UPDATED: Ha’aretz Indifferent to Journalistic Norms

Nov. 28 update follows.

Nov. 15, 2005  For more than two decades, CAMERA has followed media coverage of Israel and the Middle East closely, contacting countless outlets with questions about factual accuracy and in many instances eliciting corrections. Virtually every major media outlet in America and some beyond U.S. shores have corrected errors in response to CAMERA, in accordance with professional journalistic standards asserting the paramount importance of accuracy — and accountability. Among those issuing corrections, often multiple times, have been the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio, ABC News, and CNN.

Until recently CAMERA’s efforts have focused primarily on North America with few foreign media outlets monitored intensively for accurate coverage or challenged for corrections on erroneous reporting. Little attention was directed, for example, toward Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily newspaper printed in Hebrew and English and relied on by the Western press corps as well as Israel’s cultural and political elite. (Ha’aretz is sometimes described by its admirers as the New York Times of Israel.) With the opening of CAMERA’s Israel office last year, however, it was possible for the first time to monitor Ha’aretz in the same sustained way as U.S. newspapers are followed.

In the last year, CAMERA has contacted the paper’s editors concerning multiple factual errors, taking the identical approach used with U.S. publications — emailing editors behind the scenes, providing data substantiating why a report is incorrect, requesting a correction, following up with phone calls, and finally, posting an item on our Web site and/or sending out an alert. (In a particularly egregious case, we published an Op-Ed in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles about a serious and uncorrected error.)

However, unlike prominent American and international outlets, Ha’aretz apparently considers itself above criticism. Ha’aretz editors seem unaccustomed to responding to readers in a straightforward process and appear to believe readers have no right to fault them for shoddy, inaccurate coverage. Rather than considering the substance of CAMERA’s queries, Ha’aretz has stonewalled completely, refusing to correct errors. Indeed, the English edition of the newspaper, in contrast to almost every major American newspaper, has no regular corrections section; a lone correction appears once every few months.

Amira Hass Falsehood

CAMERA contacted Ha’aretz editors about an error that appeared Nov. 2 in an Op-Ed entitled “How the PA Failed” by columnist Amira Hass. She writes that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “cannot prevent the expropriation of land for Jewish-only roads in the West Bank.” In fact, while there are roads prohibited to Palestinians in the West Bank, there are no “Jewish-only roads.” Israel’s Arab citizens and, indeed, Israeli citizens of any religion or ethnicity, have just as much right to travel on those restricted roads as do Israeli Jews. Israeli Arabs frequently use the bypass roads for business and to visit relatives. Moreover, at least one Israeli Arab was fatally shot by Palestinian terrorists on one of these roads. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 8, 2001:

Wael Ghanem, an Israeli Arab, was shot and killed as he drove toward the Jewish settlement of Tzofim in the West Bank, not far from where an Israeli woman was killed on Sunday. . . . However, he was driving a car with yellow license plates on a West Bank road where a similar shooting attack had taken place, raising the possibility that Palestinian gunmen thought they were targeting an Israeli settler.

Georgios Tsibouktzakis, a Greek Orthodox monk, shot on June 12, 2001, was another non-Jew killed by Palestinian terrorists while on these roads.

Even B’Tselem, an organization frequently critical of Israel, acknowledges that restricted roads are reserved for those with Israeli plates, (Jews and Arabs), as opposed to Jews only. Thus, an Aug. 9, 2004 hard-hitting report stated: “B’Tselem has divided the Forbidden Roads Regime into three categories of roads: ‘sterile roads’ where Palestinian traffic is completely prohibited, roads where Palestinians require special permits, and roads with restricted access. The regime applies only to Palestinians. Israeli vehicles are allowed to travel freely along these roadways.”  This false charge implying a racist policy on the part of Israel – allowing special privilege to Jews over other religious and ethnic groups – is particularly pernicious. When such a claim is made in a prominent Israeli newspaper it is often echoed in the media worldwide.

Ha’aretz Response

In response to CAMERA’s request for a correction on this issue, Ha’aretz assistant editor Ruth Meisels (inadvertently or perhaps intentionally) sent CAMERA’s Israel Director Tamar Sternthal an email addressed to a Ha’aretz employee, which warned (in Hebrew):

In the event that this [CAMERA complaint] gets to you: We have a quasi ‘policy,’ on the orders of [editor-in-chief] David [Landau], to ignore this organization and all of its complaints, including not responding to telephone messages and screening calls from Tamar Sternhal [sic], director of CAMERA. Otherwise, we will never finish with them.

