Commentary Magazine


British Journalism v. Israel

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ)—Britain’s main professional association of journalists and reporters—recently joined an international boycott of Israeli goods.

In the UK, such boycotts have become something of a spring ritual, akin to elaborate animal-mating dances. Much has been said about the questionable motives behind these campaigns and their obsessive targeting of Israel. No other government—no matter how grievous a violator of human rights—is, apparently, worthy of such treatment.

What makes the NUJ’s involvement in the boycott so egregious is that, by placing journalists openly on one side of the public debate about Israel, it patently violates the basic ethical guidelines of the profession. In adopting it, the NUJ has abandoned much of the British media’s pretense to objective coverage of the Middle East.

This should raise eyebrows even among the staunchest critics of Israel. And to their credit, at least a few such critics have expressed dismay at the NUJ’s decision, for a variety of reasons, from the double standard it applies to the damage it will do to basic journalistic integrity. A recent Guardian editorial, in fact, described the NUJ’s participation in the boycott as “neither balanced nor fair.”

Britain’s boycott culture, it should be noted, has begun to make inroads even among specifically Jewish organizations. As the anti-boycott website Engage notes in a recent post, Great Britain is the home of a number of Jewish organizations highly critical of Israel, such as the newly launched Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for the Palestinians, and the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights. All such organizations claim to be engaged in a struggle for freedom; all see themselves as champions of human rights; all claim independence of mind and routinely criticize other Jewish organizations for what they see as a betrayal of universal values in favor of a tribal allegiance to Israel.

But this means little more, apparently, than their being ever at the ready to denounce other Jews for their silence when Israel allegedly violates human rights. These “independent” voices have so far been remarkably silent when the human rights of Israelis, or of non-Palestinian Arabs, are violated. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, some of the most prominent members of such organizations are at the forefront of boycott initiatives.

The boycotts have failed, so far, to accomplish any of the stated goals of the groups initiating them. And it’s tempting to dismiss them as a persistent but ineffectual fringe phenomenon in the acrimonious public debate over Israel. But such dismissal is becoming harder and harder. The National Union of Journalists is no fringe political organization; it’s an institution of long standing and high visibility in British life. Now that it has come clean about its stance on this issue, and in so doing has compromised gravely the journalistic integrity of its members, we can only ask who will be next. The BBC, perhaps?