Jonathan Freedland: arbiter

Comment is not always free

Why did The Guardian censor Israeli anti-Zionist Moshé Machover? Tony Greenstein investigates

A strange thing happened on August 9. Brian Robinson, a retired psychiatrist, posted a comment on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website in response to an article in that day’s paper entitled ‘Israel and the US would come to deeply regret air strikes against Iran’ by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv.1

I do not think I am maligning Brian to say that he is a liberal with radical tendencies who hovered between Zionism and anti-Zionism before finally falling down on the right side. He cited this paragraph in the article: “Iran is not Iraq or Syria. The Iranians have drawn lessons from those two events. They dispersed their nuclear facilities and buried them underground, making them more difficult to reach and destroy. Success is thus less assured. Instead of a quick, surgical strike, Israel will likely find itself in a long war of attrition against Iran and Shia Muslims everywhere. In the name of national pride and defending its Islamic revolution, Iran was willing to lose millions of people in a long war against Iraq through the 80s ...”

Brian decided he should bring to people’s attention the viewpoint of professor Moshé Machover, who argues that the main reason behind the calls to war is the opportunity it offers for Netanyahu to carry out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine’s remaining Palestinians. Brian therefore wrote a short comment:

“Well worth reading the article by Moshé Machover in Weekly Worker February 9 2012. Why would Israel want to risk such a dangerous war?”

Moshé had written: “… we need to turn our attention to Zionism’s nightmare: the Palestinian ‘demographic peril’ ... opposition to a sovereign Palestinian state in any part of Eretz Yisrael is not a mere quirk of a rightwing Israeli government, but a deep-seated and fundamental principle shared by all mainstream Zionist parties ... for mainstream Zionism any admission that ‘the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country and have the same rights’ would undermine the legitimacy of the Zionist state, and eventually its very existence ...”

He went on to describe a “third option: neither a two-state solution, nor a single state with an Arab majority, but ‘population transfer’. Large-scale ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs would result in a single state in the entire territory, with a large Jewish majority, which is the ultimate aim of all mainstream Zionist parties ... but implementing ethnic cleansing on a sufficiently large scale - while technically quite easy … - is politically very tricky. It cannot be done in normal, politically tranquil circumstances. It requires what in Zionist parlance is called she’at kosher: an opportune moment of major political, and preferably military, crisis ...

“A war with Iran would present a golden opportunity for large-scale expulsion of Palestinians, precisely because (unlike the Iraq invasion of 2003) fighting would not be over too soon, and major protests and disturbances are likely to occur among the masses throughout the region, including the Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule. What better way to pacify such disturbances than to ‘expel many people’.”

Machover presented the same ideas at the weekend school run by Hands Off the People of Iran last April.2

Barely an hour had passed before Brian received an email from a comrade to say: “The Guardian moderator removed your comment. What did you expect?” In fact Brian expected free speech, especially from a site that calls itself Comment is Free. He also expected a serious discussion on the merits or demerits of Machover’s arguments. But, of course, some people are not interested in debating the finer points of Zionism and its appetite for war.


Both Brian and myself emailed Becky Gardener, the editor of CiF, to protest at what had happened. It is fair to say that the system she presides over is not one of her own creation. Credit for that can be given to Matt Seaton, the previous editor, whose only claim to fame were three books on bicycles!

In her emailed response she effectively hit the nail on the head. “… moderators work independently from editorial staff - one way in which we try to keep moderation as value-free as possible. It is their job to apply the community standards criteria even-handedly.”

And that is the point. Censors, which is what moderators are, by definition work within the context of an accepted political framework, which to them is “value-free”. Anti- Zionism has been labelled within The Guardian, under the influence of it senior editorialist and Jewish Chronicle columnist Jonathan Freedland, as a close cousin, if not twin, of anti-Semitism. Hence all Zionist propagandist has to do is to allege ‘hate speech’ and ‘anti- Semitism’ and the moderators move into action according to their own, pre-defined but “value-free” criteria.

Becky Gardener accepts that the moderator who censored Brian “was unaware of Moshé Machover’s reputation. Had he been aware of it, I doubt he would have deleted the comment.” But that kind of exceptionalism merely reinforces the problem. She goes on to say that the censor “was concerned by the repetitive use of ‘Zionist’ and ‘Zionism’, which moderators know from experience is often used as an anti-Semitic proxy for ‘Jewish’, although they fully understand that it can be used in a way that is completely legitimate . After some deliberation, the moderator concerned decided that the abuse report was warranted.”

This merely compounds the problem. The repetitive use of the term ‘Zionism’ apparently indicates that anti-Semitism is on the agenda. Value-free? Quite how you can write an article on Zionism and not use the term repeatedly defies me. And why would you want to avoid the word? Is there not a World Zionist Organisation? Does not Israel define its defining ideology as Zionism? If a moderator is unable to distinguish between the anti-Semitic use of the term ‘Zionist’ and its normal political usage then they need to emerge from their “value-free” bubble and read about the ethnic cleansing of the Bedouin of the Negev or the Palestinians of Jerusalem in order to achieve the Zionist dream of an ethnically pure Jewish state.

