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Media Analyses





AP "Fact Check" Conveys Anti-Israel Spin


The Associated Press quickly responded to Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress by relaying partisan spin to "counter" the Israeli prime minister's assertions.

AP's Josef Federman, apparently in no mood to allow an Israeli politician to present Jerusalem's view of the Middle East, penned an unprecedented "Fact Check" article seeking to impugn Netanyahu's speech.

The wire service story reads more like the spin of a hired public relations specialist seeking to denigrate a political opponent and redirect the audience to a preferred message.

The "facts" that the AP and Federman are challenging are all obvious truths that cannot be denied, and so instead of actual fact checking and refutation, Federman engages in diversions, parrying with irrelevant statements that have no bearing on Netanyahu's demonstrably correct statements.  What statements does Federman attack?

1) Israel defends itself without the need of US troops.

This is  obvious – no US troops have sacrificed their lives to defend Israel – so Federman invokes US financial aid to Israel. How is this at all relevant to whether US troops are involved in Israel's defense?
 
2)  The Jewish people cannot be considered foreign occupiers in their ancestral homeland. 
 
This is not a fact to be disputed, but a perspective on the Jewish people's right to their ancestral homeland – in other words, that Jews are not "foreign" to Judea and Samaria. Since Federman cannot logically counter such a perspective, he writes that the international community considers the West Bank to be under military occupation, and that there are Israeli soldiers protecting Jews in the West Bank. Again, this is irrelevant to the straightforward point made by Netanyahu.
 
3) Israel is a democracy.

Again, this cannot be denied, so Federman spins the issue to argue that despite the full civil rights given to Israel's Arab minority, there is still discrimination in housing and the workplace. If the existence of discrimination is meant to refute the fact that Israel is a democracy, then there is no such thing as a democracy, including the U.S. and the U.K., where discrimination can be found as well.

4) The Palestinian economy is booming and has  grown by more than 10 per cent per year.

Yet again, Federman cannot deny this indisputable fact and so he resorts to distracting with irrelevant information — Palestinian growth was fueled by foreign aid, it may not be sustainable unless Israel encourages the Palestinian private sector — which does nothing to refute Netanyahu's assertion.  

5) Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian version of Al Qaeda .

Federman attempts to argue that Hamas is not like Al Qaeda since the latter preaches global jihad while Hamas wants to destroy only Israel.  Of course, this does not refute Netanyahu's point that Israel cannot negotiate with a violent Islamist group sworn to jihad against the Jews in the same way that the US cannot negotiate with a group that wages jihad against the West. And it does not refute the fact that Israelis see Hamas, which murders Israeli civilians to forward their Islamist agenda, the same way Americans see Al Qaeda, which targets American civilians for their own religious cause.
 
Federman presents all of the above as a "sampling" of claims to be refuted.
 
According to the Nexis database, this is the only time AP has run a headlined "Fact Check" piece about a foreign leader's presentation of his government's views. And until now, AP "Fact Checks" have been reserved for assertions by U.S. politicians and claims relevant to domestic political controversies. Moreover, those pieces seem generally to be reserved for correcting actual misstatements of fact or otherwise questionable claims.

But with Israel, AP seems to apply a unique standard. As one concerned reader aptly noted in an email to CAMERA, "While this is listed as a fact check, it is exclusively editorial and simply raises political arguments. It does not posit alternative facts. It is a rebuttal oped with a misleading headline. This is a disgrace for the AP to run a story like this on its wires."

Notably, there was no AP fact check of dubious assertions in Mahmoud Abbas's recent New York Times Op-Ed. It does not appear that AP ever published a headlined fact check piece about any speech by Abbas, or anything Arafat before him said.

In short, this has the appearance of a new genre of article created for the sake of impugning Israel and raising doubts about facts the Israeli government considers important.

Making matters worse, the Fact Check itself could use some fact checking. The prime minister's address "reflected the world view of Israel's nationalistic right"? More like the broad center. As Yossi Klein Halevi recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu's policy stances positioned him "within the centrist majority" of his country.

And despite Federman's claim that the U.S. considers settlements "illegal," no president has reversed Reagan's explicit assertion that they are "not illegal." (See details here.)

But in this case, the special (mis)treatment of Israel may be even more outrageous than Federman's questionable grasp of the facts. In the context of AP's typical output, the piece is sharply biased against Israel and embodies a double standard that treats the Jewish state and its leaders more harshly than its political rivals.
 
See related May 29 Snapshots blog entry, "Federman 'Fact-Checks' Netanyahu, Promotes Hamas."

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