Via Jews sans frontieres, Electronic Intifada ran an article yesterday, about the incongruity of Ha'aretz - Israel's respected "liberal" broadsheet - prominently carrying paid advertisements from "Samson Blinded", a website that openly advocates "the total destruction of the Palestinian people, the murder of large numbers of Muslim civilians, the assassination of the family members of Arab rulers, and the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons against dozens of countries".
For me, the significant thing about this is not that Ha'aretz ran the individual ad that ei highlighted, but that this ad is just the latest in a series of examples of racially-provocative content that Ha'aretz has considered suitable for inclusion in its online presence. It is odd that a respected, "liberal" newspaper can in its online incarnation be so utterly tone deaf - and I'm giving it the most charitable description I can think of in calling it that - to what is racially offensive, both in areas where it has indirect control i.e. paid ads and talkbacks, and in it own news reports, for which it is directly responsible.
Some examples from Ha'aretz.com ads.
In addition to the "Our land is not Arab land" ad that ei highlighted yesterday, Ha'aretz ran the following ad on 11 April 2008 - also on behalf of "Samson Blinded" - scaremongering about the proportion of the population that will be of Arab descent in Israel's next generation:
(click to enlarge)
Did anybody at Ha'aretz consider for one minute how offensive it is to advertise the idea that Israel's Arab citizens are a threat to anyone simply because they exist? Would Ha'aretz run an ad from a group that argued there are "too many Jews" in the world, and advocated violent ways of solving the "Jewish problem"?
Or how about this one on a similar theme, published by Ha'aretz in December 2005 on behalf of an Israeli organization called Efrat, which works to prevent abortion, or rather, works to stop the aborting of specifically Jewish fetuses in order to solve the "problem" of too many Arab citizens in Israel:
(via ei, full story here)
Would Ha'aretz have accepted advertising that suggested discouraging abortions among Christian or Muslim women as the only "solution" to some imagined "Jewish problem" caused by the mere existence of Jews in society? I think an Israeli newspaper would see straightaway that it would be grossly offensive to advertise "solutions" to the "problem" of "Jews outbreeding us", so why is it difficult to see that it's offensive to talk that way about Israel's non-Jewish citizens?
Some examples from Ha'aretz.com talkbacks
People get really passionate about the I/P conflict. Give them an online forum where they can vent anonymously behind a fake name, and discussion tends to get very ugly, very quickly. Which is why many online forums dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues are moderated, to weed out the really nasty stuff before it ever becomes public.
The important thing to remember about Ha'aretz talkbacks is that Ha'aretz.com is one of these moderated forums. Readers who participate in talkback don't just type a comment and, hey presto!, thirty seconds later it pops on screen for the whole world to enjoy and admire. What happens is that you type a comment, receive an acknowledgement that your message has been received and will appear shortly, should it be selected for publication. And then, a few minutes - or a few hours - later, depending on the time of day and the mood of the moderator, it will - if you're lucky - show up on-line. So comments that appear in Ha'aretz talkback appear because they have been approved by a moderator.
And that is why it's really difficult to understand how certain comments manage to get published at Ha'aretz.com. Like this one, which was attached to a 27 July 2007 article about Condoleezza Rice
(click to enlarge)
Sometimes, there's a fine line between legitimate yet controversial opinions, and speech that transgresses the limits of legitimate debate. That makes a moderator's job difficult from time to time. But this isn't one of those times. There is no conceivable legitimate opinion involved in calling on Condi Rice to "go back to Africa" and swing in the trees. To be fair to Ha'aretz, I wrote to complain about that talkback, and the offending comment was removed within 5 minutes of my writing. But why on earth should Ha'aretz need its readers to write to them pointing out that the correct designation for Condoleezza Rice is "U.S. Secretary of State", not "a n*gger who climbed out of a tree"?
And it's not just Condi Rice. An article of 6 October 2007, discussing South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu's alleged remarks about aspects of Israeli behavior in the OPT reminding him of apartheid South Africa, attracted the following comment:
If some Ha'aretz reader has nothing more intelligent to say about Archbishop Tutu than he is a "witch-doctor" with "a doctorate in witchcraft", that's not Ha'aretz's fault. But a moderator at Ha'aretz.com looked at that comment (and the Condi Rice one), apparently thought "Yup, that looks OK to me", and published it. And that is Ha'aretz's fault. It's difficult to imagine what guidelines Ha'aretz moderators work under, or to understand what is the point of moderating the forum in the first place, if that sort of language about Africans and African-Americans is considered acceptable for publication.
And I haven't even mentioned the kind of ugly racist rhetoric about Jews and Arabs that is approved for publication there on a daily basis.
Examples from Ha'aretz's own news reports.
This is getting a little longer than anticipated. I'll continue with this category next time....
Update, 30 Jul 08: The second part of this post can be read here.