The Guardian’s Rightward Drift

JVL Introduction

On 11th Feb we reposted an article by Nathan Robinson a (former) columnist on Guardian US How the Media Cracks Down on Critics of Israel.

In it he revealed how one joke led to his being permanently barred from writing for the Guardian.

In this article Ari Paul revisits that story and puts it in the context of a steady rightward drift by the Guardian.

He points out how English-language outlets outside the United States (such as Ha’aretz and the Guardian) became go-to sources for left-leaning readers frustrated by the pro-Israeli and pro-US bias in US Middle East coverage.

But the Guardian is no longer the critical voice it once was. After the Snowden revelations, as Justin Schlosberg is quoted as saying, “the Guardian’s relationship with the security state began to look increasingly more cooperative than antagonistic…”

The bottom line says Robinson is that “the editors want to very tightly police what writers say on Israel/Palestine…”

Thanks to Ari Paul and Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (Fair).

This article was originally published by Fair on Mon 22 Feb 2021. Read the original here.

Guardian Columnist’s Firing Over Israel Joke Highlights Paper’s Rightward Drift

Nathan Robinson & John Mulholland

The Guardian has fired one of its columnists for its US edition, Nathan Robinson, because Robinson jokingly tweeted about US military aid to Israel. The Guardian’s US editor-in-chief, John Mulholland, charged Robinson with spreading “fake news.” Worse, Mulholland suggested that his columnist was promoting antisemitic tropes about Israel’s influence on the US government.
In a since-deleted tweet (12/23/20), Robinson had written, in response to the $500 million in military aid for Israel in the spending that included Covid relief:

Did you know that the US Congress is not actually allowed to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel? It’s the law.

Lest anyone fail to recognize this as typical Twitter sarcasm, Robinson immediately appended a clarification: “or if not actually the written law then so ingrained in political custom as to functionally be indistinguishable from law.”

Later that day, Robinson received a note from Mulholland, whom he had never before heard from. (Robinson revealed his communication with Mulholland and wrote about his firing in Current Affairs—2/10/21—the socialist magazine Robinson edits.) Mulholland insisted that, “given that no such law exists,” the tweet was “fake news”—”irrespective of the later tweet when you say that it is ‘indistinguishable from law.’” And he went on to link Robinson to antisemitic conspiracy theories:

Given the reckless talk over the past year—and beyond—of how mythical “Jewish groups/alliances” yield power over all forms of public life, I am not clear how this is helpful to public discourse.

Mulholland also complained that Robinson’s remark on Twitter—a medium that limits its contributors to 280 characters at a time—did not explore the question of aid to Israel more deeply, with a cross-national historical perspective:

I am not sure why singling out financial aid to Israel in a tweet and devoid of any context—and without mention of aid to other countries either currently or historically—is a useful addition to public discourse.

“It dismays me that someone who presents themselves as a Guardian columnist would make such a clearly erroneous statement without…any context/justification,” Mulholland concluded.

It’s not a particularly persuasive critique, but as Mulholland was his boss, Robinson deleted his tweet and promised to be more careful in the future. “I greatly appreciate your thoughtful response,” Mulholland replied—but it was soon made clear that the Guardian would be publishing no more of Robinson’s columns, and that the tweet, deleted or not, was the reason.

Robinson told FAIR that Mulholland was policing his conduct beyond his role as a columnist. “It is very clear that John Mulholland wants the ability not just to curate the content of the paper, but to curate the public thoughts of all writers affiliated with the paper,” he said.

Robinson joins the ranks of journalists and intellectuals who have been “canceled” because of their criticism of Israel. Notable subjects include professor Marc Lamont Hill losing his job at CNN (11/30/18) and Steven Salaita having a job offer rescinded by the University of Illinois (Chicago Tribune, 11/12/15).

Beyond the flagrant abuse of the charge of antisemitism against any criticism of Israel (which in this case was actually a joke about US spending on Israeli arms), the incident raises a troubling question about the Guardian. When high-speed internet access became more prevalent at the dawn of the new millennium, English-language outlets outside the United States became go-to sources for left-leaning readers frustrated by the pro-Israeli and pro-US bias in US Middle East coverage (, 1/1/01; 1/28/11; 4/19/12). The websites of the BBC, the Guardian and the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz have, in recent decades, become important sources for broader coverage of Israel/Palestine.

