Ruling

03222-18 Suárez v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      12th April 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03222-18 Suárez v The Jewish Chronicle

Summary of complaint

1. Thomas Suárez complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Board halt Israel hate author talk”, published online on 8 May 2017, and an article headlined “Quakers row as venue is rented out to anti-Zionist”, published in print on 20 April 2018.

2. The 2017 article reported on the cancellation of a talk by the complainant at the Jesus Lane Friends Meeting House in Cambridge, and expressed concerns that his views were antisemitic. The 2018 article reported that the complainant had subsequently spoken at what it said was a Quaker-affiliated venue in Bath, and referred to the claims made in the 2017 article.

3. The 2017 online article stated that an event “backed” by a named campaign group, due to take place at the Quaker-owned Friends Meeting House, had been cancelled. The article reported that the complainant – who it described as “an author accused of peddling antisemitic theories on Israel and Judaism” – had been due to speak at the event, to promote his book “State of Terror – How Terrorism Created Modern Israel”. The article reported that the complainant “rose to notoriety after an hour-long rant on Jews and Zionism to the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS] last November”. It claimed that in this “rant”, the complainant “branded Zionism ‘fascist’ and claimed its leaders encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. The article reported that the British Board of Deputies were among the Jewish organisations that raised objections to the event, and that the President of the Board of Deputies had said “We are glad that, having considered the matter in line with Quaker values, the decision was taken to cancel the booking…It underlines that the Quakers are more interested in peace and reconciliation than the hate promoted by [the group backing the event]”. It also quoted an activist stating he was pleased that the Wardens of the Friends Meeting House had “had second thoughts”, and went on to report this individual’s views about the complainant’s book; he said that it “’demonises Israel’” and “contains a number of false and hateful allegations’”. The activist was quoted as saying that, had it gone ahead, the meeting “would only have fuelled hatred of Jews”.

4. The complainant said that the article misreported the reason for his talk being cancelled. The Friends Meeting House had not cancelled his talk because it decided it was “not in line with Quaker values”. This comment had been made by the President of the Board of Deputies. He said that the Quakers had issued a public statement following the cancellation, indicating that “this decision was arrived at under pressure of time and with incomplete information”. The statement said that some members of the Friends Meeting House had attended a rescheduled talk by the complainant, and that its members who had read his book “have no reservations about [him] or his work”. The complainant provided correspondence which the Friends Meeting House said it had sent to the publication following the publication of the 2017 article, in which it set out concerns about the accuracy of the piece, noting that the decision to cancel the event had been made by the congregation, rather than the Wardens of the Friends Meeting House.

5. The complainant also said that the article distorted his views. He denied that he was a “hate author”, as the headline called him, and said that no one had accused him of “peddling antisemitic theories on Israel and Judaism”. He denied that he had delivered an “hour-long rant on Jews and Zionism”, at SOAS. The complainant said that he was a historical researcher, and his talk at SOAS was a discussion of historical sources. He denied that he had “branded Zionism ‘fascist’”; rather, he had said that “the fascist nature of the Zionist enterprise was apparent to US intelligence, British intelligence and Jewish informants”, or words to this effect. He said that this was a simple matter of historical record: he was describing what intelligence services had observed at the time, based on his understanding of primary sources.

6. The complainant denied saying that Zionist leaders “encouraged anti-Semitism in Germany”. He said that what the historical records showed – and what he explained in his talk – was that some top Zionist leaders were happy to exploit antisemitism where it did occur, to help further Zionism, and that some Zionist terrorism was exploited by anti-Semites to vindicate their antisemitism. The complainant said that this led to further anti-Jewish violence, which in turn furthered Zionism. The complainant said that in his SOAS talk, he had cited the comments of Henry Hunloke, a Defence Security Officer in Palestine, who speculated that Zionists might go as far as to stir up antisemitism, in order to force Jews to travel to Palestine. The complainant said he did not himself adopt this claim, and he had made no reference to Germany.

7. The 2018 article reported that the complainant – a “speaker accused of peddling antisemitic theories” – was “allowed to speak at a Quaker-founded cultural centre”, and contrasted this decision with what it said was the previous decision of the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. It explained that the complainant had appeared at a Bath Friends of Palestine event at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI). This article repeated the claim made in the 2017 article that the complainant was “notorious for an hour-long rant about Jews and Zionism” at the SOAS event, and that he had “branded Zionism ‘fascist’ and claimed its leaders encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. The article reported that “In May 2017 the Quaker-owned Cambridge Friends Meeting House had cancelled an appearance by [the complainant] deciding it was not ‘in line with Quaker values’”. It went on to quote a supporter of the BRLSI saying that “the Quaker founder of BRLSI, Edmund Rack, did not start the organisation for this sort of thing”, in reference to the complainant’s views.

