Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Anti-Zionist and Antisemitic Discourse on the Guardian's "Comment Is Free" Website

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Anti-Zionist and Antisemitic Discourse on the Guardian's "Comment Is Free" Website

Article excerpt

The Guardian is Britain's third most read newspaper after the Daily Telegraph and the Times. As is the case with many newspapers, the sales of its print edition are declining: In January 2009, its daily circulation was 358,844 (a drop of 5.17 percent from January 2008) and by March 2010, its daily circulation had fallen further to 283,063. However, this trend has been offset by the Guardian's decision to expand the publication of all its material, together with that of its sibling paper, the Observer, online without charge. In January 2010, the Guardian's website was the most popular of all UK newspaper sites, with some 37 million unique users per month, 12.6 million of whom were British. In 2008, it was runner-up in the "Webby Awards" for the best political blog, and in 2009, the site won the "best newspaper" category in those same awards.

Describing itself as "the world's leading Liberal voice," the Guardian takes a left-ofcenter stance. A poll by MORI in April to June 2000 showed that 80 percent of the Guardian's readers were Labour voters. A 2005 poll by the same organization indicated that 48 percent of Guardian readers voted Labour and 34 percent voted Liberal Democrat. In the same year, Sir Max Hastings was quoted as saying "I write for the Guardian because it is read by the new establishment." In the 2010 UK elections, the Guardian backed the Liberal Democrat party, which for the first time in its history gained a foothold in British government.1

As is the case with British society as a whole, the Guardian's viewpoints have shifted during its 189-year history. Its most famous editor C.P. Scott was a personal friend of Chaim Weizmann and the paper supported the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The Guardian also lent its voice to British actions in Northern Ireland, supported the coalition forces in the first Gulf War, and was in favor of NATO intervention in Kosovo, but the newspaper's staff gradually shifted to the left and even far left over the last couple of decades, while those with contrary views have been pushed out.

Since 2000, the paper has attracted increasing criticism of its anti-Israeli bias with Lord Greville Janner QC, former chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (from 1979 to 1985) describing it as "viciously and notoriously anti-Israel,"2 and journalist Julie Burchill, who left the Guardian for the Times in 2003, citing a "striking bias against the State of Israel"3 as one of her reasons for doing so. The Economist named the Guardian, together with the Independent, as one of the main examples as to why "[m]any British Jews are of the opinion that press reporting on Israeli policy is [so] spiced with a tone of animosity 'as to smell of anti-semitism'."4

Criticism of the Guardian's anti-Israel bias is directed especially toward its online "Comment is Free" section which hosts comment and political opinion while allowing the general public the chance to participate in the discussion in its comments section. The majority of articles concerning Israel appear in the sub-section "CiF Middle East." The Community Security Trust (an organization dedicated to the security of the British Jewish community) identified "Comment is Free" as one of the main purveyors of antisemitic hate in the British mainstream media in both its 20075 and 20086 reports entitled Anti-Semitic Discourse in Britain, and Zionist Federation co-vice chairman Jonathan Hoffman produced a 57-page report on the subject, which was submitted to the UK Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism in July 2008.7

The phenomenon of anti-Israeli bias and provision of a platform for antisemitic hate speech on "Comment is Free" is comprised of a number of differing factors, which operate simultaneously. One of these factors is the method of moderation of comments employed on the discussion forums. Unlike many other blogs or websites, the Guardian first publishes comments and only later deletes those considered to be in breach of its guidelines. …

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