Thus, Ha’aretz editors appear to have little interest in the accuracy of their coverage or the accepted standards of journalism – unlike their American counterparts – and seem to believe (wrongly) that not returning a phone call or responding to an email will deflect CAMERA’s efforts to redress false and inflammatory assertions.

Uncorrected Errors

Beyond the most recent Amira Hass error, numerous others remain uncorrected, including:

* In a July 18, 2004 column, Gideon Levy made a number of false claims, among them the allegation that Golda Meir once said: “After what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want.” CAMERA was not able to track down any source for such a quote. Moreover, Levy himself sent an email to CAMERA admitting that he had no source. Nevertheless, Ha’aretz editors refused to correct.

* On Jan. 26, 2005, Ha’aretz ran a five-column color Reuters photograph above the fold on the front page, with the incorrect caption: “A Palestinian man inspecting buildings after they were demolished by Palestinian police in Gaza yesterday, the first time the PA has acted against illegal construction.” In actuality, the PA has repeatedly acted against illegal construction, and CAMERA provided Ha’aretz with news reports from Times of London, the Washington Post, and Israel’s Channel 2 substantiating earlier such action taken by the PA in 1994, 1995, and 1998, respectively.

* In a Feb. 10, 2005 Op-Ed about the current status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ha’aretz writer Sefi Rachlevsky alleged that there had been “four years in which the Palestinians preserved nearly absolute quiet.” The exact time of the four years is not entirely clear from Rachlevsky’s writing, but at no point during the 1990s was there a period in which “the Palestinians preserved nearly absolute quiet.” CAMERA provided Ha’aretz with a detailed list of the attacks which occurred throughout the decade. Ha’aretz again stonewalled.

* In a June 5, 2005 Op-Ed, Yossi Beilin claimed that in Israel from 1957 to 1967 “only 20 people were killed from hostile operations.” In fact, at least 40 Israelis were killed in hostile acts during this period.

* In a Jan. 21, 2004 exposé in Ha’aretz Magazine, Meron Rapaport erred about the Absentee Property Law, stating: “The law stipulates that the property of such an absentee would be transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, with no possibility of appeal or compensation” (emphasis added). This is false, as both appeal and compensation are possible, and landowners have exercised these rights and been compensated. Though Ha’aretz ran a letter from CAMERA on this issue, a letter is no substitution for an acknowledgment from the newspaper that it had erred.

‘Personal Vendetta’

In July, the Israeli weekly Makor Rishon ran an article about CAMERA’s Israel office, focusing on its efforts with respect to Ha’aretz, quoting the editor:

David Landau, editor of Ha’aretz, says that his relationship to CAMERA’s complaints are different than his relationship to the complaints of others. “I confirm that we relate to CAMERA as if they have a personal vendetta against us. I have experience of many years with them. We encourage readers to write to us, and we publicize every day or two days corrections of errors according to need, but everything depends on the clean hands of the writer.”

Yet, it is totally untrue to suggest that in the English edition, which is the version Western journalists read, corrections run every day or two. Moreover, CAMERA is the only organization to press Ha’aretz for factual accountability in a systematic way. Thus, it is CAMERA’s unique agenda to promote accountability which makes Ha’aretz‘s relationship with us “different.”

Israeli Code of Ethics

Landau’s directive to disregard complaints from CAMERA not only stands in contrast to the attitudes and procedures of the U.S. arena but also, in fact, violates the Rules of Professional Ethics of Journalism as authorized by the Israel Press Council. These state:

Substantive mistakes, omissions or inaccuracies in the publication of facts must be corrected speedily, fairly and with the appropriate emphasis relative to the original publication. In addition, in suitable cases, an apology shall also be published. In suitable cases a person injured shall be given a fair opportunity to respond to a substantive mistake, omission or inaccuracy speedily and with the appropriate emphasis relative to the original publication.

Ha’aretz seems to believe it is above any such guidelines requiring accountability.
 

Nov. 28 Update: Ha’aretz Shoots Messenger Rather Than Correct Errors

In a Nov. 16 op-ed, entitled “The frog is exhausted,” Hass escalates the falsehood by specifying that  443, a major highway, is for “Jews only.” She writes: “there’s a road for Jews only, like the Modi’in-Givat Ze’ev road. . . .” While Palestinian access to 443 has been blocked after Palestinians murdered eight Israeli motorists on the highway, the road is regularly used by non-Jews, including Israeli Arabs and others. In fact, the only gas station between Modi’in and Givat Ze’ev is a Dor station owned and operated by the Hawaja family, Israeli Arabs. The outside of the gas station, photographed Nov. 23, is pictured below.  Its signs are in Hebrew and Arabic.

