If Sydney Morning Herald international editor Peter Hartcher seriously intended the contents of his puff piece on Israel (Israel feels tarnished as critics apply apartheid tag, 17/11/09) to be the story, he was fooling himself.
It was in fact his accompanying disclosure that he had "travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies"* that became the real story, acting as a lightning rod for reader scepticism and dissent. Of the 114 comments** posted on the Herald's website by sun-up today, 23 zeroed in on Hartcher's JBOD junket and its journalistic spin-off.
[*Actually a defensive measure since his Herald colleague Paul Sheehan was caught out. See my posts Oriana Fallaci Meets Israeli PR at the SMH (13/1/09) & Oriana Fallaci Meets Israeli PR at the SMH 2 (19/1/09); **81 were critical of Hartcher and/or Israel]
Obviously stung, Hartcher felt the need to post the following addendum: "A number of comments attach great significance to the fact that, as pointed out at the end of the column, I travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Some impute a hidden agenda. Earlier this year I wrote about the United Arab Emirates after travelling there as a guest of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. This attracted no comment. It is routine for journalists to accept paid travel. The question is not whether journalists take trips; it is whether they disclose them. Disclosure means that readers can take this into account in forming their views. This is the exact opposite of a hidden agenda."
In a nutshell: 'I travelled to the UAE on a Lowy Institute junket and no one complained so why now? And anyway, press junkets are fine, so long as they're disclosed.'
Such disingenuousness warrants scrutiny. Hartcher did in fact go on a Lowy Institute-sponsored trip to the UAE and disclosed this at the foot of an opinion piece on 31/3/09. (See my 2/4/09 post Say It Isn't So) What he didn't disclose, however, was that he is listed as a "Visiting Fellow" on the Institute's website, with all that that entails by way of the Institute's provenance. Nor would the average reader necessarily be aware of its Zionist agenda. (See my 18/10/09 post Lowy's Elephantine Agenda)
Be that as it may, Hartcher was not whisked off to the UAE for a puff piece. Just look at the opening paragraph: "Australia has a new friend in the Middle East. It's not the prettiest regime in the world but as Arab autocracies go, it's about as good as it gets. In this case the real estate adage applies - as far as Australia is concerned it's about location, location, location."
No, Hartcher was there for one reason only - to report (quite uncritically I might add) that "The Federal Government has moved to permanently base Australia's various Middle Eastern regional military assets in the UAE. In return, Australia has about 30 personnel in the UAE training its fast-growing special forces troopers... Both countries are now girding for the coming crisis with Iran, which lies just across the Gulf from the UAE."
Comparing the circumstances surrounding his UAE trip with those surrounding his Israel trip is like comparing apples with oranges, and Hartcher knows it.
As to Hartcher's contention that sponsored trips are kosher provided they're disclosed, how does he reconcile this with the requirements of The Fairfax Code of Conduct?: "We will not accept gifts or inducements which could impair our judgement or be perceived to be a conflict of interest, bribe or inappropriate gift."
Has Hartcher's judgement been impaired? Just how much pro-Israel spin is there in Israel feels tarnished...? Let me count the ways:
1) The UN is derogatively described, Israeli-style, as an "international resolution factory."
2) The Israeli talking point It's All About Rockets is uncritically regurgitated: "After enduring some 800* rocket attacks... Israel sent its armed forces into Gaza last December to stop the firings at source." Where's the context? The Israeli siege of Gaza? The unilateral Hamas ceasefire? The never-ending Israeli incursions and extra-judicial killings? The Israeli murders that finally prompted a renewal of Palestinian rocket and mortar fire? - all of which has been canvassed in my 22/8/09 post Gillard: Sychophant.
[*This appears to be a typo - the cited ITP demands a figure in the thousands, anywhere from 6 -10 thousand. See my 5/1/09 post Go Figure 1]
3) Israel's turkey shoot in Gaza (13 Israeli to 1,417 Palestinian deaths (PCHR)) is casually described as a "clash."
4) "This was the whole point of the Hamas strategy. By deliberately positioning themselves in residential areas, the Hamas fighters were goading Israel to shoot back at civilians' homes." On the contrary, Mr Hartcher, Amnesty International's investigation produced no evidence to support this claim. They did, however, find evidence that Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields. See my 4/10/09 post Operation Get Goldstone.
5) Hamas is described as an "Islamic terrorist group banned by the US, the EU and Australia." Standard Israeli rhetoric here.
6) Meet Hartcher's interviewees, both standard issue Zionist axe-grinders: Gerald Steinberg, "professor of political science at Bar Ilan University and the head of a think tank called NGO Watch [sic]"; Isi Leibler, "the businessman and former chairman of the World Jewish Congress." At least that (partially?) answers the question of who Hartcher spoke to in Israel.
7) Steinberg is quoted as saying, "[The Goldstone report] is an attempt to turn Israel into a new apartheid state."
A little googling, however, would have told Hartcher that the apartheid experts over at South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council had already found Israel to be an apartheid state. (See my 21/9/09 post Israeli Apartheid: The Jury's In)
Whatever Steinberg's academic worth, his role as president of NGO Monitor (Hartcher can't even get the name of Steinberg's outfit right, calling it NGO Watch) should alert any journalist worth his salt to the existence of an agenda. According to NGO Monitor's website, its objective is "to end the practice used by certain self-declared 'humanitarian' NGOs of exploiting the label 'universal human rights values' to promote politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas." One example of Steinberg's oeuvre is Human Rights Watch: White (phosphorous) lies (The Jerusalem Post, 17/1/09). Keeping in mind Goldstone's finding "that the Israeli armed forces were systematically reckless in determining its use in built-up areas," I'll leave it to you to decide who is actually running an agenda here. If anything, Goldstone, a self-confessed Zionist, is pulling his punches. (See Did Richard Goldstone hide more sinister crimes in Gaza? - Part 1: White Phosphorus & Flechettes at paltelegraph.com)
8) "The Israeli objection is to the emphasis in the report. Goldstone directs the great bulk of his scrutiny and criticism to the Israeli side. He does not give weight to the fact that Israel was responding to hundreds of rocket attacks from Hamas." See point 2.
Hartcher is correct, however - there is no "hidden agenda" behind his puff piece. It's actually out in plain view - on his sleeve.
Postscript: Interestingly, when I last looked, I couldn't find any mention whatever of Hartcher's junket on the JBOD's website. Why so coy, guys? And the Herald's website has just closed off comments on Israel feels tarnished... at 133. Why so soon, guys?