Letter From B'nai B'rith


Dear Ms Cordell,

I am writing on behalf of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, a Jewish community organisation dedicated to fighting racism and antisemitism. We are writing to express our deep concern at the nature of your coverage of Israel and issues of concern to the Jewish community. Members of the Australian Jewish community are suffering from an increase in antisemitic attacks, many of them linked to the demonization of Israel. News organisations like yours have a responsibility to ensure they do not fuel this fire with prejudicial and virulent material.

You state on your site that you aim to provide "non-partisan information". However your coverage of Israel and the Palestinians shows highly prejudiced and unbalanced journalism. A content analysis of the articles on the subject run in the first three months of 2008 reveals:

1. Completely disproportionate focus on the conflict

In the period studied you published 18 articles on Israel and the Palestinians, an average of more than one a week. By contrast with other regions of international concern where human rights are an issue you published in the same period one article on Burma (focused on strategic analysis not humanitarian concerns), nothing on Darfur, nothing on Zimbabwe, nothing on Tibet and nothing on North Korea. This disproportionate coverage implies that the humanitarian challenges of the region are the worst in the world — an implication which is demonstrably false.

2. Partisan coverage, where the Palestinians are always the victims and Israel is the only aggressor

Of the 18 articles on the subject run by newmatilda.com in the period, 17 presented the Palestinian narrative, characterizing Israel as an oppressor and not acknowledging its victims or security concerns. Only one article characterized Hamas as a terrorist organization in the context of a discussion of the future aims of Al-Qaeda. No article could reasonably be characterized as neutral or balanced. One article acknowledged the existence of competing narratives but argued for the validity of the Palestinian narrative.

3. Vicious anti-Israel and sometimes antisemitic comments

We are very concerned by many of the comments featured on newmatilda.com. Broad slabs of hate towards Israel and Jews are common. A number of writers, including those using the pseudonyms maryj, dazza and rockjaw, are particularly virulent. The themes of troubling [sic]include Holocaust denial, claims that Jews have no right or historical attachment to Israel, there is no such thing as antisemitism/Jews are paranoid, Jews are a threat to the world/would infect the whole world with plague, Israel is supported by blood money. Any student of history would recognise many of these comments as antisemitism. Some are clearly in breach of Australia’s racial vilification legislation.

On your site you say you reserve the right to delete or censor comments that are abusive or promote hate of any kind and that repeat offenders will be blocked. However you seem to implement this policy rarely and ineffectively. We note that you did indeed remove a highly offensive posting from the blogger "maryj" on 1 April, however this was only after it had been on your site for almost a month.

We ask you to examine your editorial policies towards coverage of Israel and the Palestinians and to institute fair coverage and judgment in regard to the comments posted.

Yours sincerely, Tony Levy,
Chairman B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission

This is newmatilda.com‘s response to Levy and Deborah Stone, B’nai B’rith’s research director:

Dear Tony Levy and Deborah Stone,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately I have to disagree with you on most of the points you made.

We believe we provide a fair coverage of this important nexus of issues – but we are very committed to publishing informed opinion pieces, and our content reflects that.

The possibility that your organisation doesn’t share the outlook of the bulk of our contributors — who also differ among themselves — does not make us unfair.

I should also point out that while we strive to give a fair coverage of the issues, we do not aim to replicate the mainstream media. If you read opinions on our site that are not commonly found in the major dailies or in publications like the Australian Jewish News, then that is one sign that we are doing our jobs.

The opinions of our contributors, as you may be aware, are very common outside of Australia, in countries like Israel and the US, and in Europe. If they do not get as much space in this country, then we see ourselves providing the local reader with valuable alternative viewpoints they would otherwise miss out on.

As I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, the Israel/Palestine question is not a conflict on the same level as other regional problems that you mentioned. Problems in the Middle East, within which Israel/Palestine is a major issue, are something that play out in innumerable ways across the globe. For us not to cover it adequately (and that means giving it more space than we give to many other matters) would be to fail at our task of providing news and analysis to a wide audience in proportion to its global and local significance.

But thank you for your feedback — and we’re glad to see you are listening to a range of voices in this important debate.

Yours sincerely,
Marni Cordell

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.