pops“Blaming the messenger” is usually reserved for those who either have little appreciation for media or are simply uncomfortable with information it conveys.

I would place Benjamin Pogrund in the latter category.

As a former journalist associated with the Rand Daily Mail, he certainly cannot be accused of being unfamiliar with media.

However since settling in Israel, Pogrund has not shied away from defending the policies and practices of the land of his new abode. This thus places him in the category of Israel’s propagandists.

By all accounts it is abundantly clear that Israel, having lost two significant battles in recent weeks, is desperate to recover from these knock out blows.

In the first instance, its military prowess was no match for the barefisted resistance of ordinary people in Gaza. Their defiance and determination to deny Israel a military victory, matched by resistance forces led by Hamas, ensured that despite heartwrenching bloodletting the Occupying Power fails.

On the second count, public opinion has overwhelmingly swung behind the just cause of Palestine. The enormity of this is akin to a major catastrophy as far as Israel is concerned.

And this is where Benjamin Pogrund fits in: to recoup losses and if unable to, to reverse trends which signify unprecedented disgust with Israel’s ruthless savagery, and hope to contain the fallout.

His article “Media stoke up anger against Israel” published in the Mail & Guardian (September 5 to 11 2014) positions Pogrund firmly in the camp of Israel’s Hasbara (propaganda) unit.

Having spent three weeks in South Africa in the midst of a series of powerful campaigns protesting Israeli barbarism, Pogrund like the rest of Israel’s lobbyists, is evidently shocked to the core to witness waves upon waves of human masses in solidarity with Palestine.

Being shocked to discover the extent of support Palestine enjoys amongst the country’s civil society formations is not the same as being unable to reason why such opposition to Israel.

Pogrund’s refusal to accept that the majority of political groupings; trade unions; religious groups; human rights activists and ordinary people have the ability to distinguish right from wrong is evident in his complaint.

Playing the game of “Blame the messenger”, Pogrund resorts to a despicable attack on SA media.

The first person to earn his wrath is Jane Duncan. He questions how she as a journalism professor can claim that Israel was founded on the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians.

Objecting to her understanding of Israel’s history, he attacks Duncan for a “simplistic and inaccurate rendering…” and unmindful of his vehemence towards her, lumps her as a Stalinist:

“Duncan’s view is not new. It was the hallmark of the former Soviet Union. Those who did not accept Stalin-decreed ‘truth’ were murdered or shipped to labour camps”.

Does his anger unmask his blind prejudice? Or does it reflect how disconnected he is to rapid transformation of SA media?

An exciting fresh debate that Duncan advances in her article centres on issues of “balance” and “objectivity”. As much as it still remains a contested arena within media analysts, it certainly has the potential to redefine how media perceives coverage of Israel.

Apart from Duncan, commentators such as Aubrey Matshiqi and Eusebius McKaiser have also waded into this debate. Their position is categoric and by entering this fray have ushered a fresh invigorating discussion on why “balance” has inhibited frankness.

Pogrund doesn’t mention them. Is it perhaps due to an inability to counter their compelling arguments?

But he picks on Steven Friedman whom he accuses of peddling “nutcase stuff” for having the courage to dispute Israel’s narrative on Hamas and rockets.

He then takes issue with Kieran Legg’s interview with Tamer Almassri, a Palestinian diplomat which was published in the Cape Argus under what Pogrund disparagingly calls a “gory” headline: “Playing in our blood”.

What seems to have ruffled his mood is the statement Almassri makes: “We will not let 66 years of bloodshed come to nothing…We will not give up until we have our historical land again.”

Pogrund slams Legg for this. Crazy indeed for a man who claims to be immersed in journalism for 55 years not to acknowledge that media has a duty to reflect views and opinions of society.

If Almassri was harking back to 1948 does it necessarily imply calling for Israel’s destruction? And if so he wouldn’t be off the mark for South Africa’s freedom struggle also had destruction of apartheid in its sights.

However Pogrund’s next target is the highly respected doyen of Journalism and accomplished author Allister Sparks. Incidentally Pogrund’s editor at the Rand Daily Mail.

His frustration at having to deal with Sparks’ in an ethical way unleashes fire and fury.

Accusing Sparks for “sanitising” Hamas, Pogrund gives vent to his own prejudice by labelling it as “undemocratic and hatefilled”. Of course he has no answer for Sparks’s brilliant analogy whereby he links Margaret Thatcher’s rejection of the ANC as a terrorist organisation to Israel’s labelling of Hamas as terrorist.

Pogrund also fails to disprove Sparks’s valid assertion that Netanyahu has never recognised the right of a Palestinian state to exist. Instead he resorts to disparage Sparks as someone lacks understanding of Middle East politics.

The remarks below by Pogrund sum up his antagonism and hostility:

“I was surprised by the lack of questioning by journalists. Why didn’t anyone challenge Friedman about his obvious nonsense? Why is he given a platform?”

Really? Return to censorship of voices Pogrund and Israel disapprove of? What next? Ban the media for allowing views critical of Israel?

Its necessary to record that Pogrund has authored a book, Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel. The timing of its release in South Africa has clearly not been ideal. And at any rate to market his sanitised version of apartheid means disputing the experience of Palestinians as well as struggle icons such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It is obvious that Pogrund’s Hasbara mission has flopped badly. Turning his missiles to attack the media and blaming it for “so much anger against Israel” is evidence of this.

Iqbal Jassat

Executive: Media Review Network