In October, three Palestinian journalists lost out on work and awards because of pressure from Israel lobby groups. The Thomson Reuters Foundation rescinded the Kurt Schork Award from Middle East Eye correspondent Shatha Hammad just two days after pro-Israel media watchdog, Honest Reporting, released a report describing her social media posts as anti-Semitic. Earlier in the month, Gazan photojournalists Soliman Hijjy and Hosam Salem were fired by The New York Times due to an Honest Reporting publication characterizing Facebook posts they made as anti-Semitic. Additionally, the BBC and Deutsche Welle have also terminated contracts with Palestinian journalists for similar reasons in the last year.
In response, more than 300 Palestinian journalists signed a letter denouncing what they called “targeted attacks on Palestinian journalists working in international organizations, by Zionist lobby groups.” The authors wrote in their statement:
[The Zionist institutions’] strategies are clear: they dig deep into journalists’ social media accounts, chasing after any expressions, statements, or even jokes said in childhood, taking them out of context and weaponizing them. What matters to these institutions is to continue to suffocate what remains of the air not contaminated by their bullets.”
As mainstream news outlets bend to Israel lobby pressure, Palestinian journalists are losing work and the Palestinian narrative is slowly being erased from the media spotlight.
Honest Reporting’s ties to Israel
Honest Reporting has a deep relationship with the Israel lobby, military, and government. Described as “a pro-Israeli pressure group,” by American Journalism Review, the organization was founded in 2006 by Joe Hyams, a registered bureau speaker for the Israeli Embassy in the U.S., and Simon Plosker, the site’s editorial director. Plosker served in the Israeli military’s spokesperson’s unit and has worked with several pro-Israel organizations including the Jewish Agency, NGO Monitor, which targets NGOs for alleged anti-Israel bias, the United Nations Watch, which also attacks the UN for alleged anti-Israel bias, and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
The group’s stated mission “is to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel.” Honest Reporting does this by scouring news for content critical of Israel and then denouncing the media outlet or reporter on its website.
It also hosts trips to Israel jam-packed with a slew of speakers, including Israeli politicians, ambassadors and ex-military members. Several of the tour speakers are affiliated with Kohelet Policy Forum, an Israeli think tank that has promoted the discriminatory Jewish Nation-State Law.
Honest Reporting’s staff is chock-full of Israel lobbyists and former members of the Israeli military. Until very recently, the organization’s CEO was Daniel Pomerantz, who was a civilian volunteer in the Israeli military. Pomerantz’s replacement, Jacki Alexander, came straight from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, spending 15 years at the pro-Israel lobbying group, rising to become its regional director for the Southeastern United States.
Honest Reporting’s executive director, Gil Hoffman, is a reserve soldier in the Israeli military’s spokesperson unit. He has openly admitted that his organization coordinates with the Israeli government and other pro-Israel groups. This includes participating in government-run WhatsApp groups.
Senior international connector, David Mencer, led the Labour Friends of Israel in Britain for over a decade. He also boasts speech writing for former British prime ministers Boris Johnson, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown on his resume.
Raquela Karamson, Honest Reporting’s digital media specialist, previously worked in the Israeli military’s central command during the Second Intifada. And the organization’s lead designer, Bentzi Binder, served in the Israel military’s Givati combat infantry brigade.
Honest Reporting is classified as a tax-exempt organization in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. In its U.S. latest tax filing, it received more than $3 million in 2021 and donated $1.5 million for media reporting in the Middle East and North Africa. Given its tax-exempt status, Honest Reporting is not required to disclose the names of its grantees. But IRS filings reveal it does receive financial backing from pro-Israel millionaires like Israeli-American Council board chairman, Adam Milstein. In 2019, the Milstein Family Foundation contributed $10,000 to Honest Reporting.
Mainstream media connections to Israel lobby
As Honest Reporting leads a campaign against Palestinian media professionals, those news organizations behind the recent terminations of Palestinian journalists also have suspicious ties to Israeli authorities.
Deutsche Welle currently employs Polina Gareav as its social media editor. She is also the programs manager at the Israeli government-funded Israel Public Policy Institute. Gareav previously worked as the news editor for the Israel military’s magazine, Bamahane.
Additionally, DW’s Middle East editor Jennifer Holleis previously worked for the Israeli-Swiss Association, which aims to build stronger partnerships between the two nations.
Eli Ovits, who worked as an assistant producer for the BBC in 2006, was also employed as an Israeli military spokesperson during that time. And former BBC editor Mark Berg was appointed as BICOM’s director in 2001. He stepped down from the role in 2002 and returned to the BBC, working on several flagship shows from 2005-2007.
A clear double standard
Besides publishing a few photos for Al Jazeera English, former Times contributor Salem has not received any work since his termination in October.
“The matter is done to silence the voice of Palestinian journalists and to convey the Israeli narrative only,” Salem told MintPress News, referring to Honest Reporting’s involvement in his dismissal from the newspaper.
As Philip Weiss, founder of independent news website Mondoweiss’ noted, support for armed resistance against Israel’s occupation is widespread among Palestinians. “Sorting out journalists who have not expressed such views at some time is something like looking for Palestinian reporters who support Zionism,” Weiss wrote.
Yet while Palestinian journalists come under scrutiny for their social media or connections to resistance fighters, the same standard is not applied to Israeli journalists. The New York Times employed Ethan Bronner, Isabel Kershner, and David Brooks to write about Palestine while all three had children fighting in the Israeli military.
Following a trip to Gaza after an Israeli attack, former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren wrote on Facebook in 2012 that Palestinians seemed “ho hum” about the deaths of their children. Yet making such a bigoted statement did not cost her her job; the only consequence was that her employer insisted on overseeing and clearing her future social media posts.
The pro-Israel narrative has always been a mainstream media staple, but with the help of Honest Reporting, the gap in Palestinian voices in the news is significantly shrinking.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.