Nevertheless, while I fully expected the irrational blood libel against Israel to pour out of the Guardian, Times, Independent, and Mirror over last week's flotilla incident, I never for one minute expected the Sun to follow suit. Yet, not only did it do just that, but its coverage was in many ways far more damaging - as explained in detail below - because almost uniquely among the British media it completely ignored the mass of evidence to support Israel's case day after day. Given the Sun's previous pro-Israel stance and the fact that it commands by far the largest readership in the UK, this is an exceptionally damaging development. It means that most people in the UK are completely unaware of Israel's side of the story.
I therefore felt moved to make a formal complaint to the Press Commission today as follows (note especially the details at the end of the complaint concerning the Frankie Boyle column).
To the Press Complaints Commission
My complaint is against the Sun newspaper for its coverage (over a number of days) of the anti-Israel flotilla incident that took place in the early hours of 31 May. The coverage breached two clauses of the Code Of Conduct, namely clause 1 (accuracy) and clause 2 (Opportunity to reply). By way of example I cite three specific articles during the period 1-7 June) that clearly breach Clause 1. One of these (on 4 June) is especially serious since it contains a sequence of blatant lies that amount to a blood libel. The Sun breached clause 2 by not offering the opportunity for any reply to the unfounded allegations against Israel.
The general complaint
For the entire duration (1 to 7 June) the coverage presented a narrative about the Israeli raid that was based purely on the perspective of the anti-Israel demonstrators on board the flotilla. This narrative – that the passengers on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmura were peace-loving activists massacred in cold blood by Israeli commandos illegally boarding the ship in international waters, was proven to be false by the afternoon of 31 May. The proof, in the form of extensive video and audio evidence, showed that:
- The Israeli commandos entered the ship legally (see below) and were armed with paintball guns, not machine guns, as they had been told by the Turkish authorities that there would not be any violent resistance.
- In a well prepared and planned attack, an organised gang of some 100 Turks from the terrorist organisation IHH, armed with knives, metal poles, slings (and possibly also guns) viciously attacked and stabbed the Israeli commandos as they landed one by one. Only when a number of Israeli commandos were critically injured during the lynching (including at least two of whom were shot by handguns either stolen from the commandos or already on board) did the Israelis get permission to use their handguns to save their men.
- The Israeli commandos had entered the ship as a last resort when the ship’s commander refused repeated requests to steer the ship to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Given the legal blockade of Gaza from the sea (to stop the import of weapons to the Hamas regime) this request, and the subsequent boarding when refused, were normal legal actions of the kind carried out routinely by governments all over the world to prevent hostile cargo and personnel reaching their shores.
- Before leaving Turkey hundreds of flotilla members had chanted slogans glorifying the historic slaughter of Jews by Muslims, while several had made ‘martyrdom’ videos. Moreover, during a radio conversation with the Israeli coastguard, the commander of the Mavi Marmura told the Israelis to ‘go back to Auschwitz’ and ‘remember 9/11’.
The relevant videos, which were widely available from the afternoon of 31 May can be found, for example, here:
Many other pictures and videos are available here:
Yet, despite this overwhelming evidence, the Sun chose to ignore it all for the entire duration of its coverage of the story (which ran each day from 1 to 7 June). Indeed, the Sun continued to rely totally on ‘eye witness’ accounts from anti-Israel demonstrators, some of whom were not even on the Mavi Marmura. In all cases these accounts were clearly proven to be false from the video evidence.
The specific complaints
1 June: The coverage was on page 1, continued on pages 8-9. The page 1 headline was “19 Killed in Israel attack” while on pages 8-9 the headlines spoke of “Israel ship massacre” and “Bloody Disastrous”.
The article was inaccurate in all aspects (as discussed above). Also, the figure of “19 killed” was an exaggerated figure provided by the anti-Israel demonstrators immediately after the incident and was known to be false long before the Sun went to press on 1 June. The actual figure was 9 dead. No mention at all was made of the Israeli casualties.
4 June: The main article on the Frankie Boyle page (page 17) titled “Comic Relief must be bloody in Israel”. This article (update: see here for the full version) is nothing less than a blood libel containing a string of total fabrications from start to finish. The examples include:
- “Israel attacked and killed a number of charity workers who were peacefully arriving on a boat”.
- “Some of the protesters on board were teachers – presumably not teachers from England, as they tend to side with Israel on the policy of beating children to death”
- “The Israeli forces abseiled from helicopters carrying machine guns” (That this false accusation could be repeated on 4 June when the Israeli weapons were proven to be paintball guns on 31 May is especially revealing)
7 June: On page 2 in an article titled “Israel’s bloodied troops” the Sun is guilty of showing two photographs which were proven to be cropped versions of photos that had appeared in a Turkish newspaper. The original versions showed the full context: bloodied Israeli soldiers being dragged by Turkish attackers holding knives. The cropped version removes the knives and most of the key context. The cropping has been admitted – and subsequently corrected – by Reuters in what has become known as the Reuters photo cropping scandal. Details (including the full pictures) can be found here:
Yet, although Reuters had corrected the ‘error’ on 6 June, the Sun still chose to display the incorrect versions on 7 June. Moreover, the emphasis of the story accompanying the photos was support for a narrative that was demonstrably false, namely (quoting directly from the article): “the pictures show activists tending wounded commandos”.