Guardian relies on NGO report claim with US graduate student as sole source

This is a guest post by Just Journalism. Read the original analysis here.

A new International Crisis Group (ICG) report listing Israel amongst countries which have discussed an emulation of the Sri Lankan government’s brutal tactics against its Tamil minority has been found to have relied on a highly questionable source: an opinion piece by a Los Angeles-based graduate student who advocates the policy but nowhere claims that Israel itself has considered it. Furthermore, the dubious claim was almost immediately cited in The Guardian, signalling a worrying lack of fact-checking at the publication.

War Crimes in Sri Lanka’ published by ICG yesterday claimed:

‘“The Sri Lanka option” – a tough military response, a refusal to countenance a political solution, the dismissal of international concerns and a willingness to kill large numbers of civilians – has been discussed as an answer to insurgencies and violent groups in a number of countries including Israel, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Colombia and the Philippines.’

However, the sole source for ICG’s assertion that this brutal strategy has been considered in Israel was an opinion piece in the English-language Israeli daily, The Jerusalem Post, written by Lawrence Hart – a California State University graduate student. Nowhere in Hart’s op-ed, ‘The option no one wants to think about,’ published on 1 December 2009, does he suggest that Israel has given consideration to ‘The Sri Lanka option,’ which only he himself endorses.

Mr Hart also maintains a blog called ‘Larry’s Place’ that purports to examine ‘the war on terror, the clash of civilizations, the role of Israel, the denial of the west, the surrender of Europe, and the possible real end of history.’ He is a self-described father of three, works in property management and loves ‘freedom,’ hamburgers, the Blues and baseball.

Assistant editor at The Guardian Simon Tisdall used the ICG report paragraph concerning Israel for an opinion piece published on The Guardian’s website and in print. ‘Sri Lanka’s scorched earth tactics should be investigated before they become a model’ supplies an identical list of countries – Israel, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Colombia and the Philippines – presumed to have been informed by Sri Lanka’s wartime conduct, clearly extracted from ICG’s report.

The Guardian’s sole certification for this claim is the opinion piece in which Mr Hart says he believes that Israel should follow Sri Lanka’s example:

‘Israel can take a real lesson from this experience. The threat facing the Jewish state from the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon is no different than the threat to the north of Sri Lanka, and its coastline into the south that the Tamils occupied before the Sri Lankan army began its war of elimination.’

Nothing in the Jerusalem Post article suggests that Mr. Hart’s op-ed had any bearing on Israeli policy with respect to the Palestinians whatsoever.

One must therefore question the processes in place at The Guardian – a leading British newspaper – which could lead to the endorsement on its pages of claims about Israel with such dubious origins.

Just Journalism has previously reported on the UK media’s differing approaches to the Sri Lanka and Gaza conflicts.

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