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Media Analyses





Bloopers, Bias and Terrorist Cross-Fire at AP


According to the wire service, terrorism is a militia’s revenge, and Israeli closures do much more than shut borders

The Associated Press (AP) has adopted highly inaccurate language to refer to Palestinian terror groups and the acts they perpetrate. It has also misled readers through simple factual error. In general, AP reporting relies heavily on Palestinian sources, gives priority to Palestinian views and even omits Israeli perspectives.

Though CAMERA has repeatedly raised substantive issues with AP editors, the wire service has stonewalled.

Of ‘Militias’ and ‘Revenge’
Since June 2003, the Associated Press has taken to calling terrorist groups “militias,” and acts of terror “revenge bombings” or “revenge attacks.”

In numerous articles, the AP uses “militias” to refer to the Palestinian terrorist organizations that must be dismantled according to the American-sponsored road map. Yet the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a militia as “an army composed of ordinary citizens...subject to call for service in an emergency.” Hamas, of course, does not detonate bombs on crowded buses, murdering civilians, as “service in an emergency” but rather in the service of terrorizing. For example, the “militia” misnomer was used in a Jan. 7, 2004 report with regard to the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade:

Palestinian witnesses said Naim Atari and Aboud Kasas, both members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militia loosely affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, were killed during an arrest operation in Nablus. (Emphasis added. "Israel lists 28 settlement outposts to be removed under peace plan," Mark Lavie)

Most seriously, the AP has used “militias” when paraphrasing statements made by Israeli and U.S. officials who did not use this word at all. As the following quotations from AP itself show, the officials actually used the terms “terror” and “terrorists”:

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in the Gaza Strip have insisted the deal is not final, while Israel and the United States are skeptical about its value, saying Palestinian security forces must quickly disarm the militias..."The [U.S.] president is interested in real progress on the ground, in the dismantlement of terrorism, and in an end to the killing," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said..."If they will stop their terror attacks, we can stop the activities against them ...," he [Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid] told AP. (Emphasis added. "Arafat says formal cease-fire announcement coming soon," Karin Laub, June 26, 2003)

“Militia” is not an accurate stand-in for “terrorist.” Rather than conveying the essence of terrorist groups–that they target and kill civilians, violating human rights, the term “militia” suggests the Palestinian groups are legal, legitimate and even moral–a civilian standing army that can be called upon “for service in an emergency.”

More disturbing perhaps than the use of “militia" is the AP terminology “revenge bombings” in reference to attacks by Palestinian terrorists. Israeli counter-terror strikes are said to “lead to” or “trigger” “revenge bombings” or “revenge attacks.”

Characterizing as “revenge” the premeditated terrorist targeting of Israeli civilians–on buses or in their homes and public spaces–mangles the facts:

1) It suggests Israel initiates violence while Palestinians merely respond–which inverts cause and effect–and implies a moral rationale for terrorism.

2) It suggests, contrary to fact, that if Israel refrained from counter-terror strikes, terror would stop.

3) It ignores the Palestinian movement’s longstanding strategic use of terrorism as a tool in the goal of destroying Israel–not as a tactical or emotional response to Israeli actions.

While it is clearly appropriate for the AP to quote or paraphrase language used by terrorist groups and their leaders, such as that of an Islamic Jihad leader who “promised revenge” (“Israeli troops kill Islamic militant in West Bank raid,” Said Shiyoukhi, Aug. 14, 2003), it is unprofessional for the AP to adopt opinion-laden phrasing as its own, as in:

The killing of two Hamas members under similar circumstances last week led to a revenge attack on Tuesday in which a teenage Hamas suicide bomber killed a Jewish settler. (Shiyoukhi, Aug. 14, 2003)

Ibrahim Barzak, commenting on the Jerusalem bombing of a bus carrying families with children from the Western Wall, calls the atrocity one of two Hamas “revenge bombings” that day (“Slain Hamas leader had pushed for cease-fire, but Israel says he still plotted attacks,” Aug. 21, 2003).