The Guardian, like the Independent, has been considered one of Britain’s left-of-center publications, favored by Labour Party voters. The Guardian formalized its US online edition 10 years ago (Guardian, 9/14/11).


Guardian: Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the right move for the US and its allies

The kind of thing the Guardian (2/26/13) is not embarrassed to run, apparently.

Of course, the Guardian’s storied anti-imperialism in the Middle East is sometimes rooted in more myth than fact: The paper (1/18/03) championed US and British-led military action in Iraq and even gave John Bolton, a prominent hawk in both the Bush and Trump administrations, space to look back approvingly on the war (2/26/13). The author page for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who led the nation into the war and moved the Labour Party sharply rightward, has 75 articles.

At the same time, pro-Israel outlets have accused the Guardian of having an anti-Israel bias (Jewish Journal, 12/4/03; Algemeiner, 7/23/20). Pro-Israel media watchdogs like CAMERA and Honest Reporting have catalogued what they describe as a pro-Palestinian slant in both opinion and news coverage at the Guardian.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, media officer for Britain’s Jewish Voice for Labour, told FAIR that the group has seen a steady decline in the paper’s Middle East coverage, most recently with what the group saw as a downplaying of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem’s statement that Israel is, indeed, an apartheid state.  The Guardian’s editorial (1/17/21) on the subject “was of the mealy-mouthed ‘on the one hand on the other hand’ variety,” she said:

It was left to Middle East Eye (1/14/21), one of very few independent platforms in the UK with the courage to allow open expressions of a radical, anti-colonial perspective on Israel/Palestine, to highlight the significance of B’Tselem’s work.

She pointed out that the Guardian’s opinion pieces “have in recent years become virtually closed to advocates for Palestine,” while pro-Israel “lobbyists seem to have free rein”:

The choice in October 2016 of the Israeli Ambassador to author its commemoration of 80 years since the battle of Cable Street (Guardian, 10/6/16), comparing the threat of fascism in the 1930s with that of “left-wing antisemitism” now, was the last straw for me as a life-long Guardian reader.

Wimborne-Idrissi argued that this trend mirrored the paper’s negative slant against former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as he fought accusations from the party’s centrist faction that he allowed antisemitism to fester in the party:

Influential columnist Jonathan Freedland, executive editor for a time, has played a huge role in pushing forward the anti-Corbyn agenda. Editor-in-chief Katherine Viner, despite evidence of past pro-Palestinian sympathies, has done nothing to rein in attacks on the left, including on Jewish critics of Israel who have attempted in vain to generate discussion about the so-called IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and is being aggressively deployed to close down expressions of support for Palestine.

Current political correspondent in the Westminster lobby team is Jessica Elgot, who joined the Guardian in 2015, having cut her teeth at the Jewish Chronicle, authoring many an attack on the Labour left under Corbyn. In her current role, she has continued her enthusiastic support for the smear campaign. A feature of her coverage has been to quote uncritically (Guardian, 3/8/18) from right-wing zealots with a clear anti-Palestinian—some might say Islamophobic—agenda, such as David Collier (understood to be part of the @gnasherjew collective on Twitter) and Joe Glasman of the misnamed Campaign Against Antisemitism. The latter caused consternation by responding to Corbyn’s defeat in the 2019 general election with a video celebrating how the CAA’s “spies and intel” had “slain the beast.”

Declassified UK: How the UK Security Services neutralised the country’s leading liberal newspaper

Declassified UK (9/11/19): “The Guardian, Britain’s leading liberal newspaper with a global reputation for independent and critical journalism, has been successfully targeted by security agencies to neutralize its adversarial reporting of the ‘security state.’”

