Does anyone still waste their money on the Sydney Morning Herald?

OK I’ll admit it, I get the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturdays, primarily for coverage of local events, and the few good things in the magazine.  But it’s been quite a few years ago since I stopped our daily delivery, accompanied by an explanatory letter to the editor about its anti-Israel bias … and if I needed any reminder as to my good sense, my copy of the Australian today provided it.

Under the heading, “Shonky poll serves to demonise Israelis as pro-apartheid” , Alex Ryvchin lambasts a Haaretz distortion of an already distorted Israeli poll .. all eagerly embraced by the Sydney Morning Herald

As Ryvchin writes “Once the poll findings were properly analysed and the flawed methodology and highly manipulative questions were revealed, Haaretz apologised, printed a retraction and admitted that its headline was misleading and the “apartheid” slur was misplaced. But the damage had been done. The original article was front-page news but the retraction was tucked away on page 5.

Gideon Levy, the journalist who “broke” the story (and was forced to write the retraction), has now admitted making “mistakes” that “shouldn’t have happened”, dubiously citing “neglect due to time pressures”.”

Ryvchin continues “Ruth Pollard, who frequently uses her dispatches in The Sydney Morning Herald to target Israel with false accusations, republished the original Haaretz story as a news item, failing to realise that it lacked any validity. In doing so, she demonstrated a narrow understanding of Israeli society and politics and a willingness to report based on unbalanced and prejudicial data.”

Pollard’s article here with a comment about it in AIJAC here

Sydney Mourning Hopeless… part of the problem.

Ryvchin writes

“ON October 23, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran a front-page story under the headline “Most Israelis support apartheid regime in the country”, based on a clearly politicised push poll.

Once the poll findings were properly analysed and the flawed methodology and highly manipulative questions were revealed, Haaretz apologised, printed a retraction and admitted that its headline was misleading and the “apartheid” slur was misplaced. But the damage had been done. The original article was front-page news but the retraction was tucked away on page 5.

Gideon Levy, the journalist who “broke” the story (and was forced to write the retraction), has now admitted making “mistakes” that “shouldn’t have happened”, dubiously citing “neglect due to time pressures”.

While Haaretz’s admissions won’t be noticed outside Israel, the original story was quickly picked up around the world. Britain’s The Guardian and The Independent, Toronto’s The Globe and Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald all ran the story under headlines as misleading as that of the original Haaretz piece: “Many Israelis support apartheid-style state, poll suggests” and “The new Israeli apartheid”.

Ruth Pollard, who frequently uses her dispatches in The Sydney Morning Herald to target Israel with false accusations, republished the original Haaretz story as a news item, failing to realise that it lacked any validity. In doing so, she demonstrated a narrow understanding of Israeli society and politics and a willingness to report based on unbalanced and prejudicial data.

The poll itself was flawed in many dimensions. Complex political concepts were not defined or explained. The questions were formulated by known political operatives. The survey group was merely 503. The reputable pollsters Gallup use at least double that amount. And the results were grossly misrepresented by Haaretz. Former Israeli minister Yehuda Ben-Meir charged that the actual conclusion to be drawn from the poll results “is exactly the opposite of what’s written in (Haaretz’s) headline” and that the majority of Israelis are “unwilling to live in a country with an apartheid regime”.

But this was all lost on the papers that ran the story. Curiously, just a few days after the Haaretz story, an Associated Press poll found that a majority of Americans “express explicit anti-black attitudes”. Yet this story barely made a ripple outside the US. Could it be because the AP revealed an inconvenient truth about attitudes towards minorities that is common to every society, whereas anti-Israel activists seized on the Haaretz article as “evidence” for a point they are desperate to make?

The attempt to discredit Israel by falsely associating it with the crime of apartheid is nothing new. It began in the non-governmental organisation forum of the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. The forum notoriously descended into an openly anti-Semitic spectacle complete with Hitler placards and free copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There, under the banner of human rights and led by the Arab League and Iran, 5000 NGO officials adopted a declaration accusing Israel of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing” and resolved that the Jewish national home was to be dismantled through “complete and total isolation … the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links”.

This message has been peddled in various forms in churches, the media, NGOs, universities and government.

It is in this context that the poll, and those responsible for it, must be understood.

The poll was commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, which is closely tied to the New Israel Fund, a leading funder of NGOs in Israel that has attracted scrutiny for supporting groups involved in anti-Israel demonisation campaigns. The poll questions were formulated by individuals associated with the NIF, such as Michael Sfard, a lawyer who represents a number of key NIF-funded organisations, and Alon Liel, a former diplomat who advocates anti-Israel boycotts.

Every step in the process by which the poll was funded, formulated, carried out and eventually brought to the attention of the world was driven by the motive of isolating and demonising Israel. The poll’s funder even sought to prejudice analysis of the results by releasing a press statement carrying headings such as “Apartheid is in the air”, despite no factual basis for such statements.

The damage caused by the funders of this story and those who brought it to the attention of the world cannot easily be undone.

Yet if it serves to sharpen the focus on the non-governmental actors intent on attacking Israel and the journalists who present the conflict in a manner that is devoid of balance, context and common sense, perhaps Haaretz and the poll’s backers will have not have acted in vain.

Alex Ryvchin is Israel research fellow at Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor. He previously practised law in Australia and Britain and is the founder of The Jewish Thinker.

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