Palestine rights group’s public brawl with the New Statesman

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PALESTINE STATEHOOD DECLARATIONby Stuart Littlewood

Who would pick a pointless fight with an ally like the New Statesman and hand the Israel lobby an open goal just when Tel Aviv’s notorious propaganda chief, Mark Regev, is settling into his new role as Israel’s ambassador in London? Answer: the Palestine Solidarity Camaign (PSC), which describes itself as “the biggest organisation in the UK dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights”.

It boasts that “we can take on the might of governments, corporations, and the media – and we can win”.

Patrons include worthies such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, film director Ken Loach and actress Julie Christie. The website doesn’t say who actually runs it .

But here’s the thing, in the PSC’s own words…. “PSC commissioned an article from Salah Ajarma, the co-founder and Director of the Lajee Cultural Centre in Aida Refugee camp. The New Statesman published the piece as part of a two year partnership between the PSC and the New Statesman. Two pro-Israel blogs attacked the New Statesman for publishing the piece; shortly afterwards, the New Statesman deleted it without speaking to Salah or to PSC. They have since refused to offer any explanation or justification for the removal of the article.”

The PSC described it as a disgraceful attack on freedom of expression, a clear case of censorship, and a deliberate attempt to silence Palestinian voices. “By doing this, the New Statesman have politically censored a human rights campaigner, who is living under very harsh conditions of military occupation in a refugee camp. We cannot stand by and let this happen. We cannot be silenced.”

Ajarma’s article describes the experiences of young Palestinian refugees in Aida camp and how settlements impact his life and the lives of people in his community. New Statesman editors approved and published the article, says the PSC, but it was suddenly removed.

The first article in the series (by Hugh Lanning, chair of PSC) published under this partnership carries an introduction explaining that “PSC are working in collaboration with the New Statesman to produce a series of online articles on Israel’s illegal settlements and our campaign against them….”

Some may wonder why the New Statesman would wish to get into bed with activists with a narrow agenda like the PSC.

Co-operation comes unstuck

In a press release PSC Director Ben Jamal said: “PSC has had five articles published by the New Statesman within the terms of the partnership agreement in 2015 and 2016. Following the publication of Salah Arjama’s article a number of pro-Israel blogs started a campaign for the New Statesman to end its partnership with PSC and cease publishing the articles.

“PSC has been working with the New Statesman for two years to co-host events at Party Conferences and commission and publish online pieces. Three articles were published as part of this arrangement in 2015. This year the focus has been on Israel’s illegal settlement programme, Salah’s was the second in a series of five agreed articles. The articles published complimented the events hosted at the Labour Party and SNP conferences earlier this year.”

According to the PSC, the New Statesman initially said the article had been removed as a result of ‘reader complaints’ but would not give detail on the nature of the complaints or from whom they had been received. New Statesman Editor Jason Cowley refused to talk to the PSC about the issue or to take any calls. A final email from the New Statesman, seven days after the article had been removed, said it conflicted with the magazine’s editorial independence and they would not be offering further comment or having further conversations with PSC.

And to top it off the PSC is now bombarding members and non-menbers urging them to sign a petition deploring the New Statesman’s action. A sad end, then, to a beautiful friendship.

But why  kick such an important media ‘friend’ in the teeth when a number of agreed articles had already  been published and more were in the pipeline? The New Statesman tells me: “The arrangement with the PSC was a commercial one and the content in question was advertorial, not editorial.

“The content violated our policy of maintaining a strict church/state separation between advertising and editorial and it was published online without the approval of the editor.

“When the New Statesman covers this issue it does so using its own staff writers and trusted freelancers.”

A commecial arrangement? With a pressure group? Isn’t serious journalism above that bsort of thing? Besides, there are many excellent writers on the ground in Palestine who can supply material about the vile conditions imposed by the military occupation without it being ‘filtered’ by the likes of the PSC.

A decent magazine must obviously keep all material under critical review and exercise the right to refuse or pull articles in response to changing circumstances. Stoking up up a public fuss is madness when the partnership has up till now served the PSC well and, with a little understanding, might have continued to play to Palestinians” advantage.

Salah Ajarma’s reaction: “Living under occupation we are used to our voices being silenced by Israel – but we expect better from the UK which is supposed to be a democracy.” Had this sorry business been handled differently, poor Salah and others forced to live under the jackboot might still have had a voice here.

The enemy in our midst

Pressed for further comment (for example, what happens to the remaining three “agreed” articles – will they be published?) the New Statesman tells me: “The PSC sponsored content has been taken down and we have issued a credit against our invoice (which had not yet been settled by the PSC). The editor had not approved an editorial component or indeed any partnership with the PSC. As we said in the previous statement, the editor believes it is critical to maintain a church/state separation between editorial and advertising.”

More contradiction, deeper confusion. However, the reply seems to show that the PSC were paying the New Statesman to publish advertorial articles to support their campaigns while the New Statesman were bleating that some of it was more editorial than advertorial and somehow crossed the line between church and state.  Or was it the other way round and they weren’t editorial enough? Make sense of it if you can. Quite what is meant by “church/state separation” in the context of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Holy Land and trashing of Christian and Muslim holy sites is, frankly, beyond me.

What it boils down to is that the cries of the Palestinians over there are drowned in the noise of exploding egos over here. It would confound Mr Regev if Mr Jamal and Mr Cowley now came together, shook hands, and continued their game with new zest.

After that the PSC, if it is genuinely appalled by the Israeli regime’s endless war crimes and vicious oppression of the Palestinians, might look inwards and try to explain why it refuses to call on the British Government to press for Israel’s suspension from the United Nations. Not that such a move would succeed, but it’s important put  down  a marker.  Let’s see the PSC campaigning at full strength to ensure everyone in the UK understands the catastrophe in the Holy Land and Britain’s disgraceful part in it.  Let’s see the PSC impress upon the Christian churches in the West their responsibility to mobilise and show 100 percent solidarity with the Christian (and Muslim) communities in the Holy Land. Or would that involve too much mixing up of church and state for the New Statesman’s delicate sensibilities?

In particular, let’s together stamp on the foolish idea of a negotiated peace (with one party’s gun to the other party’s head) and insist on the international community implenting international law and, if necessary, imposing harsh sanctions, without which there can be no justice and therefore no peace. But of course peace never was – and still isn’t – the aim of our political élite. Let’s try to change that.

The enemy are in our midst and we see them every day.


Postscript

The PSC has issued a statement (7 December) saying that after the New Statesman was bombarded with 25,000 emails the two sides finally had a chat. “The New Statesman have reassured us that the article was not removed because of lobby pressure [and] acknowledged that they had no issue with the contents of the article…” Salah’s piece has been reinstated on the New Statesman’s website but the commercial partnership is at an end.

Fine. So what the four-x was all the fuss about?

Author Details
After working on jet fighters in the RAF Stuart became an industrial marketing specialist with manufacturing companies and consultancy firms. He also “indulged himself” as a newspaper columnist. In politics he served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and member of the Police Authority. Now retired he campaigns on various issues and contributes to several online news & opinion sites. With a lifelong passion for photography he has produced two photo-documentary books, one of which can be read online at www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk.
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