Compaint of anti-Semitic articles (by Mike Carlton) is dismissed 17Sep10 September 17, 2010

The Sydney Morning Herald -  17 September 2010

THE Australian Press Council has considered a complaint by Judy Maynard about two items in The Sydney Morning Herald on June 12 and 19, 2010, by the columnist Mike Carlton. Both related to the encounter between Israeli forces and a number of vessels attempting to reach Gaza (the ”Gaza flotilla”) in May. They followed a column by Mr Carlton on June 5, which was highly critical of the Israeli conduct in the encounter.

In the column on June 12 Mr Carlton said that the previous column had led to ”hundreds of Jewish emailers” responding to him. He added: ”It is a ferocious beast, the Jewish lobby. Write just one sentence even mildly critical of Israel and it lunges from its lair, fangs bared.” And: ”The Israel lobby, worldwide, is orchestrated in Jerusalem by a department in the Prime Minister’s office.” In the item on June 19, Mr Carlton wrote: ”With bottomless irony, the Jewish lobby spent much of last week assuring anybody who would listen that there is no such thing as the Jewish lobby.”

Ms Maynard complained about the first item to Mr Carlton and to the newspaper on June 12. Having had no response, she complained on June 14 to the council and also wrote a letter to the newspaper that was not published. On June 16 the newspaper responded saying her comments had been brought to the attention of relevant senior editors and inviting her to consider sending a letter for publication. On June 19 the second item was published and Ms Maynard wrote another letter to the newspaper that also was not published.

In her complaint to the council, Ms Maynard firmly acknowledged that Mr Carlton had the right to express his opinion and that, for example, it is not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel. But, she said, the two items contained ”anti-Semitic elements and bring opprobrium on Jews through the use of racist imagery [and] factually incorrect statements”. She referred in particular to what she called the ”bestial” imagery and the implication that all critics of Mr Carlton must be, in her words, ”tools in an orchestrated campaign” by the Israeli government. She complained about use of the term ”Jewish lobby” as depicting advocates for that cause as being ”sinister”.

The Sydney Morning Herald replied by emphasising that the writers of opinion articles are entitled to express their views and to do so in a forceful manner. It referred to ”hundreds of emails, some of them crude and racist”, being received by Mr Carlton and to his use of ”strong and colourful language … to describe the ferocity of those who wrote”. It denied the allegations of anti-Semitism but said that Mr Carlton believed many of the email responses showed very clear evidence of co-ordination and that ”there is such a thing as a ‘Jewish lobby’ ”. It provided details on a department in the Israeli government it said was the originator of many of the arguments used in emails to him. The newspaper provided the council with some quotations from emails and press releases supporting his assertions about co-ordination of responses, and also with copies of the 12 letters that it had published, many of them critical of Mr Carlton, in which the issues raised by Ms Maynard were canvassed.

In relation to Ms Maynard’s complaints of anti-Semitism, the council considered that the columns did not breach its principle that material should avoid placing gratuitous emphasis on a particular ethnicity, religion or nationality. The council acknowledged that the columns were strongly critical, and that some readers would have been offended, but it emphasised that causing offence does not, in itself, justify a complaint being upheld.

The council’s principles require that, although individual articles need not always be balanced, publications should seek to provide reasonable balance in their overall coverage of the issues in question. It was satisfied that the newspaper had done so in this general area, including through its publication in this instance of letters critical of Mr Carlton.

In relation to the question of accuracy, the council did not consider that Mr Carlton’s reference to co-ordination of a ”Jewish lobby” or an ”Israel lobby” had been an assertion of fact about all critics of his views, and it did not consider that his claims of co-ordination on a more limited scale, which he had made, had been shown to be incorrect.

For these reasons, the council dismissed the complaint.

Mike Carlton’s “offending” articles in The Sydney Morning Herald

5 June -  “We’ve been here before … but Israel has failed to learn lessons of history”
12 June: Funny, they remember their epithets but not their manners”
19 June:  See second section of Mike Carlton’s column entitled “Rudd fumbles ball and couldn’t even save Sharnee and Sky”

See also: “A nice example of the Israel lobby in action (and mouthing talking points)” by Antony Loewenstein, 16 June 2010


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