A lengthy investigation by DeclassifiedUK and the Daily Maverick (9/11/19) noted that after the Guardian (6/11/13) revealed Edward Snowden’s leaks about National Security Agency surveillance, the paper’s investigatory abilities in regard to state security operations became compromised. It said that at the time of the leaks, “Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger withstood intense pressure not to publish some of the Snowden revelations.” However, in March 2015, “the situation changed when the Guardian appointed a new editor, Katharine Viner, who had less experience than Rusbridger of dealing with the security services.” The investigation pointed out that Viner previously worked at the

fashion and entertainment magazine Cosmopolitan and had no history in national security reporting. According to insiders, she showed much less leadership during the Snowden affair.

Justin Schlosberg, a senior lecturer in journalism and media at the University of London, echoes this in a chapter in a forthcoming book about the paper: “Following the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, the Guardian’s relationship with the security state began to look increasingly more cooperative than antagonistic,” he wrote, adding that “between 2016 and 2019, the paper was awarded three ‘exclusives’ with spy agency and counter-terror chiefs,” which were “largely devoid of the kind of interrogative scrutiny characteristic of the Rusbridger era.”

At the same time, Schlosberg noted, the paper moved to the right during the years Corbyn led the Labour Party (2015–20). “On the whole, comment pieces were aggressively hostile towards the Corbyn leadership,” Schlosberg wrote, and “the selection of issues and sources in news coverage overwhelmingly favored the accounts and agendas of Corbyn’s detractors.”

For some of the Guardian’s critics, this editorial switch can be felt today in much of its coverage and commentary of the Labour Party and in the Middle East. And that decline matters, because the Guardian has long been seen as providing much-needed nuance and broader reporting to the US newspaper market, and as a direly needed alternative to a British newspaper market that is dominated by nationalistic, Tory-aligned tabloids. Robinson’s firing is just the latest example of what these critics have seen for a while.

“What this shows is that even at the Guardian, the editors want to very tightly police what writers say on Israel/Palestine,” Robinson told FAIR, adding that its editors “want to make sure the criticism is carefully approved and stays only within certain bounds.”

Of course the paper has published criticism of Israel, Robinson said, but he noted, “It has also shown that it is willing to cede ground to those who treat legitimate criticisms of the country’s policies as bigoted.”

FAIR published an open letter (2/18/21) to the Guardian‘s John Mulholland calling on him to reinstate Nathan Robinson as a columnist. You can write to Mulholland at [email protected]  or via Twitter: @jnmulholland. Remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Comments (14)

  • Philip Ward says:

    The link to the article on the Guardian web site with the editorial supporting the Iraq war is to the Observer, rather than the Guardian. As far as I know, the Guardian opposed the war, but the Observer played an absolutely despicable role, which is well re-told in the film Official Secrets, about Katherine Gun and her leaks of the GCHQ emails about spying on various UN security council members. There is also a good discussion about the problems they encountered at the Observer with the two journalists involved, Katherine Gun and the film director here:

    Guardian “problems” with Israel are not new. From “Publish it Not: The Middle East Cover-Up”, by Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew (1975, 2006):
    “[At the beginning of 1968, I (Michael Adams) filed reports] to the Guardian on the situation in Gaza, on the continuing fight of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, and on the state of affairs in Arab Jerusalem, which the Israelis had annexed and where they were expropriating land on which to settle Jewish immigrants inside the Arab sector…..The editor of the Guardian who published the dispatches I sent found himself the target for much criticism and even abuse as a result. A campaign was orchestrated, in which the Israeli Embassy, the Jewish press in Britain and a number of individuals tried to discredit me, and through me the paper. The Jewish Observer published an ‘open letter to the Guardian’, criticising the editor’s irresponsibility and suggesting that he was somehow in league with what the writer called ‘your Arab friends’. A paper called Israel Today… openly accused him of publishing antisemitic material….I felt [the editor’s] confidence in me weakening…”

    The editor wrote to Adams “It’s certainly true that the bulk of Jewish readers here believe the Israelis have behaved with astonishing restraint. That’s perhaps why they find it difficult to accept at face value your reporting of intimidation”. Adams last article, about the demolition of three villages (Imwas, Yalu and Beit), was not published, this time on the grounds, given by the editor, that the events had not previously been reported in the British press (shades of the Observer at the time of the Iraq war, where they turned down Ed Vuliamy’s scoop about the CIA). No attempts to check with independent agencies in Israel were made. “As a direct result of the argument we had … the editor put an end to my connection with the Guardian by telling me he would never again publish anything I wrote about the Middle East.”

