Ruling

21943-23 Abdelhamid v The Jewish Chronicle

  • Complaint Summary

    Amira Abdelhamid complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Academics claim Hamas atrocities are part of ‘legitimate struggle’ against Israel”, published on 20 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      29th May 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21943-23 Abdelhamid v The Jewish Chronicle


Summary of Complaint

1. Amira Abdelhamid complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Academics claim Hamas atrocities are part of ‘legitimate struggle’ against Israel”, published on 20 October 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on page 5 of the newspaper, reported that a number of UK-based academics had “appeared to celebrate or justify the violence” committed by Hamas on 7 October. The article stated that the complainant – an academic at a named university – “said the murders and kidnaps were not terrorism but part of a ‘legitimate struggle’”. After referring to other academics it then reported that “it was Abdelhamid who stood out by virtue of the sheer volume of her controversial posts”.

3. The article went on to detail the social media posts made by the complainant. It reported: “The first appeared on X/Twitter on the day of the attacks. Replying to a post condemning the atrocities by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, she wrote: ‘You call it terrorism. We call it legitimate struggle against siege, occupation, settler colonialism, slow violence and genocide… the blood of Palestinians in the past and the future is also on your hands and those like you who legitimise the racist (and antisemitic) state of Israel.’”

4. The article then reported: “On October 10, by which time it was clear that Hamas had murdered babies, Abdelhamid posted that ‘academics who support the Palestinians have been the target of a vicious campaign by Zionists and other biggots (sic). To be very clear, I support the Palestinian resistance in ALL its forms. Bring it on if this upsets your fragile fascist sensibilities’”.

5. Further to this, the article also reported that “Abdelhamid, whose LinkedIn profile says she specialises in ‘queer theory, resistance studies and human rights’, later posted an attack on Universities UK after it warned that anyone supporting Hamas would be breaking the law. She called this ‘shameful and disgusting’. When a woman was arrested in Brighton for what [the complainant] described as ‘celebrating Palestinian resistance’, she commented: ‘F*** this country’”.

6. In addition, the article also reported a statement from the complainant on the matter: “’Any statement or imputation that I endorse terrorism would be false and seriously defamatory.’”

7. The article also included a photograph of the complainant, which showed her from the shoulders upwards. This image was placed in the centre of the page, and was the same size as two columns of text. The article also included an image of the complainant’s X/Twitter account. In this image, the complainant’s name, username, biography and pinned post (the post from 10 October) were visible.

8. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form; this version was published on 19 October 2023.

9. The online version of the article did not include the photograph of the complainant. However, alongside the image of her X/Twitter account included in the print version, it also included an image of her social media post from 7 October. The image showed the complainant’s post, as the article described, as well as the post she was retweeting from Ursula von der Leyen – the visible part of Ms Ursula von der Leyen’s post read “I unequivocally condemn the attack carried out by Hamas terrorists against Israel. It is terrorism in its most despicable form”.

10. On 13 October, prior to the article’s publication, the newspaper contacted the complainant via email. The email read:

“In posts on the X social media platform since the Hamas attacks last weekend you have made it clear you support them as legitimate acts of resistance.

I am writing an article about academics' response to the attacks.

Please tell me, do you regard the indiscriminate murders of Israeli children and adult civilians with Israel's 1967 borders as justified? I am writing an article for the Jewish Chronicle.

My deadline for a reply is 9am on Monday. Feel free to make any comment you wish.”

11. The complainant responded on 16 October. The subject line of her email read: “Strictly Confidential & Not for Publication”. The email itself said:

“Strictly Confidential & Not for Publication

Any statement or imputation published by you and/or the Jewish Chronicle that I endorse terrorism would be false and seriously defamatory. Any such statements by you will cause or will be likely to cause serious harm to my reputation and/or the reputation of [named university] and I reserve all my rights to sue you and/or the Jewish Chronicle for defamation.”

12. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it misrepresented her social media posts. She stated that she had never said the “murders and kidnaps were not terrorism but part of a ‘legitimate struggle’”, as the article reported, nor did any of her posts refer to “murders and kidnaps”.

13. Regarding her social media post on 7 October, which referenced “legitimate struggle”, she stated that it was unclear at the time she made this post who had committed the attacks, and whether civilians had been murdered or killed. She later added that, under International Law, people under occupation have the right to resist their occupier, and that this was the basis for her post. Regarding her social media post made on 10 October, the complainant said that the article was misleading to refer to “Hamas murdering babies” in relation to this post. She said that her post on 10 October did not mention Hamas, nor the murder of any babies by Hamas.

