The Guardian Acknowledges Anti-Semitism…Or Does It?

Deborah Orr’s “chosen” slur in a particularly nasty Guardian opinion piece on the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and her subsequent disgusting excuse for an “apology” caused a real stink. And it looks like we got the attention of The Guardian:

Excuses, excuses. We hear them all the time. From the Palestinian Authority condemning an act of terror against Jews, not because deliberately murdering civilians is simply immoral and wrong, but because it “doesn’t serve the Palestinian cause” at that particular moment in time.

We heard excuses from Deborah Orr, who was sorry that she upset people for her “badly chosen and poorly used” words that suggested Zionists see themselves as “chosen” but not sorry for the thrust of her outrageous article.

Now we see more excuses from The Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott in response to the huge amount of anger generated by Orr’s article:

Three times in the last nine months I have upheld complaints against language within articles that I agreed could be read as antisemitic. The words were replaced and the articles footnoted to reflect the fact. These included references to Israel/US “global domination” and the term “slavish” to describe the US relationship with Israel; and, in an article on a lost tribe of Mallorcan Jews, what I regarded as a gratuitous reference to “the island’s wealthier families”.

Two weeks ago a columnist used the term “the chosen” in an item on the release of Gilad Shalit, which brought more than 40 complaints to the Guardian, and an apology from the columnist the following week. “Chosenness”, in Jewish theology, tends to refer to the sense in which Jews are “burdened” by religious responsibilities; it has never meant that the Jews are better than anyone else. Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read “chosen” as code for Jewish supremacism.

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One reader wrote of the column: “The despicable antisemitic tone of this rant is beyond reason or decency.”

In most other publications it would be a given that anti-Semitism should not appear in any shape or form simply because it is wrong. Period. And perhaps, giving Chris Ellliott the benefit of the doubt, he also takes it as a given. The Guardian, however, needs to spell it out.

Instead, the headline of the article says it all. Not how The Guardian should deal with anti-Semitism, perceived or otherwise, but how to avert accusations of anti-Semitism. Elliott concludes [emphasis added]:

I have been careful to say that these examples may be read as antisemitic because I don’t believe their appearance in the Guardian was the result of deliberate acts of antisemitism: they were inadvertent. But that does not lessen the injury to some readers or to our reputation. The Guardian should not be oppressed by criticism – some of the language used by our critics is abusive and intimidatory – or retreat into self-censorship. But reporters, writers and editors must be more vigilant to ensure our voice in the debate is not diminished because our reputation has been tarnished.

So, Elliott is more concerned that anti-Semitism appearing on The Guardian’s pages is bad for the paper’s reputation rather than concern about anti-Semitism itself.


According to Elliott, The Guardian received more than 40 complaints about Deborah Orr’s article. We know it was more than 40 because HonestReporting was copied in on nearly 500 emails to The Guardian, all of which were critical and none of which were published on the letters page.

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The Guardian’s email server rejected our attempt to send all of these emails as attachments in one mailing to Chris Elliott (the number of attachments was simply too high). Nonetheless, an email was sent by HR’s Managing Editor Simon Plosker drawing attention to the large number of letters asking the following:

Our readers would like to know if it is the case that their genuine hurt and anger has been ignored by The Guardian in order to publicly play down the impact of what is a very serious matter. Or does attempting to make one’s complaint public through the letters page simply not count?

We await a reply.


Reacting to Elliott’s article, Harry’s Place blog makes a very salient point:

The Guardian now appears to admit that it is antisemitic to use the phrase Chosen People falsely to attack Jews as supremacists. And here is Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children [Editor’s note: Click on the link to see the video and full script of this appalling production that caused much controversy upon its release in February 2009 shortly after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. The play includes much that is likely to offend.]:

tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.

That play is online, in print and video, at the Guardian’s own website.

Chris Elliott, of course, is happy to exonerate Deborah Orr from using an antisemitic meme which has “historically” been used by anti-Jewish racists:

I have been careful to say that these examples may be read as antisemitic because I don’t believe their appearance in the Guardian was the result of deliberate acts of antisemitism: they were inadvertent. But that does not lessen the injury to some readers or to our reputation.

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However, in the case of Seven Jewish Children, the Guardian was well aware that the primary criticism of the play was that it portrayed Jews – not “Zionists” – celebrating the deaths of non-Jewish children, which they then justified by reason of their supposed “Chosenness”. They pretended agnosticism, and concluded: “Judge for yourself”.

So, having finally admitted that mocking Jews as the Chosen People is racism: why does the Guardian continue to broadcast this antisemitic play?

Indeed why? It’s time that The Guardian upholds its own standards concerning anti-Semitism and the first place it can start is by removing Caryll Churchill’s repugnant play from its website.

We challenge The Guardian to do the right thing and prove that it is serious about addressing the anti-Semitism on its site. 

Please write (in civil and appropriate language) to The Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott – [email protected] – to ask him why, having clearly stated that the “chosen” slur is anti-Semitic,  another example of the same anti-Semitic language is treated differently by The Guardian.

Please remember that Chris Elliott is an internal ombudsman and is not The Guardian’s editor – abusive and ill-thought out emails are counter-productive and simply wrong. It is up to you to convince him that The Guardian should show some consistency and do the right thing in removing Seven Jewish Children from the website.

Source material can be found at this site.

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