  • goldbach says:

    The Grauniad, under Rusbridger, was a decent liberal investigative newspaper. The rapid decline set in when he left. Now it simply acts as a stenographer for arms of the state apparatus. The opinion section, under Freedland, has morphed into a combination of anodyne pap and vicious bile.
    And, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Julian Assange say that it was two Grauniad reporters who had revealed the key to the Wikileaks’ secure drop box? At least most of the right wing rags are happy to acknowledge where they stand and “stab you in the front”.

  • Linda says:

    “Guardian” censorship APPEARS to be spreading to other topics too. Posting quotes from Skwarkbox (eg about the Liverpool shenanigans) isn’t appreciated. Some posts relating to Emilie Oldknowe’s day in court get through, others (apparently very similar) don’t. The time of day when items are posted seems to affect outcomes – different moderators with different views of what’s allowable perhaps?

    Behaviour like this diminishes the affection and respect many of us have for the “Guardian” but it’s behaved at least as badly (and probably worse) at times in the past.

    Maybe all we can do is wait for another Rusbridger to take over? And to try to keep the small independent press (especially the few left-wing ones) and left-leaning / investigative blogs alive by small donations. Censorship is an insidious evil – what no-one knows about can’t be fought.

  • John Thatcher says:

    I abandoned the Guardian several years ago, and now warn people of its true nature and purpose at every opportunity.

  • John C says:

    I am one reader the Guardian can no longer take for granted.

  • Brian Burden says:

    We started to take the Guardian regularly after our marriage in 1967. We gave it up more than half a century later, in 2019, over its relentless hounding of Corbyn and its frighteningly paranoid approach to the anti-Semitism issue, even banning cartoons by their long-term resident cartoonist Steve Bell. I wonder how many other loyal readers they’ve lost in recent years.

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    It comes as no surprise that The Guardian has become the unofficial “official” conduit for Whitehall “leaks” and the default “go-to” for media releases from prominent establishment departments like the Department of Defence and the Foreign Office.

    It is evident to intelligent observers and commentators that The Guardian is now fully under the cloak of the “Establishment”. Its portrayal of Israeli Apartheid in a favourable light and labelling of pro-Palestinian voices as “anti-semitic” [ implied or stated ] is to be expected.

    We must see this significant shift to the right, not just in terms of denial of free speech and gagging criticism of zionism, but as a sign that the Establishment feels the need to protect its vested interests under increasing pressure from pro-palestinian, pro-democratic, voices and organisations.

    As with any dictatorial anti-democratic racist apartheid regime, “banning” and other attempts to silence dissent, provides fuel to our fire and provides strength and legitimacy to the fight against apartheid. They may have control of “media”, but we are creative and must be prepared to use other legitimate means to keep the struggle against racism and apartheid on the agenda.

    Just like South Africa – when it was backed by the worlds biggest Imperialist nations, armed to the teeth and systematically oppressing indigenous Africans – that was when it cracked. We cannot wait for the toll of death, torture, false imprisonment and denial of basic human rights to continue in Palestine. We have to keep pushing in any and every legitimate way open to us.

    Whether its fighting against Zionist racism in the Guardian or pushing against Starmers Zionism in the Labour Party, we must take strength from the fact the Establishment and the Zionist Lobby perceives the mood and the need, to go on the offensive: not because it is “winning”.

  • Tony says:

    Last September, the Observer did an interview with Owen Jones:
    The headline quote in large print and bold type:
    Owen Jones: ‘A lot of people in the Labour party are horrible.’

    However, having looked through the actual article itself, I could find no such quote.
    Instead, I found this:

    “A lot of those people in the parliamentary Labour party—I’m just going to say it—are jumped-up thugs. Vicious, horrible people…”

    That is not the same thing, is it?

    This is not the only falsification. It twice uses the propaganda term ‘antisemitism crisis’.

