Recently, Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, was observed and in many Jewish households yellow yarzheit candles cast their eerie glow. In Israel, sirens sounded throughout the country for two minutes. People stopped their cars, halted on the street and in their homes and stood at attention. Ceremonies and services were held throughout Israel, in the United States, and around the world in memory of the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.
In the United Kingdom on Yom HaShoah, readers of The Guardian were subjected to a grotesque story penned by Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood, "Holocaust survivors struggling to make ends meet in Israel." The author describes a growing proportion of Israeli survivors "who cannot make ends meet, who struggle with insufficient funds on a daily basis," and implies that Israel neglects them.
In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told of his recent encounters with Israeli Holocaust survivors in his Yom HaShoah speech:
Yesterday morning, I visited an old-age home for Holocaust survivors. There, I met Idit Yapo, an amazing woman of 104, clear and lucid. Idit fled Germany shortly after Hitler gained power, in 1934.
I met 89-year-old Esther Nadiv, one of Mengele's twins. She was reading a book, Golda Meir's biography, and she told me, with a glint in her eye, she said: "I am so proud, so very proud to be a part of the State of Israel which is in constant development."
I met Hanoch Mandelbaum, an 89-year-old survivor of Bergen-Belsen. Shortly after he came to Israel, as a young carpenter, he helped construct the desk upon which Ben Gurion signed the Declaration of Independence. That is MiSho'a liTkuma -- from holocaust to resurrection.
And I met Elisheva Lehman, an 88 year-old Holocaust survivor from Holland, who was a music teacher. I asked Elisheva if she would play something for us and she did. She enthusiastically played "Am Yisrael Chai" and we all sang together. It was quite emotional.
But the picture of Israel that Sherwood chose to paint was not of a country whose prime minister sings with survivors, but of a nation that ignores them:
"A lot of survivors face big medical bills, and life in Israel is very expensive generally," says Deborah Garel of the Jaffa Institute, which distributes bi-monthly food parcels to Holocaust survivors. "Holocaust survivors going hungry in Israel? This is not right. After being hungry in the ghetto, they shouldn't be hungry in the Jewish state."
CiF Watch monitors The Guardian closely and on its blog, CiF Watch made this observation:
Whatever the real economic hardships faced by Holocaust survivors in Israel (and even one survivor without enough to eat is, of course, one too many), to evoke hunger in Nazi era ghettos, where the mortality rate due to malnutrition and disease often surpassed 90 percent, in the context of difficulties survivors face paying for food in the Jewish state is as callous as it is cynical.
Poverty among the Elderly and Survivors
Sherwood states that roughly 25% of Israeli Holocaust survivors live under the poverty line but, unfortunately, roughly 25% of all Israelis live under the poverty line.
Furthermore, data from the European Center showed that roughly 33% of British elderly live in poverty. This figure was confirmed by another study conducted by a charity called Age UK which found that a third of the United Kingdom's pensioners are "struggling just to buy basic supplies." The BBC described the conditions for the elderly living in poverty in the UK as "like something from the dark ages."
Sadly, a United Jewish Communities report concluded that a quarter of survivors in the United States live in poverty. The Jewish Claims Conference states that half of the Holocaust survivors around the world live in poverty.
None of this is positive news, but it should put into perspective the circumstances of Israel's Holocaust survivors. By omitting this relevant information, Sherwood cast Israel in an exaggeratedly bad light, intentionally or not.
Israel Increases Benefits
Sherwood admits that the Israeli government has recently increased benefits paid to Holocaust survivors, but she gives this information exactly one sentence without elaboration: "This week, the government announced an increase in funds for the needs of survivors from 206m shekels (£34.2m) a year to 225m." (That is equivalent to $60 million.)
She does not mention that this is a 13% increase in tough economic times. She does not mention that this increase does not include an additional $13 million in increases to stipends or that those stipends currently can be as high as $1,900 per month.
Such omissions further skew an already slanted report.
Britain's Unique Responsibility
After World War I, Britain controlled the territory which includes what is now Israel. In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, the contents of which have become known as the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was later incorporated into the League of Nations' British Mandate for Palestine, and included this paragraph:
His Majesty's Government view with favour [sic] the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Despite the fact that the "political status enjoyed by Jews" in Europe in the 1930's was increasingly degraded, the British government severely restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine to appease anti-Zionist, anti-British Arab rioters. In fact, just as the noose was tightening on European Jewry, the British government attempted to halt Jewish immigration to Palestine altogether, issuing the British White Paper of 1939.
Had Britain allowed immigration of Jews to Mandatory Palestine at that time, in keeping with its commitment to facilitate re-establishment of a Jewish state, it seems likely the scope of the Holocaust would have been greatly reduced.
By omitting this information, Sherwood avoids, again whether intentionally or not, casting Great Britain in a negative historical light.
Harriet Sherwood's Pattern of Omissions
Omissions biased a Sherwood article last year, one based on cherry-picked poll data to conceal Palestinian extremism.
And two weeks ago, CiF Watch wrote about a journalist arrested by the Palestinian Authority for criticizing PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook. CiF Watch covered it, but Sherwood did not.
With these omissions, The Guardian and its correspondent avoided casting the Palestinian Arabs in a bad light. From this pattern, readers might conclude that Harriet Sherwood is motivated less by a desire to communicate the news than by an agenda. As CiF Watch observes:
It is not at all surprising that a Guardian reporter like Sherwood can always find someone to serve a desired narrative of Israeli villainy, even in the context of the Jewish state's response to the Shoah. But, the ubiquitous nature of such tendentious journalism doesn't render it any less irresponsible or offensive...
Life in the modern Jewish state is, of course, not perfect, but it is not unreasonable to expect Harriet Sherwood to, at least on this one day, this supremely solemn occasion, display just a modicum of respect, self-restraint, and avoid such characteristic ideologically driven caricatures of the nation she's covering.
The very fact that The Guardian would use Holocaust survivors to vilify Israel shows how unbalanced the paper has become in its criticism of the Jewish state.