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In the Trenches: Why the British journalists union boycotts Israel

David Harris- Friday 20th Apr 2007

On April 13, the UK-based National Union of Journalists (NUJ) adopted a resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli goods, “similar to those boycotts in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”

It also adopted a motion critical of the “savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon by Israel” last summer and the “slaughter of civilians” in Gaza by Israel. I could go on, but the drift should be pretty clear.

Poor me. I had naively thought that a union of journalists in a democratic nation, such as Britain, would limit itself to focusing on working conditions for its members, speaking out on infringement of media freedom in non-democratic societies, and highlighting the dangers faced by reporters in war zones, such as Alan Johnston, the kidnapped BBC correspondent in Gaza. How wrong I was! What in the world led this union to decide to take sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Since when do journalists in open societies do so? Isn’t the goal of journalism supposed to be based, at least in theory, on the pursuit of fair coverage and intellectual integrity?

Who in the future could possibly trust a Middle East-related story written by a member of the NUJ, whose Code of Conduct, incidentally, includes the following: “A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate, avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation”? It’s odd, isn’t it? A journalists’ union decides to take a political stance – not the first, according to an article in Haaretz, which cites a 1986 decision to send a letter of condolence to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi after US bombing in retaliation for a deadly act of terror – and, of all the truly horrendous human rights situations in the world, zeroes in solely and exclusively on Israel’s alleged transgressions.

What are we to make of this? If the union is so deeply preoccupied by the state of human rights and claims an obligation to speak out, why not a peep about Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea or Sudan, for starters, much less a call for boycotts? Why are Hizbullah, which provoked last summer’s war with Israel by crossing an international border and killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers, and Hamas, a terror group by any definition irrespective of whether they were voted into office, given full immunity from criticism?

And, by the way, the union clearly knows something the rest of us don’t—the war with Hizbullah was “pre-planned,” we’re told. Given the way the war unfolded, that’s a rather hard assertion to swallow. And if the NUJ fails to speak out and instead focuses solely on Israel’s alleged transgressions, what are we to make of these double standards and this moral obtuseness? What’s really at work here, as if we didn’t know?

So, at the end of the day, what has the union achieved? It has brought ridicule upon itself.

It has raised profound questions about its commitment to its own journalistic Code of Conduct. It has revealed in full Technicolor its selective outrage.

It has demonstrated its lack of interest in contributing to peace by its mindless one-sidedness. And, as a practical matter, it has damaged its ability to work effectively because, presumably, it will now be asking its 40,000 members to check their computers, cell phones and other necessary gadgets for Israeli component parts – and discover just how dependent they are on state-of-the-art Israeli technology.

Or maybe the boycott will extend to a future visit to the hospital, where they’ll be certain to ascertain that no Israeli medical devices or drugs are administered, should they be in need of lifesaving assistance. The next time the union meets, it would be well advised to heed the words of Donald Macintyre of The Independent, who was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying: "The job of the NUJ is to protect journalists and not adopt political postures, Right or Left.”

As the British would say, Macintyre is spot on.



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