the JC that when I quote someone saying something, it is fair to quote me as the source of the statements. The JC reported that “Thomas Suarez has repeatedly and unapologetically made statements comparing Zionists to Nazis.” In response, I offered IPSO a complete unedited video of the very Bath talk that is the topic of the article. The video proves, not only that I never made any such comparison myself — in each case I was quoting 1940s British and US intelligence, as well as Jews who had fled the Nazis — but that I ended that segment of the talk with the following statement:
A quick word about all these Zionist-Nazi parallels, which continued with the behavior of the early Israeli state: Unless there is some historical reason for doing so, I myself don’t make the comparison. If anyone is curious abut my reasoning, please ask me in the Q&A.
IPSO however sided with the JC, because I had “accepted that [my] talks involved quoting sources making such claims”.
• In May 2017, Jonathan Hoffman and the Board of Deputies pressured Jesus Lane to cancel a talk I was to give there. The JC then quoted BoD’s President, Jonathan Arkush, as saying that the reason Jesus Lane cancelled the talk was that it was not “in line with Quaker values” — but this phrase was Arkush’s invention. Jesus Lane cancelled, in its own words, “under pressure of time and with incomplete information” after the eleventh-hour intervention. Although the article falsely led the reader to believe that Arkush was quoting Jesus Lane, IPSO ruled that there was no accuracy breach, since the words themselves were “accurately attributed to the President [Arkush]”.
III. My Appeal
IPSO allows for an appeal, confined to issues of process. I limited my appeal to two points.
• I contested the hate author issue, arguing that in its written Decision the Committee had in every instance put hate author in quotes, whereas the very point of my complaint was that the JC had failed to do so. The Independent Complaints Reviewer dismissed my appeal, arguing that the absence of quotation marks was a “fine distinction”.
• I contested the Quakers row headline, arguing that the JC had failed to demonstrate any Quaker opposition to my talk, and that words put in the mouth of a man who has been dead for more than two centuries cannot seriously be considered “evidence”. This was dismissed as well, because my argument “does not seem to be the key issue being considered by the Committee” and thus does not constitute “a flaw in the decision making process”.
IPSO is not the watchdog it should be, but it’s what we have at present, and it should be used. Israel’s cynical abuse of the charge of antisemitism is on the front lines of its tactics. The mere fact of an IPSO judgement against the JC is a victory.
1. IPSO is funded by member publications. It oversees most of the UK’s national newspapers, but membership is voluntary; among the non-participating papers are The Financial Times, The Independent, and The Guardian, which have their own internal system of redress. In my case, the JC’s reporting was the most egregious among the “legitimate” media, though the tabloid Daily Mail — also a member of IPSO — was stiff competition.
4. One can cite parallels, and differences, between Nazism and Zionism. My objection to the exercise itself is that it reveals our need to invoke European suffering in order to see what is right in front our eyes. If the reality in Palestine and the refugee camps only shocks us if we invoke the word “Nazi”, it means that we are not seeing Palestinians as equal human beings.