14. In addition, the complainant said the article was misleading to report she “posted an attack on Universities UK after it warned that anyone supporting Hamas would be breaking the law”. The complainant said this was taken out of context, as she was not referring to Hamas support, but rather the absence of the word Palestine in the statement from Universities UK. The complainant also stated that the article – and the headline in particular – lacked balance in breach of Clause 1.

15. The complainant said the article breached Clause 14 as it included part of the email she had sent to the newspaper prior to the article’s publication. She said this email made clear that its contents were strictly confidential and not for publication – it was marked as such as in the subject line and the body of the email – and that in reporting it, the publication had breached her confidence.

16. The complainant also said that by reporting part of the email she had provided to the publication, the article had breached Clause 2. Further, she said the article breached Clause 2 because it reported her name and her occupation, the social media posts themselves, and – in the print version – a photograph of her. She did note that the photograph was publicly accessible. However, she stated that the use of it breached Clause 2 as she had not been informed that it was going to be used, and because the manner in which the photo was framed – in the centre of the article – further violated her privacy. She added that the social media posts were deleted prior to the publication of the article and that they were not in the public domain when they were published by the newspaper.

17. Finally, the complainant said the article breached Clause 3 because, by decontextualising her posts and reporting her name and the name of her employer, she believed the article had put her at significant risk from public threats and harm.

18. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It set out, firstly, what it considered to be the context of the social media posts: From the early hours of 7 October, it said was “abundantly clear” that Hamas terrorists had invaded Israel, “firing rockets, killing people and taking hostages”. It said the article was not misleading to report that the complainant had “said the murders and kidnaps were not terrorism but part of a ’legitimate struggle’”, as she had posted: “You call it terrorism. We call it legitimate struggle” in response to a post from Ursula von der Layen. The publication also added that Ursula von der Layen’s post directly referred to “terrorism” itself – the visible portion of the post (included in the online version of the article) read: “I unequivocally condemn the attack carried out by Hamas terrorists against Israel. It is terrorism in its most despicable form.”

19. The publication also said that, by the time of the complainant’s post on 10 October referring to “resistance in ALL its forms”, it was clear what had taken place on 7 October. The publication therefore said that the article was not misleading to report that “[o]n October 10, by which time it was clear that Hamas had murdered babies, Abdelhamid posted [...]”. It also added that, as the post referred to “resistance in ALL its forms”, the publication was entitled to conclude she was supporting the actions of Hamas, given that in the three days following 7 October, details of kidnappings, massacre and torture had been widely reported.

20. The publication did not accept a breach in relation to the complainant’s social media post regarding Universities UK. It supplied IPSO with a screenshot of the post in question: The complainant posted an image of Universities UK’s statement, which the caption: “This does not represent me. Shameful & disgusting. #FreePalestine”. The original statement read as follows:

“Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation and signalling support, including moral support or expressing an opinion or belief that is supportive, is a criminal offence, as outlined in the Terrorism Act (2000). Any student or staff member found to be supporting Hamas will be in breach of UK law, and universities treat this with the utmost seriousness.”

21. The publication also stated that the article was not unbalanced as the academics cited in the article had been given the right of reply.

22. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that the article had levelled “serious charges” against the complainant and had therefore offered her a right of reply to these claims. She had replied to the request, and therefore it considered she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the statement she had provided over email.

23. Further, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 14. It stated that – although the complainant had marked her email “Strictly Confidential & Not for Publication” – this did not mean she was a confidential source as per the terms of Clause 14. It said that she was the subject of the story, and had been approached for comment – she was not a confidential source such as a whistleblower. It added that including the statement she provided “protected” her from her actions, and that she had not provided any circumstances which would provide a greater need for confidentiality.

24. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 3. It stated that the article itself had not put the complainant at risk – rather, it had reported publicly available social media posts she had made, which, given her role at a university, it considered “necessary and important”.

25. In response, the complainant maintained the article had breached Clause 1. She reiterated that the publication had “put words” in her mouth – she had not referred to the murder of babies, nor labelled “murders and kidnaps”, as “legitimate struggle”. She also maintained that the publication had interpreted her post in relation to the Universities UK statement “maliciously”.

