Guardian shocked by infantile Israeli letter

Denial: Rusbridger said it was his decision alone to promote Goldenberg

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has described as "infantile" and "absolutely astonishing" a sarcastic reply he has received from the director of the Israeli Government press office after he defended the newspaper’s former Jerusalem correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg.

Asked to withdraw allegations that the editorial board of The Guardian transferred award-winning Goldenberg to Washington under pressure from the Israeli Government, director Daniel Seaman, wrote: "I fully respect your position of support for your correspondent. I would like to point out that besides the four awards you mention, Ms Goldenberg justifiably won the complete disdain and contempt of the Israeli authorities. As far as I am concerned, the reason for her relocation is irrelevant.

"I will be happy to withdraw any statement made about Ms Goldenberg when your newspaper withdraws the biased, sometimes malicious, and often incorrect reports which were filed by her during her unpleasant stay in Israel."

Rusbridger said Seaman’s letter was infantile and absolutely astonishing from someone in such a sensitive and important role.

There was a further paragraph promising that Goldenberg’s replacement, Chris McGreal, would enjoy the press office’s full co-operation in the country’s "robust democratic traditions" – a phrase used in a Guardian leader.

Seaman, in an interview with Israeli magazine Kol Ha’Ir, enraged broadcasters and journalists by saying the editorial decisions of the BBC, CNN, Reuters, Associated Press, ABC and CBS were all under the control of the Palestinians and that Goldenberg and correspondents from The Toronto Star and The Washington Post had been replaced after pressure from the Israelis.

Rusbridger told him: "We regard Suzanne Goldenberg as an outstanding correspondent and had every faith in her reporting of the Middle East.  During her period in Israel, she won four prestigious awards from independent juries. The decision to promote her to a new role in Washington was mine alone and was utterly unconnected with any view of her reporting which the Government of Israel might or might not have had."

Editors at The Washington Post and The Toronto Star were equally forthright in defending their decisions to promote Lee Hockstader and Sandro Contenta to new posts.

Mary Deanne Shears, the Star’s managing editor, said Contenta had done a thoroughly professional job in very dangerous and difficult circumstances in Israel. Philip Bennett, Washington Post assistant managing editor for foreign news, said his paper would never remove someone from an assignment because the government objected to their reporting.

By Jean Morgan

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