Oliphant's anti-Israel cartoon on Gaza war
Oliphant's anti-Israel cartoon on Gaza warIsrael news photo: Honest Reporting / Pat Oliphant

The media watchdog organization Honest Reporting has awarded a Swedish journalist its 2009 Dishonest Reporter Award for the most skewed and biased coverage of the Middle East conflict.

Donald Bostrom “touched a nerve in readers in ways that few journalists ever do,” declared the organization. Writing in the Aftonbladet, the largest daily newspaper in Sweden, Bostrom headlined his two-page spread in the cultural section, “They Plunder the Organs of Our Sons.” The article quoted Palestinian Authority Arabs who claimed that IDF soldiers kidnapped young men from Judea, Samaria and Gaza and later returned their bodies, minus their organs.

Bostrom admitted to having failed to independently verify the claims of his sources, specifically of the family of Bilal Ahmed Ghanem, who died in 1992. “I was [present] during the interview that night, I was a witness. It concerns me to the extent that I want it to be investigated… But whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue,” he said.

Arabic-speaking Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh tracked down the family himself, said Honest Reporting – and the family denied ever having told Bostrom their son was missing organs. “The mother denied that she had told any foreign journalist that her son’s organs had been stolen. However, she said that now she does not rule out the possibility that Israel was harvesting organs of Palestinians…” Toameh wrote.

The editor of the Aftonbladet, Jan Helin, backed his reporter and accused Israel of a cover-up, even though it is medically impossible to harvest organs from a body that sustained gunshot wounds in the abdomen and chest, as Bostrom reported that Ghanem did.

The Swedish government refused to condemn the article, insisting that journalists had the right to “free speech.”

Poison Pen Award: Pat Oliphant

Syndicated cartoonist Pat Oliphant won the group’s ire with a cartoon of a “headless, Jackbooted, goose-stepping figure holding an outstretched sword pushing a Star of David – baring its fangs at a Gaza mother and baby.”

Honest Reporting contended that the cartoon appealed to the “worst Nazi stereotypes” – and Oliphant, in his own words, agreed, telling the Australian Cartoonists Association during a presentation ceremony:

My complaint was that Israel, the Israeli state, was behaving very much like their former tormentors were behaving back in the 30s and 40s, and insinuating that they were, they had a somewhat Nazi side to the way they were behaving. And I feel somebody should say it. And I did.”

Other Points of Interest

“This year, a four-letter word dominated coverage of Israel on a near-daily basis,” wrote the organization in its release on the award decision. “Gaza.” Describing the three-week counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead that began on December 27, 2008, Honest Reporting commented, “The media war was dizzying.” A long list of skewed coverage and spin games followed – and “that was just January.”

There was more to Israel than Gaza, of course, as the organization pointed out.  An Israeli university professor called for a boycott of his own country. An Arab news network tried to bury Israel’s success in soccer.

Honest Reporting started a controversy when it organized a Facebook group calling on the social networking web site to allow residents of the Golan Heights to identify themselves as Israelis. When Facebook agreed and changed its settings, Syrians organized a boycott.