Jonathan Freedland should know better

Jonathan Freedland made the  bizarre claim that Clare Short really said and believes that Israel is the “greatest single cause of the climate crisis”.

It is – obviously – false as Clare Short has affirmed.

How could Freedland get it quite so wrong? Naomi Wayne investigates for JVL

The mainstream media’s reporting on antisemitism and related issues (including widespread equation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism) has long been an evidence-lite zone, with a starring position occupied by the Guardian. The experience of former cabinet minister and Labour MP Clare Short provides an object lesson in how the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland conjured antisemitism out of next to nothing at all.

On 26th June 2020, Freedland wrote a one thousand-word article celebrating the dismissal of Rebecca Long Bailey, which showed that “at last, Labour is serious about antisemitism”. Astonishingly, he opened by stating that, thirteen years earlier, “Asked to name the greatest single cause of the climate crisis … Clare Short had a novel answer: Israel.”  He went on to assert that what linked Short’s views with Maxine Peake’s interview comment on George Floyd’s killing, was “a cast of mind that sees the worst events in the world and determinedly puts Israel at the centre… Whatever horrors are unfolding, the hidden hand of the world’s only majority Jewish country must be secretly behind them.”

Clare Short was astonished. Though, as she has told us, she is “very critical of Israel’s cruelty towards the Palestinians and grave breaches of international law… ‘the single greatest cause of climate change’ Israel is most certainly not.” On 27th June, she wrote to the Guardian and “[a]fter lots of toing and froing and reference to the Reader’s Editor”, they eventually published her response, ten days after Freedland’s attack.

From her correspondence with the Reader’s Editor (the in-house person responsible for monitoring journalistic standards on the Guardian), Short learned that Freedland had been referring to the UN International Conference of Civil Society In Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Brussels, 30-31 August 2007).  However, in the account of the meeting and of Clare Short’s contribution to it provided by the UN’s information officer, there is no mention of climate change.

Undaunted, further badgering of the Reader’s Editor enabled Short to discover where Freedland had found his “facts”.  He had relied, in Short’s words, on “a diatribe against the UN meeting” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 3rd September 2007. Entitled “The Israel-Bashing Club”, this is what author, one Daniel Schwammenthal, had to say about Clare Short:

Claiming that Israel is actually “much worse than the original apartheid state” and accusing it of “killing (Palestinian) political leaders,” Ms. Short charged the Jewish state with the ultimate crime: Israel “undermines the international community’s reaction to global warming.” According to Ms. Short, the Middle East conflict distracts the world from the real problem: man-made climate change. If extreme weather will lead to the “end of the human race,” as Ms. Short warned it could, add this to the list of the crimes of Israel.

Mr Schwammenthal, subsequently went on to become Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute and can be checked out in a variety of places.  Perhaps most informative is his involvement in an event held on March 27 2018, on “repairing ties between Israel and Europe”. The fact that he is hardly a disinterested commentator can be deduced, both from his own contribution and from the list of fellow speakers (which included Israeli ambassador Dore Gold, Gerald Steinberg, Gideon Falter of the CAA and many more known for their connections with right-wing think tanks and their deep distrust of anything to do with Islam).

After racking her brains and debating with the Readers’ Editor, Clare Short provided her own account and explanation which can be found in her letter to the Guardian. She told us that Mr Shwammenthal’s thirteen-year-old account was “ridiculous” and she points out that neither he nor anyone else contacted her at the time, either to confirm the accuracy of the “quotes” or to seek comment.  We also note that Mr Schwammenthal’s own decision not to put into quotation marks the final words – that (extreme weather) … could add … to the list of the crimes of Israel – pretty much confirms, if confirmation were needed, they are his formulation not hers.

What emerges from this sorry account?  The Guardian resisted publishing a response from a public figure who had been traduced by one of its leading journalists, for something she is clear she didn’t say about Israel and climate change in 2007! That journalist must either have long been keeping a file of go-to ‘quotes’, or have done an awful lot of research to have turned up this particular shoddy effort after thirteen years.  Neither that journalist, nor the original reporter for the Wall Street Journal, bothered to fact-check what would have been a very silly statement had Clare Short, an experienced and respected politician and minister, made it. And when he wrote about certain people having a “cast of mind” which predisposed them to see things in a particular way, perhaps he was referring to himself.

Perhaps worst of all, apart from the disgraceful dishonesty of such smears, as Clare Short ended her Guardian letter: “Antisemitism is a great evil that has inflicted endless suffering and culminated in one of the greatest crimes in human history. False claims of antisemitism to prevent Israel being held to account, as should any nation, are a misuse of the seriousness of the real history of antisemitism.”


* [The link to the Wall Street Journal no longer works, but the article is reproduced here.]

Comments (14)

  • dave says:

    This shows the dangers of a supposedly liberal newspaper effectively handing over editorial control to writers known for bias over many years. If they can’t even be bothered to fact check articles then they will end up looking stupid, as here.

    Maybe they just don’t care or really do want to weaponise antisemitism, given the others they have also given free rein to, such as Margaret Hodge.