  • chris wallis says:

    C.P.Scott, owner and Editor of the Manchester Guardian as it then was, met Chaim Weizmann at a party in Manchester in 1914. He later said he was fascinated by Weizmann and had been convinced by his Zionist principles. Scott had the ear of Lloyd George, then Minister for Munitions, and when the war effort was in crisis because supplies of acetone -fundamental for the production of cordite, the explosive used in shells – were sequestered by the Germans, Scott introduced Weizmann – a chemist who had invented a way of creating acetone by bacterial fermantation – to LG. CW moved from Manchester to Sheperds Bush and worked for the government to create large industrial sources for fermented acetone. He rubbed shoulders with the war cabinet, and became a very familiar figure in influential circles. The Balfour Declaration came out of a number of different political interests, but undoubtedly CWs influence in Downing St was a major factor. Meanwhile the Guardian was the first newspaper to carry pro-Zionist editorials, and it’s chief political correspondent Harry Sacher became one of the drafters of the Declaration.

  • chris wallis says:

    Regarding Katherine Viner, she is credited as a co-adapter with Alan Rickman of the diaries that created the script of ‘My Name Is Rachel Corrie’, the story of the American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer that opened at the Royal Court in 2005 and ran in the West End produced by Alan Rickman and David Johnstone. The wiki on it says ‘The play was scheduled to be transferred to the New York Theatre Workshop in March 2006. However, the New York theatre decided that, because of its political content, the play was to be “postponed indefinitely”, after the artistic director polled numerous Jewish groups to get their reaction to the play.[7] Rickman and Viner denounced the decision and withdrew the show’

  • Ian Kemp says:

    I have read the Guardian for many years, but over the 4 years there has been a noticeable move to the right . Journalists such as Freedland are given freedom to post total distortions and misrepresentations regarding Ant Semitism in the Labour party. I was a disgraceful piece of journalism that have ever read. The Guardian allowed this to be printed. It did not allow a critical analyses of the inaccuracies and gross distortion of the facts.
    Sadly this has continued even in the letters page. The editorship by Kathrine Viner has made it worse. I am not clear whether she is up to the job of being editor of a left leaning so called newspaper. It does not appear to the case I fear.

  • The Guardian used to be a decent liberal paper with a number of socialist columnists – Ian Aitken, Jonathan Steele, Jonathan Palmer and two brilliant Middle East correspondents – David Hirst and Michael Adams. I saw Adams speak in Liverpool circa 1968. My class in Jewish school were taken to see a debate in which he was featured. He won it easily.

    Today the Guardian is a neo-liberal paper and people should boycott it. Indeed it is more insidious than the Mail because at least we know what the Tory press stands for. We should support 5 Pillars campaign for a boycott and try to persuade those people who make voluntary donations to it and Kath Viner’s £300K+ salary that their money could be better used.

    The letters column was the last bastion of free speech but that too has succumbed.

    Incidentally the Guardian was not anti the Iraq War. It sat on the fence but the Observer, which betrayed its traditions e.g. opposition to Suez was despicable and never apologised

  • Roshan Pedder says:

    Last May I wrote an eight page letter to Kath Viner telling her why after forty plus years of being a loyal reader I was cancelling my subscription. I was determined to have my say and not go quietly. I have to give credit to the JVL website and it’s many wonderful articles which I researched and which allowed me to write the lengthy J’Accuse over it’s coverage of Corbyn and alleged rampant antisemitism in the Labour party. I was not expecting a reply but was gobsmacked to receive a very lengthy one the very next day from the Subscriptions Editor (“I have been asked by Kath Viner to reply….”). Which makes me think that they may be getting so many letters from left wing readers leaving that they had various formatted replies prepared in advance!

  • stevemitchell says:

    So right. I discovered the Guardian as a young man in 1964. I became an avid reader. Same goes for the Observer. I stopped reading them a couple of years ago when the attacks on Corbyn and the Left began. It is like living in an Orwellian nightmare. I wonder every day how the Labour Party could be accused of antisemitism. Jeremy is the very last person in Britain to be antisemitic. Grotesquely, it has become accepted.

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