Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01257-20 The Islamic Human Rights Commission v The Jewish Chronicle
Summary of Complaint
1. The Islamic Human Rights Commission complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Material equating Gaza with Shoah sent to schools for HMD”/”Teaching material ‘revises the Holocaust’" published on 24 January 2020.
2. The article reported that the government would be investigating how a “pro-Iran” campaign group – the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) – was able to circulate teaching materials to mark Genocide Memorial Day (GMD) which “openly compares the actions of the Israeli government to that of the Nazis”. It said that the materials featured “repeated attempts to encourage pupils to view Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the same light as the Nazi Holocaust”. It explained that the materials included a list of genocides for children to discuss which included both the Holocaust and the 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, and included a slide from the presentation showing the inclusion of the attack on Gaza amongst the other genocides. It reported that the materials included a video to promote GMD which listed Anne Frank amongst victims of massacres in Guatemala, Kurdistan and Hungary and “genocides” in Gaza and Lebanon. Furthermore, the article reported that the materials recommended a children’s book telling the story of a Palestinian family having to leave their ancestral home, as well as a children’s book about Nazi Germany – older children were encouraged to read the IHRC’s own account of the 2009 war in Gaza. The article included a quote from the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which accused the IHRC of “deliberately conflating, downgrading and revising the Holocaust”. It also included a quote from the Vice President of the Board of Deputies who expressed similar views and said that “Both the cynical timing of the event on third Sunday in January [close to Holocaust Memorial Day], and the antisemitic comparisons between Nazi crimes and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demonstrate the ulterior motives of ‘Genocide Memorial Day’”. It reported concerns that GMD had been timed by the IHRC to mark the first anniversary of an Israeli military operation in Gaza and Holocaust Memorial Day itself, and that because of the comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, the materials appeared to have breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
3. The article included the IHRC’s response to a teacher who had written to it with concerns about the material. The response said that it disagreed with her view that the GMD was “deeply offensive” to Jewish people and diminished the place and significance of the Holocaust Memorial Day. It said that it was wrong and offensive for the teacher to suggest that there was any form of Holocaust denial in the teaching materials. The article reported that the newspaper had attempted to contact the IHRC prior to publication, but it had failed to respond to the allegations.
4. The article also appeared online on the 22 January 2020 in largely the same form with the headline “Government pledges to act over teaching material that compares Gaza to the Holocaust”. The online version gave more detail about the IHRC and reported that police had previously investigated a director of the charity over comments he had made regarding “Zionists”.
5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It said that it was not the case that the materials compared the actions of Israel to Nazi Germany – they looked at genocide in general and included a wide range of genocides from across the world. It said that it was not solely focused on Israel or the Holocaust. It said that it was not the case that the materials breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as they did not compare the actions of Israel to the Nazis as suggested by the article.
6. The complainant also said that it was not the case that it failed to respond to a request for comment as reported in the article. It said that the reporter contacted the charity by telephone and was asked to send any questions by email as no one was available to provide a comment. However, it said that no such email had been received. It provided a screenshot of a WhatsApp group where the members of the charity said that they had not yet received an email from the reporter, although it accepted that this occurred before the newspaper said the reporter sent the email. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 12. It said that by focusing on a pro-Palestinian, Islamic charity – which the article described as “pro-Iran” – and naming one of its directors, the article was discriminatory and offensive to the staff of the charity.
7. The newspaper did not accept that the article breached the Code. It said that it was accurate to report that the teaching materials “equated Gaza with the Shoah” or compared Israeli action to the Nazis because they repeatedly placed deaths in Gaza caused by Israeli military in 2009 alongside the Holocaust and described them both as genocides. It noted that this was despite the fact that the number of people who had died in Gaza – approximately 1000 – was very low in comparison to the Holocaust, or any of the other major atrocities listed as genocides in the materials. It said that the article made clear that the materials included other genocides as well as Gaza and the Holocaust, however this did not render the headlines inaccurate. Furthermore, it said that the IHRC itself supported comparing the treatment of the Palestinians alongside the Holocaust – it provided an article from the charity’s website in which the author argued that:
“Nevertheless, apologists for Israel have argued that since these mass atrocities are not tantamount to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews, therefore they do not qualify as “genocide Previously, I had encountered and refuted this completely disingenuous, deceptive and bogus argument.”
It said that it was a widely held view the GMD represented a thinly veiled attempt to attack the official Holocaust Memorial Day and dilute its message by comparing the actions of the Nazis to those of the Israeli army, and by holding it on a day close to Holocaust Memorial Day. It said that the article was entitled to report these concerns and had taken care to attribute these views to those who expressed them.
8. The newspaper said that it also took care to approach the charity for comment prior to publication – the reporter called the IHRC press office and had a “lengthy conversation” with the person who confirmed they were dealing with GMD. When the charity was not able to respond to these claims over the phone, the reporter wrote to the press office to follow up his query. The newspaper provided a copy of the email it sent to the press office, and a screenshot of the reporter’s inbox showing when it was sent, and that he did not receive any bounce back or response. It also said that in this case, the fact that the article did not include a comment from the complainant on these particular claims did not affect the accuracy of the overall article. The newspaper did not accept that the article was discriminatory. It said that it was entitled to focus on the material’s references to the Holocaust and be critical of the charity.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
10. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
11. The teaching materials distributed by the complainant addressed many genocides from across history and around the world, which the article made clear. However, by including the Holocaust and the Israeli assault on Gaza in the materials and labelling them both as genocides, there was a basis for the article to report that the materials compared or equated the Holocaust and the actions of the Nazis to Israeli military action in Gaza. With regards to the second print headline which said that the material “revises the Holocaust”, this was part of a quote from the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust and presented in quotation marks. The article was entitled to report her views and took care to present these as such. For these reasons, the article did not breach Clause 1 in reporting that the materials compared or equated the Holocaust to Israeli military action in Gaza. It was the newspaper’s own claim that the materials breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and the article presented it as such by reporting that it “appeared” to be the case that the definition had been contravened. Furthermore, the article set out the basis for asserting that the materials had breached this definition, as they compared military action in Gaza to the Holocaust. The newspaper was entitled to express its view on whether the materials had breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism, had presented it as such, and had made clear its basis for doing so. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. There was a dispute of fact over whether the complainant had failed to respond to a request for comment. The Committee noted that the newspaper was able to provide copies of the email it said was sent and not responded to, including a screenshot of the reporter’s sent box. However, where the complainant disputed that it had ever received the email, it was not possible for the Committee to resolve the issue of whether the complainant had failed to respond to a request for comment. However, it considered that in the context of this article, the absence of a comment from the complainant did not render the article significantly inaccurate – it was clear from the complainant’s response to the teacher which was included in the article that it rejected the claim that the materials diminished the significance of the Holocaust and Holocaust Memorial Day. As such, reporting that the complainant had failed to respond to allegations put to it by the newspaper did not give rise to any significant inaccuracy regarding the complainant’s position. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. Clause 12 serves to protect specific individuals from pejorative, prejudicial, or irrelevant references to one or more of their protected characteristics as set out under Clause 12. The complainant was not acting on behalf of any specific individuals with their knowledge and consent, and its concern that the article discriminated against the charity as a whole, either by being critical of it, or by describing it as “pro-Iran” did not engage the terms of Clause 12.
14. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 26/02/20
Date complaint concluded: 09/11/20