26. Further, she disputed the publication’s interpretation of the context of the attacks on 7 October – she stated that “Israeli settlers and the IDF” have been attacking Palestinians for decades. She added that an independent investigation into the attacks on 7 October had not been conducted, and so the publication could not conclude precisely what had happened, and that “all sources coming out about the October 7th attack have come from Israel, which is a state that has a long history of spreading disinformation”.

27. Further, the complainant stated that she was a confidential source – under Clause 14 – as she had given a statement, in confidence, to the publication. She added that the email that included her statement was not sent as a reply to the publication’s initial correspondence, but as a separate email.

28. She also added, finally, in relation to Clause 3, that since the article’s publication she had not been able to go anywhere on her University campus unaccompanied.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

Findings of the Committee

29. The Committee recognised that both parties had disputed elements of what had occurred on 7 October. It wished to emphasis, firstly, that it was not making findings on what happened on October 7th. Its role was to consider whether the publication had breached the Editors’ Code.

30. First, the Committee considered the complainant’s concerns about the publication of an excerpt of her email to the publication, beginning with the complaint that it breached her privacy. The Committee had regard for the terms of Clause 2(i), which state that “everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life ... including digital communications”. Therefore, it considered whether the complainant’s email constituted an aspect of her “private and family life” under the terms of Clause 2, and therefore whether the publication had reported information over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

31. The Committee noted that the complainant had marked her email as “Strictly Confidential & Not for Publication”. This indicated her intention that the email be considered private correspondence. As a matter of practice and convention, in many instances publications will choose to comply with such a request. However, the Committee’s role was specifically to consider whether publication breached the Editors’ Code. The Committee did not consider that marking the correspondence “strictly confidential” or “not for publication” in itself made the correspondence private; the Committee also considered the contents of the correspondence, the circumstances in which the information had been provided, and whether the information being disclosed was, in and of itself, private.

32. With the above in mind, the Committee next considered the contents of the email itself. The email contained the complainant’s reply to the publication’s request for comment in response to the claim that she had supported the actions of Hamas, and the attacks on 7 October. It did not include any information the Committee considered to form part of the complainant’s private life. The excerpt of the email quoted in the article was limited to a brief denial of the allegations put to her, which related to her public statements, not her private or family life. In such circumstances, while the Committee noted that she had marked the email as “Not for Publication”, the Committee did not consider that this amounted to private correspondence – the complainant was aware that she was corresponding with a journalist, and the content of the emails were limited to the complainant’s response to the allegations which the article would make, not any aspect of her private or family life.

33. With these points in mind, the Committee concluded that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over this correspondence and reporting its contents did not intrude into her privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.

34. The complainant had also complained that the publication of the excerpt from her email identified her as a confidential source of information in breach of Clause 14. While the Committee appreciated that the complainant had marked her email as “Not for Publication”, it noted that this did not constitute an agreement between the publication and the complainant that she would act as a confidential source of information. In these circumstances, the Committee was of the view that the complainant was not a confidential source providing information to the publication – which under Clause 14 the publication would have had a moral obligation to protect. Although she may have considered herself to have acted as a confidential source, at no point had there been an agreement between both parties that she was providing information on a confidential basis, or any indication by the publication (formal or informal) that it was entering into an agreement to treat her as a confidential source. Accordingly, there was no breach of Clause 14. The publication of the complainant’s denial did not breach the Editors’ Code.

35. The Committee then considered the remainder of the complainant’s concerns under Clause 2 regarding the reporting of her name and occupation, the use of an image of her, and the inclusion of her social media posts. Clause 2 specifically refers to the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain, and the Committee noted that both the image of the complainant and the social media posts were publicly accessible; the complainant had stated that the image was “public”, and it did not appear to be in dispute that her social media account was publicly accessible – though certain posts were deleted prior to the article’s publication, they had been posted by the complainant on her open social media accounts and had therefore entered the public domain. The Committee also did not consider that the complainant’s name or occupation constituted private information -- the Committee noted that this information was readily available online on LinkedIn and the University’s website. The Committee therefore considered that the information reported in the article was already in the public domain, and the publication had not reported information over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these points.

36. Next, the Committee turned to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 1. The complainant had alleged that the article had misleadingly taken social media posts of hers out of context in breach of Clause 1. The Committee therefore started by considering the reporting of each of these posts in turn.

