Why Is UNRWA’s Chris Gunness Outing A Journalist Not A Story?

Chris Gunness Ill happily spout lies

Credit: Elder of Ziyon

There are a few rules of being a spokesperson representing a large organisation before the world’s media. You can evade or obfuscate when asked questions you don’t like, you can refuse to answer but you absolutely cannot lie. Well not if you want to keep your job. You also can’t expect to both lie and attack the media and not have it reported.

Except if you’re Chris Gunness and the spokesperson for UNRWA: the premier agency that keeps Palestinians as perpetual refugees and is, in many people’s opinions, the greatest single impediment to a solution of the Israel Arab conflict.

Last week on Melanie Phillips’s show on the Voice of Israel, Chris Gunness lied through his teeth. Elder of Zion has meticulously documented both the outright lies and the deceptive half truths (part 1, part 2part 3, some more). That interview was recorded before, but broadcast after Chris Gunness had the most amazing twitter melt down over a Jerusalem Post OpEd by Palestinian human rights leader, Bassam Eid.

Elder covered that in detail but the main points are:

  • Gunness ignores this is not a news piece but the opinion of someone unconnected with the Jerusalem Post;
  • He astonishingly calls for a boycott of the JPost, something so wrong another UN spokesman is forced to lie later and deny he called for a boycott;
  • Whines like a child claiming he should have been asked to comment on the piece, again ignoring that this is not a news piece at all!;
  • Gunness also digs up and outs embarrassing information about an individual reporter, completely unconnected with his work.

This whole incident has received almost no prime time coverage. It’s had a bit of play in the Jerusalem Post, but very little and certainly nothing in any of the world’s media.

It looks like we’re seeing a prime example of what Matti Friedman talks about: cosy journalists and NGOs who close ranks to protect their own because they are fraternising and constantly switching jobs between being journalists and working for the NGOs and government bodies they’re supposed to be reporting on!

A former UN official said of Gunness and UNRWA:

He has acquired an air of immunity. I’m not sure how or why, but the UN has a habit of letting its employees get away with all sort of things particularly as they relate to Israel

There was another thing Chris Gunness did in his tweets that, in my opinion should have been a huge story. Chris Gunness took an old, leaked, private picture of a reporter who just happens to work for the Jerusalem Post today and sent it out to his entire twitter feed.

Not just once, but dozens and dozens of times. He tagged almost anybody he could think of, especially senior staff at the Jerusalem post. I’ve created a Storify page because I can’t embed that many tweets on Israellycool. Nearly every one of these tweets spawned side debates that Chris pursued as if UNRWA has nothing else to worry about than playing on twitter.

The journalist in question, Samuel Sokol, doesn’t even cover UNRWA, it appears he was just a convenient stick to beat the entire Jerusalem Post.

One foreign journalist prompted a heated exchange about the incident on their personal Facebook page by suggesting a series of questions that both Gunness and Sokol should be asked. Sokol responded. Gunness didn’t.

Sokol: I’m a little surprised that so much credence is being given this, to be honest. If it is not apparent from how young I look, I had just made aliyah and joined the army. I was young and stupid and some friends convinced me this would be a funny picture.

Responding to criticism that taking such a photo could be interpreted as “a sign of being a moron,” Sokol acknowledged: “I think that is pretty much an accurate summation.”

A friend subsequently posted this photo on my OnlySimchas page without my knowledge, where it remained for some time before I found and removed it.

It was later found in a Google cached page and made the rounds online and I have always objected to it. That being said, how young I was in the picture should have served to any looking at it as an indication that any views (real or imaginary) one might believe to be indicated by the picture would not necessarily be those which I currently hold.

Given that my beat is Diaspora Jewry and that I do not write about UNRWA (the organization having made very few appearances in articles of mine), it would appear that Chris Gunness is going after me because I am an apparently easy target through which to attack the Jerusalem Post.

Until now I have held off from commenting on this issue and would have done so indefinitely except that this has not made its way on to Facebook and the walls of people I know. I am not going to dignify comment beyond this as I do not wish to get sucked in to a continuing discussion.

I should make this clear: I am not a Kahanist or a supporter of violence in any form.

Interestingly, in the same discussion thread, the +972 writer Larry Derfner (who was fired from the Jerusalem Post after a controversial blog post) wrote:

Derfner: It was Sokol who saw my controversial blog post and started the ball rolling toward getting me fired from the JPost, for which I am forever in his debt. I hope he isn’t harmed by this photo. Hopefully now that it’s known he’s a bloody-minded Kachnik, new job opportunities will open up for him.

The point is, by digging around and trying to find anything even remotely embarrassing with which to out a single Jerusalem Post reporter, just to express his anger over an OpEd, shows behaviour that should make this man completely unfit to work for a major organisation.

It should at least be reported, but it isn’t! That’s the horror of the despicable media situation in Israel. There are more reporters covering this place than anywhere else in the world and massively important stories like this one being completely ignored.

The same Facebook thread I quote from above contain posts by a number of prominent foreign journalists, none of whom thought the UNRWA Spokesman’s behaviour in tweeting this picture and arguing it was evidence of a massive right wing conspiracy at the Jerusalem Post was something they should tell their readers about. Are they worried what dirt Gunness has on them or do they just instinctively know that reporting truthfully on UNRWA is a very bad thing?

Let’s just look at one other current spokesman scandal in the world today. At a dinner, to which the press were openly invited, the company spokesman for the taxi-killing startup Uber (conservatively valued at a bazillion dollars today) appeared to threaten a journalist, Sarah Lacy. She had published a number critical posts at Pandodaily. Because Uber knows the exact location of all their customers all the time (and apparently staff like to track where the famous ones or the journalists are going) this was no idle threat. The whole story descends into a “he said, she said” squabble, but it did this with massive public coverage.

Unlike the situation here in Israel.

By trying to out Sam Sokol on twitter with a leaked, private photo, did Chris Gunness seriously imply that a reporter should be sacked for dumb pictures he posed for over a decade ago?

Aside from massively violating the UNRWA’s absolutely fundamental requirement to remain neutral by calling for a boycott of the Jerusalem Post, why is no part of the media interested in checking up on his lies?

There’s very little work needed: just look at the blogs. There can be no claim there isn’t enough manpower in the foreign media covering Israel. We all know there is a totally disproportionate number of foreign journalists in Israel compared to anywhere else in the world. Why don’t they do their jobs?


Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.