Mamma Mia! What Bad Journalism!

As a close observer of the Israeli political and cultural scene as reported by the Hebrew press, none of the statements contained in the Times report sounded even vaguely correct to me.


My gut reaction was backed up by Ynet News, which helpfully dissected the story. To say they found inaccuracies would be an understatement.

The Times reported:

“The Abba musical Mamma Mia! could be the first casualty of a growing Israeli backlash against a proposed British academic boycott of Israeli universities.
The British production, due to open in Tel Aviv in a few weeks, has been jeopardised by threats from local theatre companies who refuse to stage it in retaliation over threats from the University and College Union to boycott Israel for occupying Palestinian land.”

— First of all, the production is not “due to open in Tel Aviv in a few weeks.” It’s already here. The production’s participants landed in Israel Monday morning, ready to perform their 24-show tour at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv this week. The production playing at the sports stadium, where many other large-scale musicals are staged, because of its size and technical requirements.

NOT because of any “retaliatory boycott” by theaters refusing to host the show.

The show’s producer, Mark Lieberberg told Ynet, in response to the London Times’ report, “We are here, and that’s a fact. No Israeli theatre or organization told us anything about a boycott, this is bullshit. The truth should be told. This whole matter is part of the British tabloid business that has unfortunately reached the Times as well.”


The show, by the way, is almost sold out. The only reason it hasn’t been sold out completely is its hefty ticket price – between $45 and $95.

The article goes on to quote Knesset member Otniel Schneller, as being behind the boycott. He told Ynet that he never approached the production, made efforts to prevent it from coming to Israel, or organized any form of boycott.
Schneller has, indeed, proposed a bill which if adopted, gasps the Times “would require British imports to be labelled clearly, making it easier for shoppers to shun the goods.”

But the Times goes on to claim, “political observers say that there is growing public support for the bill.”

Oh, those handy “political observers.” Could she maybe quote one of them by name please? I have not met personally or see on the media even a single Israeli interested in “shunning British goods.” Besides, most of us read English well enough to understand that our Twinings Tea is “Made in Britain.” The silly labeling legislation has no chance of passing, particularly after a representative of the British government, particularly after education Bill Rammell stood at Hebrew University this week and denounced the boycott.

Further, the article continued with the ridiculous claim that “In Israel travel agencies are discouraging tourists from travelling to Britain. Some union workers are refusing to unload British imports and some Israeli importers have threatened to cut ties with British suppliers in protest.”


Again – never heard a word about it in the extensive Israeli press, print or broadcast. Examples? One travel agent? One union worker? One importer? What, the reporter couldn’t find any?

No big surprise.

The Times reporter, Sonia Verma, when questioned by Ynet, provided this lame response: “I think that the basis for the misunderstanding may be that the article’s headline is misleading. The people of the theater are just one aspect of the story, which refers to the Israeli response to the boycott. I didn’t write the headline, but all the information that appears in the story is true and had been verified.”

Pretty gutsy for the author of an article with a huge factual error regarding the date that the show begins in the opening of her story.

In short, the article relies on the statement of one interested politician – no facts, no other quotes — to back up the supposed “the Israeli response” to the boycott. One could argue there wasn’t room for more quotes – but that would be wrong. There is room to quote a founder Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Omar Barghouti. “The Palestinian call for institutional boycott of Israel, which is principally inspired by the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa, is the most morally and politically sound resistance strategy to counter Israeli apartheid and colonial policies,” and that he is organizing a tour next month of British universities and colleges for pro-boycott Palestinian academics.


If there were actually Israelis interested in boycotting Great Britain, the newspapers would be a great place to start.

But musical theater? No way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take my kids to their “Waterloo.”


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