37. Beginning with the complainant’s post on 7 October, the Committee noted that the article reported that the complainant had “said the murders and kidnaps were not terrorism but part of a ‘legitimate struggle’”. On 7 October, the complainant had posted: “You call it terrorism. We call it legitimate struggle against siege, occupation, settler colonialism, slow violence and genocide… the blood of Palestinians in the past and the future is also on your hands and those like you who legitimise the racist (and antisemitic) state of Israel”. This post was in response to a post made by Ursula von der Leyen, which opened: “I unequivocally condemn the attack carried out by Hamas terrorists against Israel. It is terrorism in its most despicable form”.

38. The Committee noted the complainant’s view that she never, specifically, stated that the “murders and kidnaps” were part of a “legitimate struggle”. However, it had regard for the context of the social media post in question. The Committee did not consider it to be in dispute that, on 7 October, Hamas had attacked Israel and had both murdered and kidnapped Israeli civilians: this had been widely reported at the time. Further, the Committee noted that the social media post the complainant had replied to specifically referred to “the attack” carried out by Hamas terrorists – the complainant had replied, stating “You call it terrorism. We call it legitimate struggle […]”.

39. In these circumstances, the Committee was of the view that there was a sufficient basis for the publication to interpret the complainant’s actions as her saying “the murders and kidnaps were not terrorism but part of a ‘legitimate struggle’”; indeed, the Committee noted that the article made clear it contained the publication’s interpretation of various academics’ statements – for example, it reported that UK academics “appeared to celebrate or justify the violence” committed by Hamas. The Committee also noted that the online article included an image of complainant’s tweet, while the print version replicated it in full in the text – clearly demonstrating to readers the posts she had made, and the basis for its description of the post – and that the publication had contacted the complainant for comment on the matter prior to publication. In all, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the article on this point and that the article was not significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.

40. The Committee then turned to the 10 October social media post. The article reported: “On October 10, by which time it was clear that Hamas had murdered babies, Abdelhamid posted that academics who support Palestinians in their (varied forms of) resistance have been the target of a vicious campaign by Zionists and other biggots (sic). To be very clear, I support the Palestinian resistance in ALL its forms. Bring it on if this upsets your fragile fascist sensibilities.” The Committee recognised that the complainant considered this suggested she supported the actions of Hamas – it also noted that she had not mentioned Hamas in her social media post. However, it again had regard for the wording of the article – it did not state she supported or endorsed the actions of Hamas. Rather, it reported that “October 10, by which time it was clear that Hamas had murdered babies, Abdelhamid posted that […]” – and then went on to set out the complainant’s post.

41. It was not in dispute that, on 10 October, the complainant had made the social media post attributed to her in the article. The Committee did not consider that the article was inaccurate or misleading say that this post had been made “by which time it was clear that Hamas had murdered babies” – the Committee recognised that, by this time, it had been widely reported that this had occurred in the attacks on 7 October. While the Committee noted that the complainant disputed whether or not the attacks had occurred in the manner which had been widely reported, it considered that the publication had sufficient basis for the reported statement. The Committee also noted that the complainant’s post was pictured in the article – making it clear to readers precisely what she had posted. As such, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the article; and that the article was not significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

42. The Committee noted the complainant’s concerns that the article was misleading to report that she “later posted an attack on Universities UK after it warned that anyone supporting Hamas would be breaking the law. She called this ‘shameful and disgusting’”. The publication had supplied an image of the complainant’s post, and the Universities UK statement, which read: “Any student or staff member found to be supporting Hamas will be in breach of UK law”; the complainant had reposted this, under the words “This does not represent me. Shameful & disgusting”. The Committee did not consider the article to be inaccurate or misleading on this point: It was not in dispute that the Universities UK statement had stated that academics supporting Hamas would be breaking the law, and the complainant had reposted it under the comment “Shameful & disgusting”. Characterising this as “an attack”, where the basis was made clear and the full post reported in the article, was not inaccurate or misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

43. The Committee noted the complainant’s concerns that the article was not balanced. It was clear that under the Editors’ Code, articles do not need to be balanced, as long as publications take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. Where the Committee did not consider there to be any significant inaccuracies or distorted information in the article, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

44. Finally, the Committee considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 3. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. While the Committee appreciated that the publication of the article had caused the complainant concern for her safety, it noted that these concerns related to the possible actions of members of the public, and were therefore not within its remit – under Clause 3, a publication is only response for the actions of its own staff during the information gathering process and its own editorial content. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

45. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

46. N/A


Date complaint received: 08/01/2024

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/05/2024