8. The complainant said that this article repeated many of the inaccuracies listed above. In addition, he said that it was misleading for the article to refer to a “Quakers row”, when the BRSLI had never been affiliated with the Quakers. Five months after IPSO began investigation into the complaint, the complainant provided correspondence which the Friends Meeting House said it had sent to the publication in the month following the 2018 article being published, in which a representative stated that no reference to whether the complainant’s views were “in line with Quaker values” had been made in its minuted decision on the matter, and that the complainant had not been “banned”.

9. The publication denied any breach of the Code, and denied having received any correspondence from the Friends Meeting House, either in 2017 or 2018. It said that after the Board of Deputies had contacted the Friends Meeting House about the complainant, and following the cancellation of the complainant’s talk, the President of the Board told the paper that he was glad that, “having considered the matter in line with Quaker values, the decision was taken to cancel the booking”; this had been accurately reported.

10. The publication said that both articles had accurately reported criticism of the complainant’s views, and in particular that the President of the Board of Deputies had said that the complainant had repeatedly made statements comparing Zionists to Nazis. It said that the claim that the complainant had said that Zionist leaders had “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine” was based on contemporary reports of his talk at SOAS, which had stated that he had said that Zionists “’conspired to try and increase antisemitism in order to force Jews to Palestine’”. The publication also referred to a report which described the complainant’s book about Zionism as “’a modern anti-Semitic fraud’”, and which identified alleged inaccuracies within his work.

11. The publication defended its coverage of complainant’s talk at SOAS. It said that an Israeli Embassy spokesman had condemned the views expressed by the complainant as “racist conspiracy theories”, and that a leading campaign group opposing antisemitism had filed a formal complaint with the university. The newspaper said that when asked about “the Jewish state” at the SOAS event, the complainant had responded that “crammed into those three words are all of Jewry, Judaism, Jewish history, culture, persecution, and most cynical and exploitative of all, the Holocaust”.

12. The publication denied that it was misleading to refer to the complainant as a “hate author” in the headline of the 2017 article; this was the sub-editor’s characterisation based on the substance of the article. The publication also denied that it was misleading for the 2018 article to refer to a “Quakers row”: the venue referred to had Quaker links.

13. The complainant said that the campaign group’s complaint to SOAS had been dismissed. He said that the quotations from the SOAS meeting were taken selectively from recordings made in conditions of subterfuge, and so the newspaper should not be allowed to rely on them as evidence against his complaint.

14. On receipt of the correspondence from the Friends Meeting House, and five months after IPSO began its investigation, the publication offered to issue an online correction as a footnote to the 2017 article as follows:

This article previously stated that, at his talk at SOAS, Mr Suárez had said that Zionist leaders “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. Mr Suárez has since contacted us to explain that, while he agrees that many Zionists sought to exploit existing antisemitism to encourage migration to Palestine, in this instance he was quoting a historical source, Henry Hunloke, who had speculated as to whether Zionists might themselves ‘stir up antisemitism…in order to force Jews…to come to Palestine’. This quote did not refer specifically to Germany. We are happy to make this clear.

It also offered to issue a print correction in its established corrections and clarifications column, appearing at approximately page 20, as follows:

An April 20 article headlined “Quakers row as venue is rented out to anti-Zionist” reported that Thomas Suárez “was allowed to speak at a Quaker-founded cultural centre” – the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. We understand the institution no longer has any affiliation with the Quakers. The article also suggested that Mr Suárez had been “banned” from appearing at a Quaker Meeting House in Cambridge because his appearance was not “in line with Quaker values”. These words should have been attributed to Jonathan Arkush. The Meeting House denies that it “banned” Mr Suárez. The article also mentioned a talk at SOAS in which Mr Suárez said Zionist leaders “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. He says that, while he agrees many Zionists sought to exploit existing antisemitism to encourage such migration, he was quoting Henry Hunloke, who had speculated as to whether Zionists might themselves ‘stir up antisemitism…in order to force Jews…to come to Palestine’.

This quote did not refer specifically to Germany. We are happy to make this clear.

Relevant Code Provisions

15. 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.

