Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian has successfully constructed an image for himself as a vanguard of truth. The newspaper columnist’s most recent novel, To Kill the Truth, published under the pseudonym Sam Bourne, attests to the anxieties he suffers over the proliferation of fake news and the erasure of history. He has also used his influential position at the Guardian to highlight the dangers of normalising lies, which Freedland warns has become a feature of politics through the use of gentle terms like “post-truth politics”.
Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies was the headline of one of his many articles warning against the rise of fake news. In the piece, Freedland asks, “How has this happened so quickly?” before deigning to offer his readers the answer. “Once people have aligned themselves with a tribe, studies show their first instinct will be to believe what favours their side and disbelieve what favours their opponent.”
Freedland’s assessment of the proliferation of fake news and why people are susceptible to it cannot be faulted. In fact, one could say he knows the subject better than most and is fully aware of the political and economic structures of modern societies that generate dangerous and polarising levels of tribalism. However, as is the case with many liberal commentators who support the state of Israel, he has of late begun to demonstrate the same tribal mentality he decries in others.
It’s no secret that Freedland, who has justified the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, is a strong critic of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Given the frequency of his snipes against Corbyn in the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle, one suspects that he expends more time and energy undermining Labour under Corbyn than he does discrediting the Tories and the wider threat posed by the hard-right, the major purveyors of fake news, and their dangerous alliance with Zionist Israel. The latter is rarely if ever subjected to the kinds of scrutiny and criticism which Freedland seems to have reserved for none other than Corbyn.
Indeed, his hostility to Corbyn is such that this week he allowed his tribal instincts to become exposed in a manner that is often associated with the gutter, right-wing press. Freedland was so excited about attacking the Labour party that he committed what should be a cardinal sin for a journalist by opening himself to the criticism that he is a purveyor of fake news.
Peddling the narrative that Labour is an anti-Semitic party — a trope that goes unscrutinised within the mainstream media despite evidence that anti-Semitism is rampant on the right wing of British and other politics — Freedland and the Guardian’s politics live blog threw journalistic caution to the wind and made the libellous claim that a Labour candidate, Majid Mahmood, was fined £25,000 for making anti-Semitic remarks online. Mahmood is alleged to have said that he would like to shoot “all Israeli Zionists dead” and blow up the “chosen people”.
After smearing Mahmood, Freedland discovered that the story was false and admitted that the Labour candidate was not in fact the Majid Mahmood who was charged with making anti-Semitic remarks. In his attempt at an apology he deflected the blame by admitting to “passing on too hastily information from a previously reliable Labour source.” No doubt a Labour source that is equally as hostile as Freedland towards the Labour leader.
A day later Freedland allowed his tribal fervour to get the better of him when he once again ditched journalistic standards in an article echoing sensational claims that were made in the Jewish Chronicle last week. Corbyn, he suggested, is an “an anti-Jewish racist.” In addition to the poll cited by the JC indicating that 87 per cent of Jews in Britain believe that Corbyn is an anti-Semite — a finding that also indicates that Freedland is the victim of his own propaganda — he rehashed the same three examples that the media has referred to more times than it is possible to count in order to manufacture a popular consensus that the Labour leader and the party as a whole is anti-Semitic: Corbyn’s support for a mural; the incident concerning “English irony”; Corbyn keeping company with Sheikh Raed Salah.
No attempt is made by the mainstream press to recount the three examples accurately or explain why they are “anti-Semitic”. The example of Salah, an Israeli Palestinian whom Theresa May tried to deport over claims that he was anti-Semitic, is telling. Despite the Upper Immigration Tribunal overturning May’s deportation order precisely because it found that there was no basis to the claim that the Palestinian-Israeli activist is an anti-Semite, Freedland described the veteran community leader as having “peddled the medieval and lethal myth of Jews feasting on the blood of gentile children”. Corbyn, in Freedland’s eyes, is guilty by association with Sheikh Salah.
In the same week, though, the ex-Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who is Jewish, told Alistair Campbell that after 22 years knowing Corbyn he had “never detected so much as a whiff of anti-Semitism.” This inconvenient fact, and the fact that Corbyn has a long track record of standing by Jewish people, has been overlooked by the Guardian columnist.
Bercow isn’t alone in contradicting the mainstream narrative. One of a number of British Jews who have dismissed the doomsday scenario being painted for the Jewish community in the UK by the likes of Freedland and the Jewish Chronicle wrote, “I’m not fearful of Corbyn or the possibility of him reaching 10 Downing Street. Nor do I believe that the Labour Party is ‘poisoned’ or ‘rampant’ with anti-Semitism. But what has left me horrified over the last four years has been the reckless and irresponsible way in which anti-Semitism has been used to vilify Corbyn and make the entire Labour Party appear toxic.”
It is a sad day when the nominally left of centre Guardian peddles such fake news and attacks the leader of the Labour Party during a General Election campaign. In doing so, it is lining up alongside the likes of the Mail, Sun and Telegraph. It looks as if Jonathan Freedland has consciously allowed his own tribalism to get the better of him, and kicked truth out of the Guardian’s window in the process.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.