Family tie to Israeli PR poses major conflict of interest
The Washington Post may be violating its own conflict of interest rules by hiring a Jerusalem correspondent whose spouse works for an Israeli government-linked public relations firm.
As the website Electronic Intifada (9/18/13) pointed out, correspondent Ruth Eglash’s husband, Michael Eglash, is a founding partner of the pro-Israel advocacy group Upstart Activist and is the president of its affiliated PR consulting firm, Upstart Ideas. EI reports that Upstart Ideas has been “deeply involved in efforts to promote Israel and Israeli government policy for years,” adding that pro-Israeli propaganda is now Upstart’s “main business.”
A 2010 Jerusalem Post profile (“Zionist Start Up,” 6/17/10) described Upstart Activist as having been founded by “two former Israel activists…looking for a way to combat all of the anti-Israel propaganda swirling around the second intifada”:
In December 2001, Upstart Activist was born as a unique combination of a pro-Israel marketing firm and an educational organization, creating educational materials to support and promote pro-Israel activists on college campuses. The company started with a three-pronged approach: presenting Israel effectively through hasbara, combating anti-Israel propaganda and, most importantly, encouraging people to come to Israel.
“Hasbara” means pro-Israel advocacy, and as the profile makes clear, the “anti-Israel propaganda” Upstart’s hasbara aimed to counter was found largely in the Western press that now employs his spouse: “Watching foreign news–CNN, Sky News, Fox–was very concerning and troubling,” says Eric Esses, Eglash’s co-founder. Later, Esses is quoted as saying that “the most aggressive anti-Israel sentiment is in the newspaper.”
On its website, on a page headed “What We Do,” Upstart boasts of its success in “training students in effective pro-Israel activism.” Upstart’s clients include the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Tourism, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization. Other clients, like Hillel and Birthright for Israel, are active in promoting a pro-Israel message on college campuses, because for Upstart, as the Jerusalem Post puts it, “college is the sweet spot for internalizing the pro-Israel message.”
Upstart’s website indicates that the firm works closely with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental institution with authority over Israeli land. Currently the JNF is embroiled in controversy over a campaign that would evict 40,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic lands in Israel’s Negev Desert (Naqab in Arabic) to make room for expanded Jewish developments (Christian Science Monitor, 9/17/13).
Ruth Eglash is the former deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, a right-leaning, Israeli nationalist daily. In addition to the conflicts posed by her husband’s professional connections to the Israeli government and groups promoting the Israeli cause, Eglash is listed on the roster of JNF’s speakers’ bureau, who are described as “connecting you to Israel and the Jewish world.”
Eglash’s entanglements would appear to violate the paper’s Conflict of Interest rules, which read in part:
This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible. We have adopted stringent policies on these issues, conscious that they may be more restrictive than is customary in the world of private business….
Many outside activities and jobs are incompatible with the proper performance of work on an independent newspaper. Connections with government are among the most objectionable….
Relatives cannot fairly be made subject to Post rules, but it should be recognized that their employment or their involvement in causes can at least appear to compromise our integrity. The business and professional ties of traditional family members or other members of your household must be disclosed to department heads.
When EI asked Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl whether Eglash had disclosed her husband’s activities, and whether his work as a pro-Israel advocate could be seen as compromising the paper’s integrity, he wrote back with a non-response, insisting that the Post “is committed to its stringent policy on avoiding conflict of interest,” while failing to address the Eglash case at all. Jehl’s reply was copied to Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth and deputy foreign editor Griff Witte.
ACTION: Please ask the Washington Post to reassign reporter Ruth Eglash so that she is not covering a country on whose behalf her husband does advocacy work.