Findings of the Committee

16. The 2018 article had stated as fact that the Friends Meeting House had cancelled the complainant’s appearance because it had decided it was “not in line with Quaker values”. The article did not make clear that this was a comment made by the President of the Board of Deputies. There was a failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact, in breach of Clause 1 (iv), and this failure gave rise to a significant inaccuracy: it suggested that this was the reason given by the Friends Meeting House for the cancellation, when in fact the Friends Meeting House had cited “time pressures”, amongst other factors. A correction was required to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

17. The publication had not provided any basis for the 2018 article’s claim that the Friends Meeting House had “banned” the complainant. There was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and a breach of Clause 1(i). During the complaints process, the complainant provided correspondence from the Friends Meeting House, refuting this claim. Reporting that the complainant had been banned was a serious claim, and the inaccuracy required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

18. The Committee noted the material provided by the publication in support of the articles’ assertion that the complainant had said that Zionist leaders had “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. However, it had not provided a basis for claiming that the complainant had referred to Germany, or that he had adopted this claim as his own; there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point, in breach of Clause 1(i). This failure to take care gave rise to a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s expressed views, on an extremely sensitive subject. A correction was required to make clear that the complainant had been referring to another individual’s views in his talk, and that he had not referred to Germany – and to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

19. The publication had offered corrections with respect to the three points identified above. In each instance, the corrections made clear the inaccuracies, and the correct position. The publication had offered to publish the corrections as a footnote to the existing article, and in its established print clarifications column. This was sufficiently prominent. The corrections had not been offered until five months into IPSO’s investigation. Therefore, the Committee had to consider whether they had been offered sufficiently promptly to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

20. When considering the issue of promptness, the Committee will take into account a number of factors, including the nature of the claims found to be significantly inaccurate. The 2018 article had failed to correctly attribute a quote from the President of the Board of Deputies, which gave a misleading impression of the position of the Friends Meeting House. This was an error on the part of the publication, which formed part of the complainant’s initial complaint. The basis of the complaint about this was the publication’s own article from 2017, which had correctly attributed the claim. Because the material was readily available to the publication, this inaccuracy should have been recognised and corrected quickly on the complaint being raised. Similarly, the publication was made aware at the outset of the complainant’s position in relation to the articles’ claims regarding his views on the ‘encouragement’ of antisemitism in Germany, and had ample opportunity to assess its basis for these claims. In each of these cases, a delay of five months elapsed between the complaint being passed to the publication and a correction being offered. This was not prompt, and there was a breach of Clause 1(ii). In relation to the claim that the Friends Meeting House had “banned” the complainant, the relevant correspondence had been passed to the publication later in the complaints process, and the offer to clarify had been made within 10 days of receipt. In this instance, the promptness of the offer was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

21. The 2017 article had reported the comment of the President of the Board of Deputies that “’We are glad that, having considered the matter in line with Quaker values, the decision was taken to cancel the booking’”. This claim was accurately attributed to the President, and, it was not misleading to report his interpretation of the decision. There was no failure to take care, and no significant inaccuracy on this point. The Committee nevertheless welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify the Friends Meeting House’s publicly-expressed position.

22. The complainant did not dispute that he had said that “the fascist nature of the Zionist enterprise was apparent to US intelligence, British intelligence and Jewish informants”, or words to this effect. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that this comment had been taken out of context, and that he was reporting on historical material. However, he had not provided details of this broader context which indicated why this quotation gave rise to a misleading impression of his expressed views. It appeared, therefore, that he had referred to the “fascist nature” of Zionism as being a matter of established fact, and had discussed the recognition of that fact by contemporary agencies. In these circumstances, there was therefore no failure to take care over the claim that he had “branded Zionism ‘fascist’”, and no misleading impression of his comments was created that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

23. The 2017 article had reported that the President of the Board of Deputies had said that the complainant “’has repeatedly and unapologetically made statements comparing Zionists to Nazis’”. This claim was accurately attributed to the President in the article and, the claim was not significantly misleading, where, as found above, the complainant had drawn parallels between Zionism and Fascism. The complainant accepted that his talks involved quoting sources making such claims. In these circumstances, and given the presentation of this comment as a claim made by the President, the Committee did not consider that this claim gave rise to a significant inaccuracy that required correction under the terms of Clause 1.

24. The venue referred to in the 2018 article had been founded by a Quaker, and a supporter of the venue, quoted in the article, had argued that the complainant’s views were not in line with those of the Quaker founder. The article had made clear which organisations were involved in the dispute. It was not misleading to refer to a “Quakers row” in the headline. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

25. The headline of the 2017 article had characterised the complainant as a “hate author”. It had immediately indicated that this was because he was “accused of peddling antisemitic theories on Israel and Judaism”. The article had gone on to quote the views of an activist who had described the complainant’s book as containing “hateful allegations”, and who considered that a talk by the complainant would have “fuelled hatred of Jews”; it had also quoted from the President of the Board of Deputies, who had suggested that his talk would have promoted “hate”. The headline reference to the complainant as a “hate author” was a reference to these views, which were set out in the article. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the reporting of this claim, and where the basis for it was made clear in the article, reporting the claim was not misleading; there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Similarly, the articles’ characterisation of the complainant’s SOAS talk as an “hour long rant” was plainly an expression of the publication’s views of the complainant and the content of his talk, and did not give rise to any misleading impression requiring correction under Clause 1.