 

During a visit to the gas station, which is located close to the Palestinian village of Kharbata, CAMERA spoke with two Arab employees who confirmed that Palestinians do not have access to 443, but Israeli Arabs travel freely on the road. One worker explained that most of the Arab customers are residents of Lod and Ramle traveling to Jerusalem for work. (The gas station is on the Givat Ze’ev or Jerusalem-bound side.) Below are photographs of Israeli Arab patrons of the gas station and its convenience store, photographed on Nov. 21, 2005.

 
 
 
CAMERA also visited the 443 checkpoint approaching Jerusalem, just after the Atarot turnoff. Countless Arabs passed through the checkpoint. Below is a photograph of an Arab shuttle bus waiting in the same line as an army jeep.
 
 
Here is the Muslim woman in the backseat of the above car.
 
 
Also, every few minutes, Arab shuttle busses passed through, carrying passengers between Khalandia, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Anata. along Route 443 — the road Amira Hass claims is confined to those of the Jewish religion. Privately owned by Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, they are licensed by Israel , and permitted to carry Palestinian passengers who carry the proper permits. (The yellow license plates are plainly visible.)
 
 

Also, because non-Jews frequently use the road, some are unfortunately the victims of a prevalent phenomenon in Israel – road accidents. The Modi’in region of ZAKA, the search and rescue unit, informed CAMERA that it transferred the body of an Arab car accident victim to the Abu Kabir Pathological Institute on July 7, 2003.

Truth “For All Practical Purposes”

Mr. Schocken has repeatedly insisted that the West Bank roads are “for all practical purposes” for Jews only. For instance, he wrote to one correspondent: “The Israeli license plates are for all practical purposes Jewish plates. This are roads [sic] mainly for the Jewish settlers and for their protection.” To assert that Israeli plates “are for all practical purposes Jewish plates” ignores the 20 percent non-Jewish minority which travels using the Israeli yellow license plate. In Ha’aretz‘s eyes, it is almost as though Israeli Arabs are irrelevant and don’t exist. Thus, apparently the Israeli daily regards the status of Israeli Arabs as so unimportant, that it deliberately and repeatedly ignores their existence. It is not uncommon to find columns in Ha’aretz which attack Israel for treating Israeli Arabs as though they are invisible; now it is Ha’aretz itself which is taking this exclusionary, even racist approach.

In the case of 443, the statement that the road was built “mainly for the Jewish settlers and their protection” is absolutely false. As the Boston Globe reported on Feb. 4, 2001, the road, built in the politically optimistic climate of the 1990s, was intended to build bridges and connect populations, not protect settlers, contrary to Ha’aretz‘s claims:

Until the new intifadah, the road carried all segments of Israeli life. Factory owners traveled it to reach the Atarot industrial area that employs many Palestinians. Salesman and professionals in the booming technology field used it to shuttle between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Students from Tel Aviv found it the best way to get to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University campus.

The road embraced ‘the new Middle East,’ where borders between Israel and the Palestinians would be blurred. There were plans to extend the road to the border of neighboring Jordan.It was supposed to weave together a new regional economy.

In his response to writers, Mr. Schocken acknowledges that some Arabs do use the roads, but nevertheless insists that the roads are still “Jews-only roads.” He dismisses the fact that non-Jews use the roads as “legalistic.” He therefore stands by what he believes is truth “for all practical purposes,” as opposed to the actual facts, which are so plainly visible to those who travel on the roads, not to mention the non-Jewish passengers themselves.

Not Bona-fide “Truth Seekers”

It is ironic that Mr. Schocken, who repeatedly excuses and justifies an allegation which is patently false, states that it ignores CAMERA’s concerns because CAMERA is “not a bona-fide truth seeker.” He fails, however, to give any example of how CAMERA’s concerns about Ha’aretz’s accuracy have been unfounded. In addition, he stands by the July 2004 Gideon Levy report which claims that Golda Meir once said, “After what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want.” Schocken does not provide a source for the alleged quote, and denies Levy ever admitted he has no source.

Below is a copy of Gideon Levy’s response to Tamar Sternthal who had asked “Can you provide me with some more details [about the purported quote] – the exact, quote, date, source, etc.?” Levy emailed the following to Tamar on Aug. 12, 2004:

Dear Mrs. Sternthal, unfortunately not and therefore we dropped the quotation in the original version in Hebrew and by mistake it was printed in the English version. This does not meanthat [sic] she did not say it, but that we couldn’t find the reference. Gideon Levy.

In short, Ha’aretz publisher Schocken prefers to shoot the messenger rather than take the professional approach of examining the facts and issuing corrections accordingly.