The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has caused controversy within the UK Jewish Community by taking a full page advert in The Jewish Chronicle (The JC) this past Friday (15th August), British Jewry’s oldest mainstream newspaper, which is available nationwide. Note The DEC did not take a full page advert in the regional Jewish newspapers such as The Jewish News which is mainly available in London and the surrounding counties (Essex and Hertfordshire) or The Jewish Telegraph which has issues in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.
Throughout the main social media channels since the publication of the advert, there has been an outcry from the community demanding to know why The JC published the advert.
The JC is absolutely within its rights to publish the advert. Advertising is paid-for messaging and is not, and should never form, part of a newspaper’s editorial coverage. You may disagree with the content of The DEC appeal, where the monies raised is going to, and even the charitable organisation conducting the appeal, but that is your right, to disagree or agree, to donate or not to donate, as you have the freedom to absorb and analyse the information presented to you, just as you have the freedom to choose and decide which newspapers you buy and read depending on your personal preference or political leanings for news sources.
It is dangerous to suggest that certain adverts could and should be prevented from appearing in publications purely because we may not agree with the message in the advert, we do live in the UK after all, a democratic region where we have the freedom and choice to think and act freely. Take an advert for a particular brand of car in a newspaper – we see it, maybe read it, or casually scan it – if we are open to purchasing a car, or like the particular brand we may engage with the advert more, if we don’t we flick to the next page. If we do not like cars, or maybe do not drive, would we complain to a newspaper upon seeing a car advert? Of course not, this is because we have the choice to engage with the advert and act upon the advert if its messaging resonates with us. The same is true with The DEC advert.
This is not the first time during this Gaza War that advertising in newspapers has caused a furore in the UK. A few weeks ago The Times rejected an advert written by Nobel Peace Laureate, Elie Wiesel, and paid for by Jewish group This World: The Values Network, which accused Hamas of “child sacrifice,” however, perhaps surprisingly, The Guardian did publish the advert, prompting its readers to suggest that The Guardian has changed its stance and is now ‘pro-Israel.’ Upon rejecting the advert, The Times paper said: “The opinion being expressed is too strong and too forcefully made and will cause concern amongst a significant number of Times readers, ” – thanks, but surely this is for The Times readership to read, digest and decide?
In the UK we have long had an obsession with ‘biased reporting,’ queuing up to complain that organisations and news outlets such as CNN, BBC, The Guardian, and The Independent to name but a few are biased in their reporting and coverage against Israel. I for one have no problem with a TV channel or Newspaper being biased, I have a problem with the fact that they fail its readers and their viewers by failing to declare the bias. Take The JC for example, we may agree or disagree with the news coverage, reporting and analysis within the newspaper, it is a biased, Jewish newspaper, but at least the bias is declared – it’s in the masthead of the newspaper.
So is The JC with its publication of The DEC advert suddenly anti-Israel? Certainly not, though one should question why The DEC decided to place an advert in a Jewish newspaper, and the timing of the advert within The JC.
Does The DEC seriously believe it can squeeze more donations from the UK Jewish Community, the majority of which is fiercely ‘pro-Israel’ perhaps appealing to the community’s ‘Liberal Left’ who may have missed the advert featuring in the UK’s mainstream newspapers on an almost daily basis and on the TV? Perhaps. Or maybe The DEC is trying to cause a split within the Jewish Community? This too cannot be discounted, however, I would argue that given The DEC’s timing of the advert in The JC, over a month since the War began, The DEC has tried to ensure longevity in “The Gaza Lifecycle” by placing an advert, which granted they may get some donations from, but is primarily designed to keep ‘the Gaza story’ as a news story, which it has done with the furore, and needless to say the debate which will no doubt fill The JC’s letters pages in the forthcoming weeks from angry readers.
So we should not decry The JC’s decision to publish the advert. We have seen the advert, and whether we decide to respond to it by making a donation is up to us as individuals, our beliefs, mindset and dare I say political leanings
However, the acid test is to see whether the mainstream UK newspapers would publish similar charity appeals from UK based Israeli charities such as, for example; JNF, Magen David Adom (MDA), One Family UK, Shaare Zedek, and UJIA. If they don’t, then at least they are beginning to declare their bias, a first for the UK media.