Why can’t Britain’s journalists call Israel an apartheid state?

Journalists held a protest after Israel attacked media offices in Gaza earlier this month. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

Expressing solidarity with an oppressed people is not complicated. The only really important rule is that you should listen to them.

During its attack on Gaza earlier this month, Israel bombed a tower where staff from Al Jazeera and the Associated Press were based.

After that act of state terrorism, an appeal was made to media workers around the world.

Journalists were urged to name “Israel’s regime as apartheid” in their reporting and to refuse press trips financed by Israel and its lobbying network.

The appeal was issued by the BDS National Committee – which coordinates the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel – and the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.

Last week, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) for Britain and Ireland held its annual conference.

Shamefully, the conference rejected the Palestinian call.

Jim Boumelha, a leading NUJ figure, opposed a request from five branches of the union – four Irish and one Scottish – to amend a motion he had drafted. The proposed amendment included the Palestinian demands.

I contacted Boumelha asking why he would not accept the amendment.

Boumelha replied by insulting his NUJ colleagues who had put forward the amendment as “pseudo-revolutionaries.”

According to Boumelha, the amendment was a “clumsy attempt” to align the union with a recent report from Human Rights Watch.

The Human Rights Watch report in question documented how Israel commits the crime of apartheid. Boumelha claimed it was not relevant because “in around 100 pages, the report does not mention journalists once.”


Boumelha’s argument is misleading.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate called for the accurate use of terminology by reporters and for them to avoid repeating Israeli propaganda.

Palestinians have labeled the system under which they live as apartheid for decades. Human Rights Watch and the Israeli group B’Tselem have finally acknowledged in 2021 that the term “apartheid” does indeed apply.

The NUJ is an organization officially dedicated to truthful information. Why can’t it accept something that is demonstrably true?

Jim Boumelha also argued that it was “daft” to recommend that the NUJ should urge its members to refuse junkets funded by Israel and the pro-Israel lobby as that was already the union’s policy.

He referred to a call backed by a majority vote at the NUJ’s 2018 conference. Yet the 2018 decision was more limited than he suggested.

It was focused on the Giro d’Italia cycling race, which began in Jerusalem that year, and on Israel’s propaganda activities around that event.

Contrary to what Boumelha inferred, the 2018 decision did not explicitly say that journalists should refuse all trips paid for by Israel and its lobby.

According to Boumelha, the main reason why the amendment to his motion was unsuccessful last weekend was because it would have removed a few words commending the stance taken by Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister.

In Boumelha’s view, the attempt to delete a sentence praising Coveney was “an unwarranted sectarian move” by trade union activists who oppose the minister’s politics.

Abuse of power

Coveney did speak out against Israel’s latest attack on Gaza and he has subsequently denounced the de facto annexation of settlement blocs in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Yet Coveney does not have a good track record on defending Palestinian rights.

Coveney has blocked the entry into force of a ban on goods from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. As the ban was approved by both houses of Ireland’s parliament, the Oireachtas, Coveney’s behavior has been patently anti-democratic.

Why, in any event, should the NUJ pat a government minister on the back? Journalists are supposed to cause trouble for politicians, not caress them.

Speaking at last weekend’s NUJ conference, Jim Boumelha said “we should remind ourselves of our level of commitment to Palestinian journalists over the last 40 years, we have done everything in our power to help.”

In truth, Boumelha abused his own power as the NUJ’s de facto spokesperson on international affairs by rejecting the demands from Palestinian journalists – the very people he purports to help.

Unions representing western journalists can and must do better than draft bland declarations about Palestine.

They can and must insist that newspapers and broadcasters cease treating Israel’s habitually dishonest version of events as factual.

They can and must insist that violence by the Israeli state is not downgraded to “clashes.”

They can and must stop trying to create a fake balance by implying that “both sides” are to blame for the “conflict,” when one side – Israel – has its jackboot on the neck of the other, the Palestinians.

They can and must listen to Palestinian journalists and take their demands seriously. The NUJ has refused to do so.




There is an overwhelming lack of integrity among TV journalists, some of whom must know that the organisations which employ them are either pumping out lies or are skewing news items to appease the right wing, including Zionists.

One would think that print journalists would be able to recognise this and go some way to call it out and correct it. With people such as Boumhelah, who have managed to get themselves into positions of influence as gatekeepers, the chance of the public learning the truth is much reduced.


Well, the propaganda model still applies. Who owns the media? Who profits from them? Whose interests do they serve? How are they paid for? What are advertisers paying for? Journalists should hold politicians to account, but that's not how the model works. Journalists may be fed the line during their training that they are battlers for truth, unafraid to uncover what the powerful want hidden; in fact, you don't get far in mainstream journalism if you spend your time telling the truth about the rich and powerful. Look at the power of the Israeli lobby. They put Corbyn through the wringer though he had been elected twice by big majorities of Labour members. The NUJ, like everyone else, is in a funk about being dubbed anti-Semitic. Netanyahu effectively claims the UN is anti-Semitic. About as absurd as claim as it's possible to make. Bachelet has just declared that Israel may have committed war crimes. The UN human rights council has initiated an investigation. Israel dismisses it as so much froth and the US "deeply regrets" it. That's why there is so much cowardice. The Labour Party is merely an ante-room of Likud. Its leadership gives unflinching support to a regime recognised by respected human rights bodies as racist. There is widespread fear, some confusion too, but the confusion is nothing compared to the cowardice. Israel is a pipsqueak bully backed by the big boy. Only the few are willing to stand up to US power and say what's true. This has been the case for a long time: opposition to colonialism has always begun with minorities. The UK Tory Party designated Mandela a terrorist. It took a long time for most people to come round to the view that apartheid had to go. There was a lot of sympathy but outright opposition took a lot of campaigning. We have to keep up the pressure and never stop saying that Israel is and always has been a racist State. In the long run, we will be proven right and everyone will claim they agree with us and always did.