IsraHelli propaganda group HonestReporting denies encouraging employee to smear UK professor

by Asa Winstanley 

MediaCentral hosts racist Hebrew University Professor Raphael Israeli (seated).

My recent article exposing a smear by an Israeli pressure group worker seems to have touched a nerve. Israeli masters student Smadar Bakovic claimed in the Jewish Chroniclelast month that Warwick University professor Nicola Pratt had given her a lower grade for her dissertation than she deserved because of anti-Israeli bias.

But Warwick university strongly denied her story, saying that the new higher mark given was in fact for a revised version of her dissertation. A university spokesperson told me that Bakovic’s story was untrue, and has subsequently issued a press release with further details.

The Jewish Chronicle’s reporter Marcus Dysch didn’t seem to think it relevant to mention that Bakovic works for MediaCentral  — a “free or low-cost” pro-Israel fixer agency in Jerusalem.

But now her employer has defended her actions.

Dishonest reporting

A few days after my story was published, the inappropriately-named “HonestReporting” (which MediaCentral is a project of) published a rather silly entry on their blog, attacking Electronic Intifada. It was written by managing editor Simon Plosker, a reservist soldier in the Israeli army press office.

Plosker seems not to have read my article properly. He focuses on the date Bakovic started her dissertation at Warwick:

Smadar’s struggle with Warwick University authorities began in April 2010 at her own instigation and with no connection whatsoever to MediaCentral.

The date she started her campaign to against Professor Pratt is not the point, and I never claimed it was. The fact she was a MediaCentral employee is what I reported and focused on, mainly because the Jewish Chronicle failed to even mention this basic fact. The problem with Marcus Dysch’s story is that it failed to mention Bakovic works for what is essentially a PR agency that aims to improve Israel’s image in the world.

“Nothing to do with it”

So I asked HonestReporting on Twitter if they had encouraged Bakovic to approach theJewish Chronicle with her story. They denied it:

@asawinstanley it was a typo in language. She started Sept. 1 – five months AFTERlodging her concern in April 2010.
Asa Winstanley
AsaWinstanleyAsa Winstanley
.@HonestReporting Ok. So she was working for you when she approached Dysch at the JC about the story. Did you encourage her to do so?
in reply to @AsaWinstanley
HonestReporting@asawinstanley#Honestreporting and #mediacentral had nothing to do with it. It was her own initiative entirely.
Jan 03 via HootSuiteFavoriteRetweetReply

Marcus Dysch and the JC

This also calls into question the professionalism of Jewish Chronicle journalist Marcus Dysch. He’s entitled to promote a pro-Israel viewpoint, but that’s no excuse for dishonesty or (at best) poor journalism. The omission of such a salient point means he either didn’t do the five minutes of research it took to find out who Bakovic works for, or that he knew and covered it up.

Today, I asked Dysch on Twitter why he didn’t mention it, but he hasn’t replied (he’s unlikely to have seen this question, however, because he’s preemptively blocked me, despite the fact I’m pretty sure I’ve never Tweeted at him before).

If I had written an analogous story about a Palestinian student who was an employee of, say, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, without mentioning who he or she worked for, that would have been sloppy at best and dishonest at worst.

If Bakovic’s campaign against Professor Pratt has “no connection whatsoever” to her employer, as Plosker claims, why not simply say as much in the Jewish Chronicle article? Why did they wait till after Abraham Greenhouse and myself wrote about the case on Electronic Intifada to admit the fact?

Dysch’s reporting has also been called into question after he claimed in a second articlethat the agency which reviews the performance of universities in the UK “would conduct a preliminary investigation” into Pratt’s behavior. The Quality Assurance Agency soon denied this to the Times Higher Education magazine. They reported that: “no official complaint has yet been made and the QAA will require more details over the allegations before it could proceed with any investigation”.


The press statement from Warwick University said an investigation launched after Bakovic’s April 2011 complaint had found Pratt’s supervision had been ” exemplary”, and said  “there was no evidence of unprofessional behaviour” as Bakovic had claimed . It said Bakovic’s assertion that a second dissertation which achieved a higher mark than the first had not been substantially different  from the original was simply not true.

Professor Pratt was one of many academic signatories to a letter in the Guardian during the 2008-09 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, which asserted that “if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides … against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank” (“Growing outrage at the killing in Gaza,” 15 January 2009).

Who are MediaCentral and “HonestReporting”?

MediaCentral’s American-Israeli director Aryeh Green is an advisor to Israel’s former Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky. After MediaCentral’s opening he wrote of its mission: “It’s time for Israel to use the carrot, rather than the stick, in our relations with the international media” (my emphasis).

In the video at the top of this blog entry, you can see Green welcoming Raphael Israeli — a racist Israeli professor — to speak at MediaCentral (he also says he studied with Israeli while doing his masters at Hebrew University). Israeli has extremely bigoted views on Muslims: “When the Muslim population gets to a critical mass you have problems. That is a general rule, so if it applies everywhere it applies in Australia” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 2007).

Managing editor of HonestReporting Simon Plosker is a soldier who does press work for the Israeli military as part of his reserve duty. From their site:

In Israel, Simon has worked for BICOM and as Managing Editor of NGO Monitor as well as serving in for a short period in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit where he continues to perform reserve duty.

This fact alone makes a serious mockery of the group’s thin pretense to be just an neutral group that “monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy, or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict”. Indeed, this veneer is pretty half-hearted considering the fact the tag line underneath the group’s logo is “Defending Israel From Media Bias”.

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