Factual Errors: Open Closures and Terrorist ‘Cross-Fire’
AP factual blunders also misrepresent Israeli actions and Arab violence. Reporter Gavin Rabinowitz claimed on Oct. 5, 2003 that Israel’s closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to Yom Kippur on Oct. 6 forced millions of Palestinians to stay in their homes. He wrote: “...a blanket closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip...confined some 3 million Palestinians to their homes in advance of the Jewish holiday" (“Israelis head into holy day mourning their dead”).

In fact, the closure barred Palestinians from entering Israel; it did not confine people “to their homes.” Moreover, according to the IDF, exceptions were made for those who needed to enter Israel for humanitarian reasons.

If proof is needed that Palestinians were not confined to their homes, one only need consider AP photographs taken during this period showing:

1) Palestinians attending mass rallies in Ramallah and Gaza Oct. 3, 2003,

2) Palestinians waiting at an Israeli checkpoint near Ramallah Oct. 4,

3) Palestinians milling about the destroyed home of suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat in Jenin Oct. 5, and

3) Taxis waiting on line in Gaza Oct. 6.

Additional errors appeared in Ibrahim Barzak’s Oct. 15 article, “Three Americans killed in explosion targeting U.S. diplomatic convoy in Gaza Strip.” Speaking of American deaths in Israel since the Palestinians launched their violent campaign in September 2000, the writer explains:

But in the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, there has been an unofficial policy of "hands off" the Americans, though 49 Americans, many with dual citizenship, have been caught in the crossfire in the past three years of fighting.

“Caught in the crossfire” is not what happened to the 86–not 49–Americans, many of whom were killed in terrorist bombings. All were non-combatants riding buses, eating pizza, drinking coffee, or driving in their cars. They were targeted by Palestinian terrorists and there was no “cross-fire." Such thoroughly deceptive language seeks to lift responsibility from the Palestinians. One American, Rachel Corrie, was accidentally killed by Israeli forces.

AP Used by Propagandist
“A New York town recalls a 1948 massacre of Palestinians" (Ben Dobbin, Sept. 24) raises serious concerns about AP editors’ news judgment.

When well-known pro-Palestinian propagandist Daniel McGowan recently established a memorial on his New York property commemorating Arabs killed in the town of Deir Yassin during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the AP covered the story, repeating controversial allegations of a “massacre” without challenge.

What is perhaps most disturbing about Dobbin’s article is that, in addition to comments by McGowan, it included statements by Rabbi Dovid Weiss of the fringe, anti-Israel Neturei Karta or Jews United Against Zionism. As for McGowan, founder of an organization called Deir Yassin Remembered, his articles are featured by the pro-Palestinian Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU), and prominently linked to the Web site of the Committee for Open Debate On the Holocaust (CODOH)–a repository of literature denying the scope of the Holocaust and the very existence of the gas chambers, and accusing Jews of genocide against the Palestinians.

Dobbin relies on McGowan to explain and defend the Deir Yassin claim. The erstwhile economics professor states, “It’s very disturbing when one side’s history is systematically ignored...It would be like nobody wanting to talk about the Holocaust when you talked about Jews.” McGowan’s comparison of the fate of 120 to 300 Arabs (most of them combatants) at Deir Yassin in 1948 and the slaughter of six million Jews during the Holocaust is both inappropriate and revealing. The Holocaust denial site, CODOH, includes McGowan’s Deir Yassin Remembered and an article entitled “Elie Wiesel: ‘a terrible fraud’” among other items slandering Jews and misrepresenting Israel’s history.

The AP’s article on a contested event, with no context and highly partisan sources, raises questions about the wire service’s procedures and judgment.

No Action on AP Blunders
Despite the fact that some AP reports on Israel and the Middle East are balanced, there are worrying trends regarding language used for Palestinian terrorist groups and terror attacks, as well as instances of material errors left uncorrected.


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