26. Both articles had described the complainant as being “accused of peddling antisemitic theories”. It was not in dispute that a report had been written criticising the complainant’s book on the grounds that it was antisemitic and inaccurate. The Committee did not make any finding as to whether this was an accurate criticism. However, where such accusations have been made, it was not misleading to report the existence of this allegation. Doing so was not misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

27.  The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i) and 1(ii).

Remedial Action

28.  Having upheld the complaint on three points under Clause 1(i), the Committee considered what remedial action was appropriate.

29.  The publication had offered corrections which addressed the inaccuracies which the Committee had found in the article. These should now be published. However, in two cases, these had not been offered sufficiently promptly, and the Committee had found breaches of Clause 1(ii) as a result. The appropriate remedy was the publication of an adjudication.

30.  The 2018 article had appeared on page 12 of the print edition. This article had contained all three inaccuracies identified by the Committee as requiring correction. The adjudication should be published in full on page 12, or further forward. The headline to the adjudication should appear in the same font size as the 2018 article’s headline; the body text should appear in the same font size used in the 2018 article. The headline of the adjudication should refer to IPSO, refer to the name of the newspaper, make clear that IPSO has upheld a complaint, or has ruled against the newspaper, and refer to the subject matter of the complaint, including the complainant’s name. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

31.  The adjudication should also be published on the publication’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing in the top 50% of stories on the publication’s website for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. In relation to the online version of the 2017 article, if the newspaper intends to continue to publish the article without amendment to remedy the distortions identified by the Committee, the full text of the adjudication should also be published on that page, beneath the headline. If amended, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication, and noting the amendments made.

32. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows:

Thomas Suárez complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Board halt Israel hate author talk”, published online on 8 May 2017, and an article headlined “Quakers row as venue is rented out to anti-Zionist”, published in print on 20 April 2018. The complaint was upheld, and the Jewish Chronicle has been required to publish this ruling as a remedy to the breach of the Code.

The 2017 article stated that a talk by the complainant, due to take place at a Quaker-owned Friends Meeting House, had been cancelled. The article reported that the complainant had previously said that Zionist leaders “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. The article reported that the British Board of Deputies were among the Jewish organisations that raised objections to the event, and that the president of the Board of Deputies had said “We are glad that, having considered the matter in line with Quaker values, the decision was taken to cancel the booking”.

The 2018 article reported that the complainant was “allowed to speak at a Quaker-founded cultural centre despite a similar institution having previously banned him”. It repeated the 2017 article’s claim regarding the complainant’s characterisation of the actions of Zionist leaders, and reported that “In May 2017 the Quaker-owned Cambridge Friends Meeting House cancelled an appearance by [the complainant] deciding it was not ‘in line with Quaker values’”.

The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that the Friends Meeting House had cancelled his talk because it decided it was “not in line with Quaker values”, or that it had “banned” him. The complainant also denied saying that Zionist leaders “encouraged anti-Semitism in Germany”.

The publication said that it had not breached the Code. It said that it had relied on comments made by the president of the Board of Deputies, who had discussed why the event had been cancelled, and on contemporary reports of the complainant’s SOAS talk which had said that the complainant had stated that Zionist leaders had encouraged antisemitism in order to force Jews to move to Palestine. Nonetheless, five months after receipt of the complaint, it offered to publish corrections on these points.

IPSO found that the publication had not taken care over the 2018 article’s claim that the Friends Meeting House had “banned” the complainant because it decided his talk was “not in line with Quaker values”. The claim regarding “Quaker values” was wrongly attributed to the Friends Meeting House when in fact it had been made by the president of the Board of Deputies, and there was no suggestion that the complainant had been “banned” from the Meeting House.

IPSO noted the material provided by the publication in support of the articles’ assertion that the complainant had said that Zionist leaders had “encouraged antisemitism in Germany to force Jews to move to Palestine”. However, it had not provided a basis for claiming that the complainant had referred to Germany, or that he had adopted this claim as his own; there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point, in breach of Clause 1(i). This failure to take care gave rise to a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s expressed views, on an extremely sensitive subject.

Both inaccuracies were raised in the complainant’s initial complaint, and the material on which the complaints were based was readily available to the publication. The publication had offered corrections which addressed the inaccuracies but these had been offered five months after the complaint was received. This was not sufficiently prompt, and there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Date complaint received: 26/04/2018

Date decision issued: 06/03/2019