    George Monbiot meticulously provides references for his articles and should be an object lesson for the Guardian editor.

  • Doug says:

    Now the Guardian has both sides, they are obliged to adjudicate on the matter and if a retraction and apology are not forthcoming take it out of their hands and give it press ombudsman

  • RH says:

    The Guardian has progressively lost credibility ever since the re-formulation of the Scott Trust. The nadir was reached with the campaign against Corbyn and the Labour Party in general, which was worthy only of a servile propaganda sheet.

    Servile to whom and why? I won’t even bother to speculate, except to say that ‘servant of the truth’ is not a phrase that comes to mind.

    However, it has been noticeable for a long time that Freedland has had a free hand to pop up regularly with fictions that are aimed at critics of the behaviour of the Israeli state.

    The pattern of omission and falsification in relation to key issues has been continued during the Covid-19 Panicdemic, with a narrative that has many features in common with the fictional coverage of ‘institutional antisemitism’ behind a cover of a rare and controlled occasional venture into more balanced journalism. It’s not as crude as the propagandising by the tabloid comics – but the result is much the same, whilst aimed at a different readership.

    Ask yourself two questions about the news coverage of this newspaper that – allegedly – is the standard bearer for a certain liberal/libertarian tradition :

    1. When did you read its coverage of, for instance, Justin Schlossberg’s or the Glasgow Media Group’s takedown of the fictional stories about Labour, Corbyn and antisemitism?

    2. When did you read focused and proportionate criticism of the removal of normal citizen’s rights under cover of a virus scare? Where did to see an examination of the accuracy of the story about the ‘surge’ in Leicester, or a questioning of the rumblings about enforcing the wearing of masks based on nil precedent or convincing evidence?

    If you’re adventurous, you might then have a go at joining up the dots. Meanwhile :

    “Our journalism can change the story …”


  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    An excellent account, except for the headline. Why on earth would we expect Freedland to know better? This has been the most successful element of his journalistic career and he’s never had a setback or demotion for any of the unfair and unfounded things he has said and written. On the contrary, the mainstream world has applauded and promoted him for his polemics on antisemitism.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    Doug. The Guardian didnt retract, but what they did do – after some argy bargy – was to print Clare’s letter. Subsequently, she told us the back story, which we wrote up. It’s just a small case study which highlights a much bigger problem.

  • Martin Read says:

    Freedland does know better. As do a few of the Guardian journalists, he too often seems to have gotten away with presenting his unsubstantiated and heavily biased opinion pieces as something they seldom manage to mimic- cutting journalism.

  • ian duncan kemp says:

    as regular Guardian reader, there is not much else, I have seen a serious bias in their reporting on A/S particularly Freedman … He is a very poor generalist. He is not balanced or Objective.
    I have written to Guardian editor expressing my views. Never had even a acknowledgement.
    Its depressing when a so called left liberal paper allows unsubstantiated by Freedland others to be publised.

  • James Dickins says:

    Like the Financial Times and the Independent, the Guardian is not a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), preferring to ‘self-regulate’ (ho, ho):
    The chances of Short getting an apology from the Guardian are, I fear, zero.

    IPSO itself is not Leveson-compliant, and is in practice almost useless. Left-wing outlets like Skwawkbox and The Canary are almost alone in being signed up to the Leveson-compliant IMPRESS:

  • Colin Lomas says:

    After Naomi Wayne’s article concerning Clare Short, JVL supporters might consider sending a letter to the Guardian. This is mine below:

    To [email protected]

    To the Guardian editor.
    On 26 June 2020, Jonathan Freedland had a story in the Guardian which opened with the claim that – in 2007 – Labour MP Clare Short had said that the greatest single cause of the climate crisis was Israel.
    Jewish Voice for Labour has just published a rebuttal by Naomi Wayne of this absurd allegation. The JVL article is based on the actual summary of a UN conference where Clare Short is supposed to have made the accusation about Israel. The conference summary included all of Short’s contributions and Naomi Wayne could find nothing to link Clare Short with the Israel-climate accusation, but she did find an article in the Wall Street Journal published soon after the conference which was critical of the whole UN conference, and this article included the clearly invented Israel-climate story.
    As a life-long reader of the Guardian, it is truly depressing that the paper now publishes anything to link the Labour with anti-Semitsim.
    When groups like JVL do the solid research behind the Labour-is-anti-Semitic stories, time and time again, the “evidence” falls apart., as in this case.

  • Chris Burgess says:

    Thank you for this information. I have read the Guardian for years and found so many interesting and informative articles to read. However of late my view has changed and some of the news they have published is wrong. I won’t be buying this rag any longer. Might as well buy the mail or Sun at least it is obvious what side they are on.

  • Patricia Philippou says:

    I find Freedman more worrying than the likes of out and out Zionists. His veneer of civilisation and politeness mask his hateful anti-Palestinian racism.

  • DJ says:

    I agree Patricia. Has he ever written articles about Israeli dispossession and killings of Palestinians?

  • michael ryan says:

    Different Frank, thank you for the link. It brings absolute clarity to the actuality.

Comments are now closed.