Following the recent death of Hamas bomb-maker Muhyi al-Din al-Sharif, The New York Times has continued its pattern of whitewashing incitement against Israel by Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Reporting on Hamas threats to take revenge against Israelis and Jews around the world, the Times' Serge Schmemann wrote "So far, Mr. Arafat and his officials have avoided either blaming or exonerating Israel in the slaying, saying the investigation is continuing." (New York Times, 4 April 1998)
In fact, contrary to Schmemann's claim, a number of senior PA officials and the Palestinian Legislative Council did charge Israel with killing Sharif. These Palestinian allegations, made with no supporting evidence, only inflamed an already volatile situation.
The Times predilection for denying PA threats and incitement to violence was evident more than a year ago, in March 1997, when Israel charged that Arafat had "given a green light" to terror attacks. Rather than taking the charge seriously enough to at least investigate it, Schmemann instead disdainfully reported a "supposed terror threat." Just days later Tel-Aviv's Apropos Cafe was bombed, leaving three young women dead.
Responding to the attack, President Clinton sternly admonished the PA, stating:
There must be absolutely no doubt in the minds of the friends or the enemies of peace that the Palestinian Authority is unalterably opposed to terror and unalterably committed to preempting and preventing such acts.
Incredibly, Schmemann turned this exhortation to Arafat to fight terror into exoneration, claiming that "Mr. Clinton defended Arafat ..."(22 March 1997)
Just days before Schmemann's statement that Arafat and his officials had avoided blaming Israel in the recent Sharif incident, Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath had charged:
This is just another new crime, a new assassination carried out by Israel, murdering someone and then placing him in a car and then detonating the car. (Associated Press, 1 April 1998)
On April 2nd PA-controlled Voice of Palestine Radio carried a statement by the Palestinian Legislative Council which charged:
This crime, with regard to its timing and goals, shows the Israeli side is seeking to return the region to an atmosphere of violence ...
The PA radio station immediately added:
The council urged citizens to be cautious, stressing that the Israeli way of handling this crime aimed to sow seeds of sedition within Palestinian society." (Voice of Palestine, 2 April 1998, as translated by BBC Summary of World Broadcasts)
On the same station, also on April 2nd, Jibril Rajoub, head of Palestinian Preventative Security, stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu's denial of Israeli involvement in the killing reflects
... the Israeli government's involvement in Sharif's assassination. ... The culprit is exposed by his acts.(BBC SWB)
On April 2nd Palestinian legislator Marwan Barghouti stated that it was "obvious" that Israel had assassinated Sharif:
The fact that it was carried out in a Palestinian-controlled area is both an aggression against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.(AP, 2 April 1998)
According to the same AP article, "Barghouti suggested Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu might have planned the slaying to trigger a violent response by Hamas and sabotage the peace process." Barghouti is quoted as saying:
It is not far-fetched for Netanyahu to use this in order to have an excuse not to implement the (Israeli-Palestinian) agreements.
In addition to his post with the PLC, Barghouti is also a leader of Arafat's Fatah movement within the PLO.
On April 2nd, another of the PA's most prominent spokespersons, Faisal Husseini, was asked by an Arab reporter, "Many people, including you, have accused Israel of killing Sharif. What evidence do you have?" Mr. Husseini replied:
The circumstances prove this. The Israeli side is the one which benefits from this action ... So, they carried out the operation under certain circumstances to give an opportunity for those who seek to fish in troubled waters. (Al-Jazeera TV, 2 April 1998, BBC SWB)
Husseini handles the "Jerusalem file" for the PA, and is widely considered to be a possible successor to Yasir Arafat. Despite Husseini's high profile and the vehemence of his statements, Schmemann was silent about these allegations too.
Having failed to report any of these statements by leading PA-officials, the Times reported on April 7th the PA's announcement that fellow Hamas operatives, not Israel, had killed Sharif. Buried within the story — written by Joel Greenberg, not Serge Schmemann — was tepid acknowledgment, finally, that PA officials had indeed blamed Israel in the slaying:
Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian cabinet who along with other officials initially pointed an accusing finger at Israel, said Monday that Sharif's killers were from Hamas ...
Having belatedly acknowledged PA-leaders' inciting charges, Times editors did not explain why Schmemann's inaccurate story was filed, why it was approved, and why it was never publicly acknowledged as inaccurate. Neither did these editors point "an accusing finger" at their Jerusalem Bureau Chief for his journalistic dereliction.
The underlying bias which informs Schmemann's work, his seeming eagerness to report virtually any anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian charge, is bad enough. Worse still is that Times editors continue to tolerate and even defend such shoddy reporting, underscoring the accelerating erosion of standards at the nation's newspaper of record.