What happened is in its own way a demonstration of how The Guardian has under the influence of Freedland and co moved to the right. Freedland is wedded to a ‘two-state solution’, which, as anyone with a cursory knowledge of the situation knows, will never occur, although it still plays a useful role in providing a smokescreen for depriving four million-plus Palestinians living under occupation of any democratic or civil rights. The illusion being that they will one day attain a state and thus it is only to be expected for oppressive forms of rule - including, of course, the Palestinian Authority - to be maintained in the interim, since all occupations are by definition undemocratic.

Not only will two states not happen, because a genuinely independent state alongside Israel is incompatible with the aims of Zionism, but, were such a creature to emerge, it would be a bastardised version of the South African Bantustans. It would be an open invitation to transfer the remainder of Israel’s Arab population into it.

Machover argues that one of the reasons for Netanyahu’s eagerness for a war on Iran is that it will provide the ideal cover for a transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan. Today this is outside the narrow confines of Guardian liberalism and an article to that effect is deemed ‘anti-Semitic’.

Comment is Free has on its masthead a quote from CP Scott, who edited the paper for over half a century until 1929: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” Scott was, like most of the ruling class at the time, a Zionist (he was a Liberal MP too). It would appear that some facts are more sacred than others. But, as we are discovering with the coalition, when you scratch a liberal you find a conservative underneath.

This small incident at CiF - the online blog that The Guardian hopes will enable it to rise to the challenge of the internet - is merely symptomatic. Time was when The Guardian’s coverage of the Middle East was second to none. When I grew up as a young Zionist, it was the only paper that dared to print the articles of an Arabist, the late Michael Adams. Michael was the first British journalist to reveal the brutality and racism of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, having cut his teeth on opposition to the Suez War on the Manchester Guardian. Michael was fortunate to have as an editor Alistair Hetherington. This was a time when the whole of the media was pro-Israel. The BBC’s Michael Elkins could not contain his glee when Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967. We often forget how the debate has changed and how Israel’s main supporters used to be on the left, not the right.

Unfortunately New Labour has long since captured The Guardian and today, with a shrinking circulation, it is a mere shadow of its former self. Along with its sister paper, The Observer, it supported Blair’s war on Iraq and to this day has refused to repent. Whereas the Manchester Guardian under editor AP Wadsworth, to get her with The Observer, were prepared to oppose Anthony Eden’s war against Egypt after Nasser had nationalised the Suez Canal, those papers swallowed Blair’s lies wholesale.

Another great Guardian journalist, the equivalent of The Independent’s Robert Fisk, was David Hirst, who wrote The gun and the olive branch on how Zionism had successfully transformed the aggressor into victim, whilst portraying the Palestinians as the ones who wanted war. Today Hirst is confined to the odd obituary and is otherwise marginalised in his retirement.

I speak with a certain personal experience, because when The Guardian set up Comment is Free I was one of a number of contributors.3 However, after Zionist pressure from a blog called CIF Watch (the word ‘watch’ is a favourite of Zionist McCarthyite groups), I was banned from contributing articles. My particular offence was making a comparison between Israeli practices towards the Palestinians, such as barring Arabs from renting apartments, refusing to sell them land, demolishing their villages, etc, etc, and those of the Nazi state pre-1941.

Double standards

Almost unreported by those who flinch at the very mention of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ is the visceral Nazi-like hatred for Arabs that manifests itself in the Jerusalem Day march of thousands, chanting “Death to the Arabs”, or a rabbinical establishment that seeks to justify the genocide of the Palestinians. In the book Torat Hamelech, defended by hundreds of Israeli rabbis, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira wrote: “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”4

Which, of course, is exactly the same argument that the Nazis used to justify murdering Jewish children. If an Arab in Israel had written that about Jews, he would have been arrested. But a member of the orthodox establishment is literally untouchable. We only have to recall the bogus charges of anti-Semitism levelled at Muslim League leader Raed Sallah in this country, when Theresa May tried to deport him, to appreciate the double standards involved.

But for The Guardian, along with the rest of the press, it is only Arab reaction to settler racism that is of interest. Certainly they will cover the antics of the settlers and the practices of the Israeli army, but the underlying ideology of Zionism, why it does what it does, goes unremarked. It is ‘no go’ territory.

One could also point to the rabbinical establishment, which is unarguably on the Zionist right. Attitudes of hostility to Arabs pervade Israeli society. In a 2007 article in Israel’s largest circulation daily, Yediot Aharanot, entitled ‘Marriage to an Arab is national treason’ we learn that over half of the Jewish population in Israel believes the marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to national treason and that over 75% of Israeli Jews do not approve of apartment buildings being shared between Arabs and Jews, whilst 60% would not allow an Arab to visit their home.5

More significant still, over half of the respondents agreed that Israel should encourage its Arab citizens to emigrate from the country and 55% believed that Arabs and Jews should be separated at entertainment sites.

This is the reality of present-day Israel that Jonathan Freedland and the censors of CiF are busy trying to erase, from both the newspaper and The Guardian’s blog. And, of course, the censors work in a “value-free” atmosphere where dissident politics are frowned upon. Hanna Arendt called it the “banality of evil”.

Tony Greenstein’s blog is at http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk.


1. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/ aug/09/israel-us-deeply-regret-strikes-on-iran.

2. The video of his talk, and those of others, can be seen here http://hopoi.org/?p=2082

3. See http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ tony_greenstein/index.xml.

4. See http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2010/11/rabbi-schochet-of-racist-lubavitch-big.html.

5. March 27 2007: www.ynetnews.com/ articles/0,7340,L-3381978,00.html.